Pregnancy and Abuse: Safety During Postpartum

This post was contributed by Rebecca Donley and is the final post in a series about pregnancy and abuse. Read the first, second and third posts.

postpartumThe period immediately following childbirth can be immensely joyful for new parents. It is also often overwhelming to deal with the care of a new baby and adapt your lifestyle to what that entails. For parents with an abusive partner, this time is often a period of escalated stress and danger. Some studies have shown that experiencing abuse is a risk factor for postpartum depression and other postpartum mental health issues, so it may be helpful to share incidents of emotional, verbal and physical abuse with your prenatal healthcare provider so they can help you identify preventive measures for the postpartum period. You may also want to consider researching information on symptoms and support. Postpartum Support International has a wealth of information, including a page on pregnancy and postpartum mental health, a local support search and tools for self-assessment and self-care.

Your body will also be readjusting physically after pregnancy. After your body goes through childbirth, you will need a period of healing before engaging in sexual activity. Your doctor, nurse or midwife may advise you about this length of time depending on your birth experience. Your abusive partner may try to reassert power and control by dismissing or downplaying these recommendations using guilt, threats or even forcing sex before you are ready. These behaviors are sexual abuse and can create health issues or an extended healing period for you. Contacting your healthcare provider or a domestic violence program about these incidents may allow you to create a safety plan to increase your sexual and physical safety during this period. Examples of strategies you may use could include:

  • A support person staying in your home during the length of your healing;
  • Staying with your baby at a supportive family member or friend’s home or a shelter while you heal;
  • Sleeping in a separate part of the home from the abuser;
  • Adjusting your sleep schedule to times when your partner is away from the home;
  • If you are concerned that your partner is trying to get you pregnant again, identifying safe and undetectable contraceptive methods that don’t interfere with your child feeding choices.

As always, you know your situation the best, and these suggestions are not recommendations, but ideas for possible exploration if you think they could increase your safety.

As advocates, we use tools called Power and Control Wheels to discuss different types of abuse. There is even a Power and Control Wheel specific to the pregnancy and postpartum period. One of the sections on the original wheel is Using Children, and these tactics during this period can be especially impactful. It’s common for new parents to have to negotiate their preferences for child raising with one another. In an abusive situation, the abusive partner may ignore, override or sabotage the other parent’s wishes and concerns.

One area where this may come up is how to feed your baby. Some parents may wish to breastfeed, and others may choose to use formula to feed their child. In order to move forward with either of these methods, having your partner’s support is very important to feel successful. Breastfeeding has many benefits and may increase connection with your child and even help lessen the impacts of postpartum mental health disorders. However, it can also be physically and emotionally draining for some parents. If your partner belittles you for challenges that you have with breastfeeding, prevents you from having time to breastfeed or pump or pressures you to breastfeed without providing support, these may be red flags for abuse. Using formula to feed your child also has benefits, and may allow for increased healing and relief for new parents. This feeding method also requires funds to purchase formula and may take time to make bottles to feed your child. If your partner refuses to provide financial assistance for formula, makes you feel guilty for using formula or pressures you to feed your child with formula but will not help with making bottles or feeding your child, these may be red flags for abuse.

Another area where you may experience this is around your baby’s sleep. There are many methods and theories for helping infants (and their parents!) sleep. You can expect to make decisions around how to respond to your child when they wake, where to make your child’s sleeping area, what makes a safe sleeping atmosphere and who will respond to the baby. If your partner prevents you from creating a consistent sleep routine, purposefully starts fights near the child’s sleeping area, prohibits you from comforting your child or refuses to assist when the child awakens, these may be red flags for abuse.

If you are noticing these types of behaviors, it may be helpful to reach out for additional support. While you may have received immediate support from family and friends following your child’s birth, you may begin to feel isolated as visitors thin out. Your partner may behave in ways that make visitors uncomfortable, or you may just be entering a new phase that your friends do not relate to yet. There are many sources of support for new parents, and connecting with them can help get perspective on your new role and how to best deal with your partner’s concerning words and actions. Your pediatrician or postpartum care physician may have information about support groups for new parents and their children, so it could help to contact their office about finding some resources. Social media and parenting websites like Baby Center, Parenting, The Bump, and What to Expect have forums where you can reach out to other parents and sometimes even find local groups and resources in your area.

