Partner Violence, Teen Pregnancy Linked

A groundbreaking new study finds a significant connection between abusive relationships and teen pregnancy. Published in the journal Ambulatory Pediatrics and released last week, the study finds that one quarter of adolescents with histories of abusive relationships said that their abusive partners had actively tried to get them pregnant by manipulating condom use, sabotaging birth control, and making explicit statements about wanting them to become pregnant.

Released by the Center for Reducing Health Disparities, University of California Davis School of Medicine, and conducted by Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD and colleagues, the study is based on interviews with 61 girls from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds with a known history of intimate partner violence who live in the poorest neighborhoods in Boston.

The analysis included 53 girls age 15 to 20 who reported being sexually active and involved in relationships that included recurring patterns of physical, sexual or emotional abuse from a male partner. One in four of these girls (26 percent) reported that their partners were actively trying to promote pregnancy even when they tried to avoid it. In the face of sabotage such as poking holes in their condoms, some of the girls reported trying to hide contraceptive use from their partners. Others became ambivalent about pregnancy.

“Those of us who work to end dating and domestic violence have long known that abusers often try to control their partner’s reproduction, sabotaging their birth control and undermining their efforts to avoid unintended pregnancy,” said Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler. “This study demonstrates just how pervasive this problem is. It is deeply disturbing.”

More than one-quarter of girls in the study (26 percent) reported having unwanted sex with a dating partner in the last year. “Physicians are trained to think about domestic violence in adult terms,” Dr. Miller said. “Our study suggests that health-care providers who come in contact with teens, especially those seeking pregnancy testing and emergency contraception, should ask about the possibility of abuse in the relationship and specifically whether the young woman's partner may be trying to get her pregnant… Pregnancy prevention programs should include discussions about reproductive control as a form of abuse in relationships.”

Soler agreed and added, “This very important study looks at the behavior of abusive boyfriends, but it is important to note that other research has shown that many teens in abusive situations have a history of family violence and have been – or are being – sexually and/or physically abused by a family member or someone living in their home. We must be extremely careful that the policies we adopt protect vulnerable teens from abuse at the hands of family members as well as partners.”

In addition to Dr. Miller, the new study was conducted by Michele Decker, MPH; Elizabeth Reed, MS; Anita Raj, PhD; Jeanne E. Hathaway, MD, MPH; and Jay G. Silverman, PhD. It was supported by grants from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the William T. Grant Scholars Program. More information is available at www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/newsroom/releases/archives/childrenshospital/2007/teen_pregnancy9-2007.html.

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