Reproductive Coercion is Abuse, Too

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.


Categories: Violence

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13 replies

  1. To any commenters saying that this should cover male victims as well- it’s not meant to because this is focused on women’s issues and is attempting to bring to light a topic that hasn’t been widely acknowledged until recently.

    There is plenty of awareness out there that women could sabotage birth control to entrap men, but it’s almost certainly the case that the reverse is much less discussed and needs a lot of attention. Shifting to a discussion about men would just lessen the amount of focus given to women’s issues.

    A different article could be written by someone else about male victims, no one is preventing that from being written. But this specific article is attempting to shed light on a form of abuse that’s largely been overlooked (even though most people probably know multiple women who have fallen victim to it). We really need to acknowledge as a society that this is happening so that women can be given the help they need in identifying when their rights are being taken away by partners as part of systematic domestic abuse and what they can do to defend themselves against it. Often it sounds like these women don’t even realize this abuse is occurring until it is too late, so the hope would be that putting a spotlight on this as a women’s issue would encourage women to start using more substantial birth control methods like IUDs to prevent a sex partner from being able to impregnate her unwillingly.

    So, there is a specific and actionable intent to this article in terms of what we can do for women in this society. That also makes diverging into men’s issues rather unproductive as there is currently no form of birth control that they could take which would keep them from being sabotaged. So, bringing that topic up would just muddy the waters with anecdotes that have no real actionable solution at present and which lead the reader away from the actual point of this article.

    An example- if you write an article about having to give your cat a flea treatment you don’t also have to mention that other people own dogs which they also treat for fleas. It makes no sense.

  2. I just saw this SVU episode as well and my jaw was dropped the whole time. I am a female who also experienced this type of abuse in addition to other abuses. The reproductive coercion came first and then other abuses came on later. A male friend of mine told me about this before I was sexually active but I couldn’t imagine why a guy would do that. I learned a few months later that it was possible when my boyfriend bought me a pregnancy test and later admitted to slipping off the condom for about a month. I called the police to inquire if this was wrong (NYPD) and they just said I was responsible for ensuring my own birth control.

    I was way more aware of women compromising contraception, especially for financial gains or commitment issues. I think that is just as disgusting. The difference I see, in my environment/community, even though it is the male and females child-it is more common for the father to walk away for whatever reason. The woman carries that child and will not be questioned if she is the mother. The father can be an upstanding man and be father or he can decide that he is not going to stick around. Of course, mother’s can leave their children too. Again, in my “lower-income” community, many of the single parents are females. From my experience, the majority of women in my circle who had unplanned pregnancies where victims of some sort of abuse as well.

    A couple of people were shocked as to why I didn’t use protection when they realized I was pregnant and I would always reply “I did”. Many of us know that protection is necessary, I was very adamant about protection each and every time. I guess we just weren’t aware that this is actually a real form of abuse. Had they made this episode in 2007, I would have went on the pill as soon as I became sexually active. Thank God my child is such a blessing. Hopefully this awareness will spread and people can remain conscious that the risk of this abuse is very possible.

  3. I was a victim of reprodutive abuse. My Daughter father lied and told me that he was wearing a condom, when he wasn’t.I saw that he was controlling so stop calling him.He called one day he called me mad that I didn’t call him and stated that he didn’t use a condom and laugh and said I hope you’re pregnant and told me to take a pregency test.I went to plannedhood and found out that I was pregnant.He said you’re mine and you’re not going nowhere.I was planning to go away for college,I don’t resent my daughter, but he ruined my life. So to all, it dose happen.Ladiesand gentleman , abuse happens in different forms, but this one needs to be illegal.

  4. This is sexist. I would be willing to bet more women become pregnant by sabotaging contraception than men.

    • It happen to women too, I’m in the Army too.My baby father did it too me.and admitted to me and laugh in my face.Know he wants custody to get child support, another form of control.I know woman do it but men do it too.Abuse is a form of control that a person (Men and Women).Open your eyes.

    • You’re an idiot if you can’t understand how women suffer multiple times more by being forced into pregnancy than men — for starters, Mr. Smart; lets do biology 101 — women carry the fetus, not the man, get that straight?

      So while the woman suffers morning sickness and numerous other physical changes, many as potentially traumatic and life threatening as a regular illness, the man’s life is unchanged.

      If men were entrapped by pregnancy I highly doubt we’d ever have invented concepts such as child support “enforcement”.


  5. Why is there not literature female reproductive abusers? How many woman stop taking the pill to get pregnant? I was in the Army and they advised us against letting woman give us a condom as they would poke holes in them so they can garnish a GI’s wages or marry them so they can move away from the crap town they grew up in. This is not a strictly male issue, yet the media, fiction, and online material acts as though it is…

  6. This is real. My ex told me he wanted us to be a family. Told me God brought us together. When I got pregnant he revealed he had a wife and 3 kids at home. He threatened to kill me if I told her. Ends up he has about 8 children that I know of. I know be is actively trying to have children with others. He has no intention of taking care of any outside of his marriage unless the mother retains a sexual relationship with him. i would say this is very real as I have been a victim of it.

  7. I’m extremely impressed together with your writing talents and also with the format to your blog. Is that this a paid subject matter or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice high quality writing, it’s uncommon to look a nice weblog like this one today..

  8. Indeed this is a serious issue; however, both the episode, your blog, and the first comment focus on only the male being the potential reproductive abuser.
    I know of at least one example of where a woman lied to her husband about taking birth control (she told him she was, but had stopped), in order to trick him into getting her pregnant.
    Yes it’s her body, but, it’s *their* kid; his child as well. This would be reproductive abuse too.

    Too often abuse (in whatever form) towards males — especially in the current generation, and especially emotional abuse — is ignored.
    We should stand for an end to abuse period, and not filter or stereotype by gender (even if completely innocently).

  9. Reproductive coercion is not just abuse but also it is classified as rape. By the way, I just finished watching that Special Victims Unit episode in which John Stamos portrayed the reproductive abuser who sweet talks his way and sabotages birth control, Yes, the episode not only opened my eyes but also made me realised that we all need to educate women and girls about reproductive coercion. Reproductive abuse does exist in real life and perhaps this British fellow, Keith Macdonald, might be a fine example of reproductive abuse (adding with sponging off unemployment benefits that come from British taxpayers’ pockets). Here is last year’s Daily Mail that mentioned about him:

    Great post and keep it up.

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