You can also find groups that offer support that are specific to your parenting choices. Be mindful when joining any group that there may be parents who view parenting choices in a very concrete way and may not be as understanding of the circumstances you are dealing with in your relationship. Give yourself the space needed to separate from any group that is more about judging and giving advice than about supporting members with diverse life experiences. La Leche League International provides support and resources to breastfeeding parents; on their site you can look up information on local support meetings.The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides assistance for both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women; you can find agency contacts for their nutrition and breastfeeding support programs on their website. Attachment Parenting International also offers information and resources to connecting with local parents who want to practice attachment parenting principles. Babywearing International is another group that has local support meetings for parents interested in babywearing practices.

If one-on-one support is more in line with your needs, you may want to consider reaching out to a postpartum doula. A postpartum doula provides assistance to parents acclimating to their new roles. They may provide support and education for breastfeeding and other skills that increase bonding between parents and babies, to grow parents’ self-confidence. You can use this search tool to find local postpartum doulas. If your insurance does not cover the costs of a postpartum doula, you may choose to ask if doulas offer pro bono or sliding scale services.

You can always contact The Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or live chat on the website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST to discuss these issues and more. In addition to creating a personal safety plan with you, we can also help you connect with local domestic violence programs which may offer support groups, advocacy services, individual counseling and child care assistance.


Pregnancy and Abuse: Planning a Safe Child Birth

This post was contributed by Rebecca Donley and is the third in a series about pregnancy and abuse. Read the first post here and the second post here.

pregnancy-3For many first time parents, childbirth is an exciting yet frightening event. While there are many ways to prepare yourself for the birth of your child, everyone has a different version of the perfect birth, so these steps will vary from person to person.  Some people create a birth plan to outline what they would like to happen during and immediately following birth. A birth plan can include measures for safety if you are also concerned about the impact or role of an abusive partner during the birth.

As you are creating this plan, consider the allies that you will have available during the birth. If you plan to give birth at a hospital, doctors and nurses will likely be present during much of your labor process. If you are giving birth at a birthing center or at home, you may have a midwife present. Depending on your prenatal care options, you may have been able to inform these professionals about your concerns about the abuse. If not, contacting the professionals beforehand and planning some items to add to your birth plan for safety may be a possibility. You also might have a professional like a doula for support at the birth. Birth doulas provide support at hospitals, birth centers or home births, and unlike a doctor or nurse who may be supporting several patients and present only during certain parts of labor, your doula will stay with you throughout your labor process. Though doulas may not have training in domestic violence or supporting someone who is experiencing abuse, you still may be able to reach out to them for added support during your labor. While doula costs may not be covered by insurance, some doulas may be able to provide services pro bono or on a sliding scale. If you do not have a birth doula, you may want to identify a family member or friend to take on the role of labor support. When considering who to ask, keep in mind that you may want someone who will safety plan with you as opposed to for you.

Childbirth requires a lot of energy and focus. Even if you have a c-section planned in advance, that’s a major surgery that deserves your full attention. No matter your birth plan, it’s important that you be able to fully access your reserves without having distractions. If you feel like your abusive partner or ex-partner will attempt to prevent you from taking necessary steps for a safe and stress-free birth, consider adding strategies to your birth plan that will refocus and energize you. Different strategies work for different people, so practice these in advance to see what is most effective for you. These include movement exercises, breathing exercises, guided meditation or relaxation narratives, listening or singing to music and repeating positive affirmations. The key is that you are able to stay relaxed and positive.

If you have left the relationship, or go into labor while your partner isn’t present, you may determine that preventing them from finding out that you are giving birth is the safest thing for you and your child. You may be able to do this by only alerting your labor support person when you go into labor, and ensure that they know to not share this information with anyone else. When determining where you will give birth, you may want to consider whether your partner or ex knows your due date, and if they will try reaching out to area hospitals, birth centers or your support network to try find you. Once you determine a plan, let the staff at the place where you give birth know to alert you if someone tries looking for you, as well as to not provide any information about your presence or status. Give them a picture of your partner/ex, and ask that staff alert you if anyone matching their description is reported in the area. If you are giving birth outside the home, you may want to take a cab or have a friend or family member take you in a vehicle that your partner/ex will not recognize. When you leave the facility, ask your labor support to check the parking lot to ensure that your partner/ex is not waiting for you. While it is understandable that you would want to share information of your birth with social networks, consider safety before sharing updates or information. Pictures online can often be viewed by friends of friends, even if the abuser is blocked. If family and friends visit, ask them to wait on posting any photos that they take with you or the baby until after you’ve returned home.

