News Violence

Reproductive Coercion ‘Much More Prevalent’ Than Once Thought

Auditi Guha

Men interfering with women's contraception made recent headlines when SNL cast member Pete Davidson joked about messing with Ariana Grande's birth control.

Four in ten survivors of intimate partner violence report that a partner has tried to get them pregnant against their will or stopped them from using birth control.

Eighty-four percent of these survivors of reproductive coercion became pregnant.

This is one of the findings from a survey of 164 survivors in domestic violence programs and shelters conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The survey, which was administered to survivors in 11 states and D.C., explores how abuse affects their abilities to secure and keep jobs, choose when to start families, and maintain good credit.

The report, released Wednesday, shows how abuse keeps survivors from achieving economic security. “I fantasize about having a well-furnished, cozy home for my children and me …the ability to always provide. I want a cozy, happy life so bad it hurts,” said one of the women in the report.

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“Survivors, advocates, and practitioners have been aware of reproductive coercion and violence carried out by abusive and controlling partners, however, the data has been limited. We found that this was much more prevalent than we thought,” Alona Del Rosario, senior policy associate at IWPR and a co-author of the report, told Rewire.News in an email.

Men interfering with women’s birth control made recent headlines when Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson joked about messing with Ariana Grande’s birth control. Last year, actor Ian Somerhalder said he decided to start a family with wife Nikki Reed by taking the birth control pack from her purse and throwing the pills in the toilet.

Birth control sabotage is considered a common form of reproductive coercion by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It involves behavior “intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health” and includes “explicit attempts to impregnate a partner against her will, control outcomes of a pregnancy, coerce a partner to have unprotected sex, and interfere with contraceptive methods.”

“Reproductive coercion and abuse is meant to limit survivors’ ability to hold a job or pursue an education. It creates a vulnerability that helps make them more dependent on the abuser to provide for their children and can ultimately prevent them from establishing independence,” Del Rosario said. “More research is needed to better understand the nature of this form of abuse and its impact on survivors’ economic security.”

Del Rosario recommended ensuring survivors can access the full spectrum of health care, including reproductive care; providing sick and safe leave to allow abused women to seek help without losing their jobs; and codifying laws against reproductive coercion and abuse.

Some progress has been made on the legislative front: As of June 2017, lawmakers in at least seven states, 14 cities, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to make safe time available to domestic violence survivors. Twelve safe time provisions were passed in 2016.

The survivors surveyed by IWPR reported the ways their partners had inhibited their independence. Two-thirds said the abuse had negatively affected their educational and job training opportunities. Eighty-three percent said their partners had disrupted their ability to work. And the majority of respondents reported financial abuse: Nearly three in four survivors had partners who took their money against their will, and three in five had partners who harmed their credit score—a result that left many unable to obtain a loan or housing.

About six in ten respondents—all of whom were already at a shelter or domestic abuse program—reported receiving some help in dealing with the financial effects of their abuse. The economic impact of abuse is likely higher among the general population of survivors, the report notes.

The most common sources of help came from victim advocates, community service providers and counselors, and family or friends. Only a few reported receiving help from the justice system. Many said they could use further help paying for basic needs such as food, clothing, or housing.

Many of them envision a future with stable housing, reliable child care, the ability to buy or pay off a car, and the opportunity to enjoy a life in which their basic needs are met. In the case of one respondent, it the dream was higher education: “I am finally after almost 20 years of wanting to go to college going to attend this fall! I am very excited, and living here [at my program] and taking advantage of the resources has allowed me to do this.”

The report recommends policy changes, including expanding paid sick and safe leave; training law enforcement and prosecutors to recognize when a person has been coerced into criminal activity by an intimate partner; and providing survivors with credit repair, debt remediation, and other financial services.

“While the tangible costs associated with intimate partner violence, such as health care expenses and lost worker productivity, are profound, the true cost of abuse—to society and to individual survivors—is much higher than a simple dollar figure,” Cynthia Hess, co-author of the report and IWPR associate director of research, said in a statement. “How do you quantify the economic impact of lost opportunities? The nation must take more concerted action to help survivors get on solid economic footing and realize their dreams for their future and the hopes they carry for their families.”

Evidence-based journalism is the foundation of democracy. Rewire.News, is devoted to evidence-based reporting on reproductive and sexual health, rights and justice and the intersections of race, environmental, immigration, and economic justice.

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