We’ve seen, earlier today, the troubling numbers on teen pregnancy. Now we have to ask: how many of those pregnancies were coerced? Not just “unwanted” or “unplanned,” but actually forced? Forced — contrary to cliche — by the men, on the women?
In the first larger quantitative study of its kind, researchers at UC Davis have found (as they have in smaller studies, which BG covered here) that “young women and teenage girls often face efforts by male partners to sabotage their birth control or coerce or pressure them to become pregnant — including by damaging condoms and destroying contraceptives. These behaviors, defined as ‘reproductive coercion,’ are often associated with physical or sexual violence.” The study, published in the January issue of te journal Contraception, also finds that “among women who experienced both reproductive coercion and partner violence, the risk of unintended pregnancy doubled.” [Emphasis added.] Here, I’ll add it again: DOUBLED. This is possibly the clearest link yet established between domestic violence and really, really, really unwanted pregnancy.
The researchers surveyed over 1200 women aged 16-29 (so yeah, not just teens) who sought care at the five family planning clinics in Northern California. More than half the women surveyed reported physical or sexual partner violence. One-third of those who reported partner violence also reported pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage.
As BG’s alter ego reported here several months ago, based on earlier data: “The problem is so widespread…that public-health advocates are working to cast teen pregnancy in a whole new light: not as a measure of ‘promiscuity,’ or a failure of cluefulness, but rather as a canary in the coal mine of partner violence.” In other words, these girls don’t just need to be reminded of how to put a condom on a banana. They need to be asked whose idea this pregnancy was, and whether they thought it was a good one. Oh, and if anyone at home is hitting them. Or at least lying about pulling out.
What’s going on? In all modern fables, isn’t the girl the one who wants to get the guy to get her pregnant? Well, first of all, no, not all women in relationships are against getting pregnant. But not all of those women are in healthy relationships. And here’s the guy side: “In one 2007 study, some boys acknowledged outright that they insisted on condomless sex as a way to establish power over female partners. (There is evidence of analogous male-on-male sexual violence, but it hasn’t been studied in depth.) Other research found that some men took a woman’s request for a condom as an accusation of cheating, or an admission that she had slept around or strayed. And for some, yes, the goal is fatherhood — but not so much of the ‘involved’ variety; rather, it’s a desire — as with Janey’s ex — to mark one woman as ‘mine’ forever. Or, [according to one anti-violence advocate] young men in gangs say, ‘I’m not gonna be around forever. I’ve gotta leave my legacy.’”
This is not NEWnews, as a phenomenon; those who work with teens have known about it for years. Only now, finally, is it drawing attention as a serious public health issue. Let’s hope, then, that the real legacy is this: “It doesn’t make sense to talk [at school] about substance abuse use this week and pregnancy next week and STDs the following week and then healthy relationships the week after that,” said UC Davis researcher Elizabeth Miller. “We need to be talking about how they’re all linked together.”