Dating Violence Harms Young Women’s Reproductive Health

Kiersten Stewart

Physical violence is not the only form of abuse facing young women today. Birth control sabotage and sexual coercion occur much more often than many realize.

abuse suffered by pop singer Rhianna, allegedly at the hands of fellow
singer and longtime boyfriend Chris Brown, has put the issue of dating
violence front and center before the nation’s teens. Blogs and
entertainment sites are filled with conversations about what causes
violence, when punishment is appropriate and how severe it should be,
when forgiveness is the right choice, and much more. But as so often is
the case, there’s one aspect of the issue that’s largely absent from
the conversation.

Relationship abuse has many serious consequences and one of
be harm to a woman’s reproductive health. Studies show that
relationship or dating abuse can have reproductive health consequences,
including unplanned pregnancy and exposure to sexually transmitted
infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS transmissions. This happens most often
to young women.

In fact, girls who are victims of violence from dating
four to six times more likely than non-abused girls to become pregnant,
according to the Harvard School of Public Health. One in three
adolescents tested for sexually transmitted infections and HIV have
experienced domestic violence.

Physical violence is not the only form of abuse facing young
today. Birth control sabotage and sexual coercion are insidious forms
of abuse and control that occur much more often than many people

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One young woman, "Janey" shared her story of an abusive
"Every time I would confront him about his lies and unfaithfulness, he
would force himself on me sexually. He always refused to wear a condom
and would act offended when I suggested he use one," she said. Other
forms of women’s contraception made Janey phsysically ill. When she
would confront the boyfriend and try to end the relationship, he would
become enraged and threaten her. She eventually became pregnant and was
diagnosed repeatedly with STD’s even though he was her only partner.
She was not able to end the relationship until she involved the police
and attained an order of protection.

Janey’s story resonates with a lot of young women. It also
the old stereotype that attributes unplanned pregnancies and STIs to
promiscuity or irresponsible behavior. Abuse in relationships is
intrinsically linked to women’s – especially young women’s –
reproductive health, and any serious attempt to reduce unplanned
pregnancy and STI rates must help prevent this kind of abuse.

States across the country are beginning to take notice.
recently adopted a law that requires school districts to define dating
violence in school safety codes, following the 2003 stabbing death of
Ortralla Mosley, 15, in a hallway of her Austin high school and the
shooting death of Jennifer Ann Crecente, 18, two years ago. Rhode
Island in 2007 adopted the Lindsay Ann Burke Act – prompted by the
murder of a young woman by a former boyfriend; it requires school
districts to teach students in grades 7 through 12 about dating abuse
and healthy relationships.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund and
its kNOwMORE initiatve ( is holding a
briefing on the
Hill on Thursday, working with Congressional leaders to start, for the
first time ever, making a link in public policy that mirrors the link
between relationship abuse and women’s reproductive health issues.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005 contained
groundbreaking new initiatives including programs to train health care
providers to assess patients for domestic violence and intervene to
help those who are victims of abuse, encourage men to teach the next
generation that violence is wrong, and provide crisis services for
victims of rape and sexual assault.

But Congress has not yet funded many of the new prevention
the law contains. That needs to change. President Obama created a White
House Council on Women and Girls and one of its mandates is to help
prevent violence against women. It won’t succeed unless Congress funds
these new VAWA health programs, and we all begin to recognize the link
between violence and women’s reproductive health.

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