Objectives: To summarize the methods and findings of studies examining the prevalence of violence against pregnant women and to synthesize these findings by comparing study characteristics for studies with similar and dissimilar results.
Data sources: MEDLINE, POPLINE, Psychological Abstracts, and Sociological Abstracts databases were searched for all articles pertaining to violence during pregnancy for the period 1963 through August 1995.
Study selection: Thirteen studies were selected on the basis of specific criteria: a sample with initially unknown violence status; a clear statement of research question(s), with focus on measuring the prevalence of violence; descriptions of the sample, data source, and data collection methods; and data from the United States or another developed country.
Data extraction: Relevant data were extracted to compare studies by study description, methods, and results.
Data synthesis: Evidence from the studies we reviewed indicates that the prevalence of violence during pregnancy ranges from 0.9% to 20.1%. Measures of violence, populations sampled, and study methods varied considerably across studies, and these factors may affect prevalence estimates. Studies that asked about violence more than once during detailed in-person interviews or asked later in pregnancy (during the third trimester) reported higher prevalence rates (7.4%-20.1%). The lowest estimate was reported by women who attended a private clinic and responded to a self-administered questionnaire provided to them by a person who was not a health care provider.
Conclusions: Violence may be a more common problem for pregnant women than some conditions for which they are routinely screened and evaluated. Future research that more accurately measures physical violence during pregnancy would contribute to more effective design and implementation of prevention and intervention strategies.