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Homicide Is The Leading Cause Of Death For Pregnant Women And We Need To Talk About This

Photo via Hibr/Flicky, Creative Commons

On September 11th, 30-year-old Ca’Shawn “Cookie” Ashley Sims uploaded a video to YouTube announcing she was pregnant in a video titled “Domestic Violence While Pregnant.” The video included a trigger warning. A fitness and lifestyle influencer, Ca’Shawn has over 200,000 followers on her Instagram page and 10,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, Body By Cookie. When she published her YouTube video, Ca’Shawn Sims hadn’t been seen by her family for two days. It’s now been over a month, and Ca’Shawn is still missing.

As authorities ask for the public’s help in locating Ca’Shawn, an unspoken truth hangs in the air: homicide is the leading cause of death of pregnant women.

Despite pregnancy being a physically taxing and sometimes dangerous life event, natural causes aren’t what’s killing pregnant women en masse. Instead, their lives are taken from them—usually at the hands of their intimate partner. In comparison, homicide is the fifth leading cause of women of childbearing age, accounting for only 6.4% of deaths in the demographic. For pregnant women, that percentage is 20%. That means almost a quarter of pregnancy-related deaths are from homicide.

While it’s true that medical conditions like embolism, hemorrhage, and infection are very real risks of pregnancy, they do not impact pregnant women the same way Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) does. Time and time again, the public gets whipped up into a frenzy over a missing or murdered pregnant woman—but no one is speaking the quiet part out loud.

This is an epidemic that needs to be addressed. Women’s lives are on the line.

For a long time, the connection between pregnancy and homicide went largely ignored by researchers. The data was in plain sight, but no one was connecting the dots.

It wasn’t until a landmark study on pregnancy-associated deaths was published that this phenomenon became common knowledge. The study concluded that “a pregnant or recently pregnant woman is more likely to be a victim of homicide than to die of any other cause.”

The two researchers conducting the study, Isabelle Horon and Diana Cheng of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, were understandably shocked when they discovered that the leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide. “We thought we had to have made a mistake,” Horon told The Washington Post in 2004. “We kept checking and checking and rechecking.”

Based on anecdotal evidence, it appears that pregnant women are murdered so often because their partners are afraid of the future implications of having a baby. Less time, less money, more responsibility.

As crime and terrorism researcher Louis R. Mizell told The Washington Post: “When husbands or boyfriends attack pregnant partners, it usually has to do with an unwillingness to deal with fatherhood, marriage, child support or public scandal.”

“If the woman doesn’t want the baby, she can get an abortion,” a criminal profiler named Pat Brown told WaPo. “If the guy doesn’t want it, he can’t do a damn thing about it. He is stuck with a child for the rest of his life, he is stuck with child support for the rest of his life, and he’s stuck with that woman for the rest of his life. If she goes away, the problem goes away.”

So while we all hope for the safe return of Ca’Shawn Ashley Sims into the hands of her family, we remember that her case is similar to hundreds of others. Pregnant women are being murdered in the hundreds every year. And still, no one is talking about it.

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