Men who abuse their partners are often seeking control of the relationship and research is finding that often extends to control of their reproduction. Health care providers are now being asked to look for this type of abuse to help victims regain control of their reproduction.
It's often called a cycle of abuse, where the victim becomes trapped by her abuser. This is even truer when a baby is introduced into the relationship. Dr. Nancy Hart says, "Men who want to control their partners control them in a bajillion ways. They may control what clothing they wear, who they talk to on the phone, who they see socially, whether they have a job or not, what job they have."
Researchers are now finding controlling the abused person's reproductive system is more common than not in these types of relationships. Doctor Hart, an OB/GYN at the University of Florida Medical Schools, was in Memphis to teach care givers how to recognize and help victims of birth control sabotage. She says often women don't recognize the sabotage as abuse. Men will often flush birth control down the toilet or refuse to use condoms. "It sounds pretty scary doesn't it? And what it really is, is a confluence of bullying and control of your partner, plus sexual assault, and sexual abuse, plus risk to the pregnancy outcome. Because you can only imagine it's not good for your pregnancy to be in fear of your partner for any reason," says Hart.
Hart says up to 20 percent of adolescents in abusive relationships are victims of birth control sabotage. She says roughly three quarters of adult abuse victims have had their partner try to control their reproduction. These women are more likely to terminate their pregnancy. The babies born are brought into the cycle of abuse. "Children who observe fighting, domestic violence between adults in the home, will actually, at a very early age, have changes in their stress responses symptoms. They'll incorporate early memories of the fighting even if they aren't being hit," Hart says.
Hart is teaching local health providers to recognize the signs and suggest birth control that cannot be tampered with, like implants, IUD's, and shots. The hope is controlling reproduction will lead to these women escaping the abusive relationship.
Hart says, "Controlling your reproduction is sort of a fundamental sense that you have some mastery over your universe."