You may need to have a plan for staying safe with the abuser present during labor as well. Creating activities to occupy your partner, like asking them to contact family and friends or pick up items from the store if they are distracting you, may be one strategy to create space for you to focus. As part of your safety measures in your birth plan, you could determine a code word to use with your doctor, nurse, midwife, doula or other labor support to alert them if you are feeling unsafe and would like your abuser removed from the room. You could also have a friend or family member stay with your partner to prevent them from interrupting your focus during childbirth. Brainstorming other strategies ahead of time is key because you will want your full energy to go towards ensuring a safe and peaceful birth. Even if your partner has limited your birth planning options, you may be able to mentally prepare yourself by researching childbirth and making a personal safety and self-care plan for each stage. Obtaining access to a phone to dial 911 in the case that your partner has prohibited you to leave the home to have the baby may be one part of an emergency safety plan. Identifying a room where you feel most safe and relaxed to labor, and preparing it in advance with the items and materials that you will need is another strategy to reduce stress during labor without external support.

Whatever your circumstance or needs, The Hotline is available to help you, whether that’s identifying local options or national resources that may enhance your safety, developing a personalized safety plan that helps you maintain your reserves for childbirth, or providing emotional support and validation during the last phase of pregnancy. We are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or via live online chat from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST.


Staying Physically, Emotionally and Financially Safe During Pregnancy

This post was contributed by Rebecca, a Hotline manager, and is the second in a series about pregnancy and abuse. Read the first post here

pregnancy-2While often portrayed as a magical, happy time, pregnancy—with the associated physical, emotional, social, and financial changes—can be challenging, even with a supportive partner in a healthy relationship. Because an abusive partner may see the unpredictability of pregnancy as an opportunity to increase power and control, if you’re pregnant it’s important to explore options to enhance your physical, emotional, financial and legal safety.

Your physical safety needs may change as pregnancy progresses; what may seem safe at one point may not feel that way a few weeks later. Getting prenatal care may be a way to maintain both your and the baby’s health during this time. It also may be a way to connect with a service provider that you can turn to if you are concerned for your safety. If you are unsure about accessing prenatal care, you may be able to get more information by contacting 211, a local resource line available in most communities. You can also sign up for Text4Baby, a free service that sends you tips about staying healthy during pregnancy up through your child’s first birthday. If you have concerns about not being insured, you may be able to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Survivors of domestic violence can enroll at the website at any time, using the Special Enrollment Period (SEP). For more information about this option, visit the What’s New? area of the Health Cares About IPV website.

During pregnancy, your center of gravity shifts and joints loosen to allow for easier childbirth. This can make getting around more difficult. If you live with the abuser, consider mapping the safest routes out of the home or apartment from the rooms where you spend the most time. Try avoiding rooms with weapons, hard surfaces and areas near stairs. If it is becoming difficult to drive, consider identifying some safe people that you can contact if you need transportation. Keeping cab or bus fare stowed in a packed bag may be another way to get out quickly if needed.

Protecting and maintaining your emotional energy during this time is also important and closely linked to physical safety, as stress can adversely impact your pregnancy. Creating a self-care plan is one way to achieve this. Some people use prenatal yoga, walking in nature, journaling, art or spending time with loved ones as part of their self-care. Creating social connections with other parents can be particularly important during pregnancy. is a website where you may be able to a group of parents expecting children with a due date close to yours. Other parenting and social media websites may have similar groups that you can join to find support and connection. If finding a group online doesn’t fit your needs, you could ask your healthcare provider to ask about classes or programs for expecting parents. Seeking out the support of a counselor may be an additional way to get perspective during this time. The Hotline can offer information about local domestic violence programs that offer counseling and support groups. If you’re looking for counselors that specialize in other areas, GoodTherapy is a website that offers assistance finding a local counselor, as well as articles and resources on issues that impact emotional well-being, including during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is also a time when financial and legal options begin to shift. Knowing your rights around these issues is a first step to creating a plan to protect yourself and your new child. While workplaces may differ in their support for pregnant employees, there are certain employment laws that they must follow. The Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau has a website where you can review your rights during pregnancy and as a new parent. Some state domestic violence coalitions also have dedicated projects that offer support for protecting yourself financially. One great example is the Economic Justice Project of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence called Get Money, Get Safe, which offers general tips on banking, credit and other issues for survivors of domestic violence. Knowing your options regarding custody can also be confusing, especially if you have several plans that you are considering for both your and your future child’s safety. WomensLaw offers a wealth of legal information including custody information and parental kidnapping laws searchable by state.

