Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Domestic Violence, Reproductive Justice & Young People Writing Their Own Narrative

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October 17, 2012

“He refuses to use a condom. I’ve bought them and he throws them out.” –Survivor on the National Domestic Violence Hotline

“He threatened me when I asked to use birth control, and always refused to use condoms after we became exclusive. When we decided to continue the pregnancy and marry, the overt abuse started within days of our wedding.” –Jessica’s Story

The stories above are an everyday reality for women who are in unhealthy and abusive relationships.  For those who don’t know, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Each October, national and local domestic violence organizations and activists work to mourn those who have died, celebrate those who have survived, and connect those who work to end violence.

The statistics around domestic and dating violence are staggering:

  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
  • 1 in 4 gay men experience domestic violence.
  • 1 in 3 adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
  • 43% of dating college women have experience violent and abusive dating behaviors.

Last February, The National Domestic Violence Hotline and Futures Without Violence did the first national survey on the extent of reproductive coercion. They found that 1 in 4 callers to the hotline reported birth control sabotage and pregnancy coercion.

Reproductive coercion is just one of many tactics that an abuser uses to exert power and control over a partner. Reproductive coercion is threats or acts of violence against a partner’s reproductive health or reproductive decision-making.  It includes sex without consent, pressuring someone to become pregnant against her will, forcing someone to have an abortion against her will and interfering with methods of birth control, such as refusing to wear a condom, poking holes in condoms, flushing birth control pills down the toilet, ripping out female condoms and several other ways of impacting one’s access to reproductive health care.

In an abusive relationship, asking an abuser to use a condom may cause him to react by accusing the survivor of cheating on him or not trusting him.   And more often than not, this leads to physical and sexual assault.  The fear, emotional abuse and physical assaults prevent many from even attempting to negotiate for safer sex and puts victims and survivors at higher risk for HIV, STI’s and unintended pregnancies.

  • Girls who are victims of dating violence are 4 to 6 times more likely than non-abused girls to become pregnant.
  • 1 in 3 adolescents tested for sexually transmitted infections and HIV have experienced domestic violence.
  • Girls who have been abused by a boyfriend are 5 times as likely to be forced into not using a condom and 8 times more likely to be pressured to become pregnant.
  • Women who have a history of both sexual and physical abuse by intimate partners are more than 5 times more likely to report having multiple STI’s.

It’s an ongoing struggle to find ways to create sexual safety plans that support and empower the survivor.  As we continue on for our fight for safe and legal access to abortion, no cost birth control and building a sex positive culture, it’s important to remember that many may not be able to negotiate safely for sex or contraception use. In fact, many do not always recognize some behaviors and incidents as unhealthy or abusive. That’s why if you truly care about creating a sex positive culture, you must care about ending domestic and sexual violence.

This means we must think creatively, utilize community resources, and build collaborations with new partners. In empowering all advocates to understand the dynamics of domestic violence and the importance of healthy sexuality we’re linking our movements to create healthier, happier and safer relationships.

If there is any generation that is working more creatively on building and promoting healthy relationships and a sex positive culture, it’s this one. Youth activists and advocates have used technology and pop culture to create some of the most effective tools to talk about relationships and consent. Youth advocates at Boston Public Health Commission hosted a healthy break up summit called “Face it, Don’t Facebook It” , teens in Idaho organized a screening of the movie Eclipse and declared that there was more to choose from in life than picking between a vampire or werewolf,  and youth activists in New York capitalized on a summer hit and created a sex education Call Me Maybe video.

Youth are driving the dialogue to shift culture, change attitudes and end the stigma and shame that many survivors feel.  Our greatest opportunity to help end dating and domestic violence is to educate ourselves about the red flags and warning signs and speak out when we see violence or victim blaming. I hope that this October you’ll help us raise awareness, talk about healthy relationships, engage in open and honest communication and model healthy behaviors.

We all deserve healthy, happy and safe relationships. If you are concerned about your relationship, or about a friend, please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) or the National Dating Violence Hotline at http://www.loveisrespect.org to speak with an advocate.

Andrea Gleaves is the training and outreach specialist with the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. As Training and Outreach Specialist she assists in the creation of curriculum, training facilitation and outreach to various victim service providers, government agencies and community-based organizations. Andrea is the Chair of the Women’s Information Network (WIN). WIN is a pro-choice, Democratic organization for young women in Washington, DC.  


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