While it may sound like something out of Law & Order: SVU, "reproductive coercion" is a very real, very serious form of abuse facing women today. Reports of intimate partner violence including reproductive coercion vary hugely in age, socio-economic status, and geographical locations - sadly, it affects all kinds of women.
Researchers say many women don't report this kind of abuse because they don't recognize that it's happening - and that's a big problem.We often don't feel safe to speak out about our abuse, and sometimes we aren't aware of how bad things can get because we don't know the symptoms. So what are they?
While some types of this abuse are familiar (physical and emotional threats, fear-based control, and physical violence) doctors are hearing more and more stories about men directly sabotaging birth control. That's what reproductive coercion is all about.
It includes poking holes in condoms, hiding or destroying the pill, not pulling out when agreeing too, attempting to remove an IUD or NuvaRing, and even threatening their partners with abandonment or physical harm if they don't make a baby. It can even go as far as someone forcing their pregnant partner to have an abortion, or intentionally hurting her in a way that may cause a miscarriage.
Some of these things can be harder to recognize as totally (TOTALLY) unacceptable behavior, so it's important that women and young girls feel comfortable speaking with their doctor about this kind of stuff.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) is trying to make that a little easier. It issued a really intense statement urging Ob-Gyns to create the space for women and girls to speak up if they believe their partner is trying to control them with coercion or force.
Because of the ACOG and partners like Futures Without Violence, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and others, women are finding their voice, and feeling safer to talk about possible abuse.
Part of finding your voice can start with talking to your healthcare provider or seeking advice from an institution that offers hotlines and even safe havens. The above-mentioned organizations are working to get a "Reproductive Coercion Checklist" into doctors offices, to help screen possible victims of abuse. They're also making information more accessible to patients by offering pamphlets, wallet-sized cards, and posters in common locations for those who may be afraid to take information home with them.
If you or anyone you know might be a victim of reproductive or sexual coercion, domestic violence, or any other abuse, please do not hesitate to speak to someone you trust. Talk to your healthcare provider, a police officer, or call a hotline and seek solace. You don’t have to have a child that you don’t want or be forced to stay with a partner who may harm you.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Thanks to NY Magazine. Images via theblacktavist.com, ndadv.org.