A Different Kind of Abuse: Reproductive Coercion in Abusive Relationships


People often associate intimate partner violence with images of physical abuse.  However more and more research illustrates the prevalence of reproductive coercion in abusive relationships. Reproductive coercion includes contraceptive sabotage (like throwing away birth control pills or hiding them), refusal to wear condoms, demanding unprotected sex, and preventing (or in some cases forcing) abortion.

Often when hearing of an unintended pregnancy or contraction of an STD, folks  blame individuals for not being responsible for their own sexual health.  We need to examine coercion in relationships because often, survivors in abusive relationships have no say negotiating contraceptive use or in the case of female-identified survivors, have their birth control methods sabotaged.

Along with unintended pregnancy increases, abusive, sexually coercive relationships also lead to increased rates of STDs.  Dr. Anne Teitelman is an expert on partner abuse and on HIV risk found that female identified survivors of partner abuse are significantly more likely than others to be diagnosed with an STD.

So what can we do? A joint study by the Harvard School of Public HealthFamily Violence Prevention Fund, and the National Institute of Health found that simply asking young women during clinic visits if they experienced reproductive coercion dramatically reduced the odds of their male partners attempting to force them to become pregnant by 70%.  The study found that participants who were asked about reproductive coercion and then counseled about harm-reduction strategies including switching to longer-acting contraceptives and contacting domestic and sexual assault resources were also 60% more likely to report ending a relationship because it felt unsafe or unhealthy. While this study applied specifically to women in heterosexual relationships, clinicians in the field of sexual health can also ask LGBTQ survivors about contraceptive coercion in their relationship. These questions are important because they identify a solution that can be implemented easily.  By being active bystanders and by increasing education about DV issues, sexual health care practitioners can dramatically decrease reproductive coercion.

We can all work to be active bystanders and intervene when we see someone in trouble.  Often just asking “Are you alright?” or “Do you need to talk?” can be the first step to someone getting the help they need.

If you’re interested in learning more about preventing abusive relationships or how to help a friend in an abusive situation check out safe.unc.edu to register for upcoming HAVEN and One ACT trainings.

Upcoming  HAVEN Training Dates:

October 2 5:00- 9:00 PM (Student)

October 16 12:30-4:30 PM (Faculty and Staff)

October 30 5:00- 9:00 PM (Student)

November 13 5:00- 9:00 PM (Student)

Upcoming One Act Training Dates:

September 26 from 5 pm – 9 pm on North Campus

October 22 1:00 pm- 5 pm

November 8 3:30 pm- 7:30 pm

3 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Abuse: Reproductive Coercion in Abusive Relationships

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