I caught last night’s Law & Order: SVU episode, which featured John Stamos (yummm) as a reproductive abuser (not yummm), and it got me thinking. How many viewers dismissed the episode, not recognizing reproductive abuse as a real and viable threat? After all, Stamos’ character wasn’t slapping, punching or violently raping his victims. So how is impregnating women without their knowledge and consent abuse?
The most basic answer is that reproductive abuse is an extension of domestic violence. Men who are physically and emotionally abusive may also sabotage their partners’ birth control as a means of further control over the relationship (“Now you’re mine forever”). This in and of itself may be shocking to some; but what is most disturbing is how pervasive the practice is.
A study by the National Domestic Abuse Hotline found that:
1 in 4 women who agreed to answer questions after calling the hot line said a partner had pressured them to become pregnant, told them not to use contraceptives, or forced them to have unprotected sex… There were stories about men refusing to wear a condom, forcing sex without a condom, poking holes in condoms, flushing birth control pills down the toilet.
Another study, conducted by UC Davis professor Elizabeth Miller, found that a third of women reporting partner violence experienced reproductive coercion, as did 15 percent of women who had never reported violence.
Reproduction coercion is a means for abusers to further entrap their partners in a cycle of violence and control. Think about it: once a child is introduced to a relationship, the ties between mother and father are deepened and, particularly in the case of abusive relationships, further complicated. Now with a child to care and provide for, victims may feel trapped and unable to leave their abusive partner for fear of breaking up the family unit, because of financial difficulties, or for fear of retaliation — or any combination of these.
This phenomenon is not a far cry from what people generally think of as sexual abuse and rape. In both cases, one party does not or can not consent to what is being done to them. Furthermore, the power structures are unequal in both scenarios: one party is vulnerable and the other is manipulative and abusive.
Reproductive coercion is also a very cunning way for abusers to solidify control over their partners, as their victims may not even be aware of the sabotage at play or recognize it as problematic. Scary, right?
So, to recap: reproductive abusers are abusers too. Even if they don’t leave black and blue marks on their partners, they are controlling their partners through coercion and undermining their right to bodily autonomy.
If you suspect you are a victim of reproductive abuse, or someone you know may be, please call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Hotline at (919) 929-7122.