New Guidelines Released for Physicians to Help Identify and Treat Victims of Reproductive Coercion
Futures Without Violence has created the first set of guidelines designed to help physicians identify and treat victims of reproductive coercion.
San Francisco, CA–To better treat victims of a form of intimate partner violence called reproductive coercion, Futures Without Violence, formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund, created the first set of guidelines that California’s Department of Public Health is now distributing to over 2000 Family Planning Access Care and Treatment (Family PACT) providers in the state.
“Reproductive coercion is a form of abuse by an intimate partner that leads to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections," said Futures Without Violence President Esta Soler. “It is important that women who are experiencing this form of abuse know that they are not alone and there are ways to stop this damaging behavior.”
Defined as threats or acts of violence against a partner’s reproductive health or reproductive decision-making, reproductive coercion may include forced sex, a male partner pressuring a woman to become pregnant against her will and interference with the use of birth control (such as poking holes in condoms or flushing pills down the toilet).
“Family planning providers may be our first line of defense in improving reproductive health outcomes,” said Laurie Weaver, who administers the Office of Family Planning at the California Department of Public Health. “We are hopeful that these guidelines will help physicians to better identify patients who are experiencing this form of abuse and provide them with the most appropriate resources.”
The guidelines, which were developed based on research conducted at family planning clinics in San Francisco, explain the negative health effects of birth control sabotage and pregnancy coercion, and provide strategies on how to identify these forms of abuse and help victims.
Research conducted by Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD, and a survey conducted of callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline found that women need to be asked certain kinds of questions to recognize reproductive coercion.
The extent of this form of abuse is evident in the results of a recent national survey that found 1 in 4 callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported experiencing some form of
reproductive coercion, including birth control sabotage, pressure to become pregnant before they were ready, and in some cases followed by pressure to have an abortion.
The negative health consequences to reproductive coercion are clear: according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 40% of abused women reported that their pregnancy was unintended compared to 8% of non-abused women. Additionally, female victims of violence are three times more likely than non-victims to experience sexually transmitted infections, according to a study in the Archives of Family Medicine. And a history of intimate partner violence is a common denominator in studies of women who are HIV positive.
The intimate partner violence and reproductive coercion guidelines recommend that physicians:
1. Create a safe environment for assessment and disclosure by talking to patients alone in a private location.
2. Train all office staff on intimate partner violence and reproductive coercion.
3. Discuss healthy relationship guidelines in the course of any reproductive health visit.
4. Assure patients that asking about healthy relationships is now part of the exam routine.
5. Develop referral lists and refer patients who are experiencing intimate partner violence or reproductive coercion to a domestic violence advocate.
In addition to the guidelines, through a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, California’s Office of Family Planning has collaborated on a Public Service Announcement to raise awareness about reproductive coercion and appropriate resources to help women in need through the Family PACT program. It will be distributed to Family PACT providers, California television stations, and posted on YouTube. To view the public service announcement or to review the full set of intimate partner violence guidelines, visit http://www.familypact.org/en/Providers.aspx.
Futures Without Violence, formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund, works to end violence against women and children around the world, because every person has the right to live free of violence. More information is available at www.FuturesWithoutViolence.org. Futures Without Violence's kNOwMore initiative, which examines the consequences of reproductive coercion and violence, is online at www.KnowMoreSayMore.org.