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Reproductive coercion report shows tragic reality of abuse

Reproductive coercion report shows tragic reality of abuse in New Zealand

Women’s Refuge has published New Zealand’s first ever report on reproductive coercion and Family Planning says the courage of the women who responded to the study needs to be met with an equally courageous response from agencies working in the sector – and more broadly.

Family Planning Chief Executive Jackie Edmond says “The findings of this important research give all of us a glimpse at the extent of reproductive coercion happening behind closed doors in our country and its impact on the health and wellbeing of women.”

“This report is a must-read for everyone who works in health and for the government – so we can all look at our processes and practices to see what more we can do for women impacted in this way. I want it to be read too by parents and teachers so that it informs the relationships and sexuality education our young people are getting. We need to be working on this issue on all fronts - through prevention, intervention and protection.

A significant number of research participants had partners who controlled access to their contraceptives, or who sabotaged their contraception in some way and some described pregnancy pressure from an intimate partner.

Over one third of participants reported a partner trying to prevent them accessing an abortion, and just over one quarter had experienced a partner trying to pressure them into ending a pregnancy. Just under one third had also experienced a partner deliberately trying to cause them to miscarry, for example by using physical violence.

The report also found close to half of participants had experienced a partner intentionally exposing them to a sexually transmitted infection. Almost all of the participants who had been pregnant had experienced abuse from their intimate partner, such as psychological, sexual and physical abuse, alongside reproductive coercion.

Others who took part in the survey shared their experiences of their partners’ behaviour during labour and delivery, 62% had experienced their partner intentionally trying to impede their recovery from birth, miscarriage or abortion.

Participants shared their experiences seeking support and advice around reproductive coercion and other intimate partner violence – the report found very few participants were asked about abuse in their relationship and even fewer were asked specifically about reproductive coercion.

For those participants who did attempt to disclose abuse or reproductive coercion, the responses they were given were often not helpful or actually harmful.

Women attending our clinics are asked about violence or coercion, they’re asked about being asked to do things sexually that they don’t want to do. If partners are present for the consultation, they’re asked to leave the room for a period of time to give the woman a chance to speak in confidence with a nurse or doctor.

“We will continue to work with Women’s Refuge to make sure our response to the women who come to see us is a safe and helpful as possible. The voices of these women are so compelling we must listen to them and identify where we can do more or do things differently,” Ms Edmond says.

What is reproductive coercion?
The undermining of a person’s reproductive and sexual wellbeing and autonomy can involve overt instances or episodes of sexual violation (rape) and other forms of physical force (for example, forced removal of IUDs, or physical violence during pregnancy), more coercive, non-physical behaviours, such as threatening to leave if a partner does not become pregnant, or withholding money for contraceptives, or both.

Reproductive coercion can also include threatening behaviours intended to influence or control pregnancy outcomes or undermine contraceptive use, forcing pregnancy then denying paternity, or restricting a person’s access to healthcare and support, for example antenatal care.

There may also be coercive control around the decision to access an abortion, for example, with partners coercing them into having an abortion or trying to prevent them from accessing an abortion, for example through sabotaging clinic appointments.

What are some examples of reproductive coercion?
• hiding or throwing away a woman’s pills or pill packet
• breaking or making holes in condoms, refusing to use a condom, or taking a condom off during sex
• removing intrauterine devices (IUDs) or vaginal rings
• threatening behaviour that pressures a woman to become pregnant when she does not want to
• forcing a partner to abort or continue a pregnancy when she does not want to
• injuring a partner to try to cause a miscarriage
• threatening to end the relationship, or harm the pregnant person, if they don’t stop using contraception
• intentionally exposing a partner to an STI or HIV
Some of the experiences shared by participants were:
• ‘Refusing to use a condom, stopping me from going to the doctor or pharmacy by claiming we couldn’t afford it.’
• ‘Not allowing me the money to go to the doctor to get contraceptives. Refused to wear a condom.’
• ‘He wouldn’t wear a condom but thought the pill would make me fat so I wasn’t allowed to take it, and said the IUD and other alternatives cost too much.’
• ‘Refused to give me my money to get contraceptives, believed they are bad chemicals that I should avoid etc. [He] actively tried getting me pregnant so I’m more compelled to stay.’
• Refused condoms [and] would not let me have access or means to get to the doctor or a sexual health clinic.’
• ‘Something would ‘happen’ to the car or just some excuse to why we couldn’t get to the doctor’s for IUD etc.’
• ‘[He] refused condoms and would not allow me to go on the pill or jab because he said I would get fat.’


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