Reproductive coercion affects 50% of women aged 18-44

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Reproductive coercion, a form of abuse in which someone controls an individual’s reproductive choices, affects 50% of women aged 18-44, suggests a new poll carried out for BBC News.

The data, collected by Savanta ComRes, included input from 1,000 women. Of these, a third said they had been pressured to have sex without contraception, with a fifth saying it had been forced on them – these are the most common forms of reproductive coercion, according to this survey.

Fifteen percent of women in this survey said they had been pressured to terminate a pregnancy when they did not want to.

If you know or suspect you are being abused in this way, you can call the National Domestic Abuse Freephone Helpline, run by Refuge on 0808 2000 247. Your body and reproductive choices should always be under your control.

Several data sets indicate that this type of abuse is surprisingly common. However, the attention paid to this subject seems low, although this phenomenon was labeled for the first time in 2010.

What is reproductive coercion?

In cases of reproductive coercion, efforts are made by an abuser to control a person’s reproductive choices and autonomy. Essentially, things that pertain to reproduction, from birth control decisions to access to abortion, are used as a means of control.

In a 2019 narrative review published in the BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, Professor Sam Rowlands, who specializes in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and Dr Susan Walker, who researches sociology and health, explained that this could be at the hands of a romantic partner, as well as due to wider family pressure.

Reproductive coercion includes:

  • Pressure someone not to use contraceptives
  • Destroy or hide their contraceptives
  • Refusing to wear a condom, even if the female partner asks for it
  • Lying about having had a vasectomy
  • ‘Stealthing’ – the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex (a form of rape under UK law)
  • Forced continuation of pregnancy
  • Forced termination of pregnancy

    According to Professor Rowland and Dr Walker’s review, one in four women of childbearing age who attend sexual health clinics have reported some form of reproductive coercion, with younger women more likely to experience this abuse.

    They noted that some people may not be aware they are being subjected to this form of abuse – especially if there is no physical or sexual abuse. Of course, there is a scale of the degree of control abusers use.

    “The degree of control a male partner may have ranges from mild to extreme. Lower levels of control may not be perceived by the victim as unhealthy or abusive. Women in a long-term relationship may become used to significant levels of reproductive control,” they said in the review.

    In terms of dealing with this problem, they suggest that medical professionals should play a role in detecting and preventing such abuse. They call for more international research to guide this process.

    “In particular, more research is needed on the non-physical elements of abusive relationships and how to resist coercive control,” they noted.

    Abuse Resources

    If any of the above matches your experience, you can seek advice and assistance below. Remember: decisions about your body are always your choice.

    • Call the free national domestic abuse helpline, run by Refuge on 0808 2000 247
    • Chat live with a Women’s Aid professional at chat.womensaid.org.uk
    • Tell your GP or healthcare professional what is happening and seek help

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