Safety plans are not one size fits all. Each person has a right to safety and a right to define how that will look, and these suggestions are not meant to serve as a guarantee or a direction. At The Hotline, we believe that you are the foremost expert in your situation. If you see some ideas that seem fitting and would like to expand on them, you’re always welcome to call us 24/7 or chat online between 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. (CST) to fully discuss creating a personalized safety plan.


Prenatal and Early Pregnancy: Tips for Staying Safe

This post was written by Rebecca, a Hotline manager, and is the first in a series about pregnancy and abuse.

prenatal-and-pregnancyDeciding if and when to have a child with a partner is a big decision. This decision can be even more challenging when you are with someone who is threatening, controlling and manipulative. Pregnancy and parenthood cause physical, emotional, financial and social changes, and therefore it is understandable to want stable and reliable partners for support during this transitional time. Unfortunately, some abusers use this transition as an opportunity to gain or maintain power and control through tactics known as reproductive coercion. These tactics can play out differently in every relationship and may seem confusing.

In a healthy relationship, you’re able to talk openly about your feelings around having children without fearing retaliation from your partner if you disagree about the timing or decision to have a child or more children. Differing feelings and desires may lead to a mutual decision to end the relationship, which may be difficult but it would not cause a concern for your safety. If you feel afraid to disagree with your partner’s wishes around if and when to have children, this could be a red flag of an abusive relationship.

Whatever your decisions are, you deserve to be safe with your partner. If you are finding that it’s difficult to safely share your choices and needs with your partner, you might turn to other sources for perspective on these decisions. A big piece of any safety plan is determining who is in your support network. If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, or if you are in the early weeks of pregnancy, you may want to consider reaching out to a healthcare provider, such as a nurse or Ob-Gyn, to learn more about how to take care of your physical health needs during this time. You can also discuss with them a plan for getting supportive care that allows space for you to share your needs with them without your partner in the room. Another part of a support network may be a counselor or therapist – someone who you can trust to be nonjudgmental and supportive as you sort out your feelings and concerns around having children with your partner. Trusted friends or family members may also be able to offer support, whatever your decisions may be.

It also can help to get more information from sources that lay out your full range of options. Backline is a national organization that has an informative website around pregnancy and parenting and a toll-free talkline where you can explore a full spectrum of options. Futures Without Violence also has a lot of great information on their website, including projects dedicated to increasing reproductive and sexual health. Planned Parenthood has information on their website about factors and information you may want to take into account when considering pregnancy. The Hotline is also here for you 24/7 by phone (1-800-799-7233) or chat (7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CT) to brainstorm more ideas for support and information.

While putting together your support network and exploring resources, it’s important to consider whether your partner may be trying to monitor your activities. You may want to reach out for support on a phone or computer that your partner can not access. If you share a phone account, consider getting a go phone so your partner cannot observe the numbers that you’ve called on your bill. You may also want to use a work or public computer or a friend’s smartphone to explore online resources instead of a computer or smartphone that your partner could monitor.

These decisions are big, and you deserve access to the support and information that can help you choose the options that feel best to you. You are the expert in your situation and are the one best-suited to make these decisions. Whatever you decide, The Hotline is here for you every step of the way.

pregnancy and abuse

Pregnancy and Abuse: How to Stay Safe for Your 9 Months

Pregnancy is a time of change. If you’re pregnant, your life — and your body — starts taking on a new shape as you prepare to bring a little person into the world. Pregnancy can be full of excitement but also comes with an added need for support. It’s natural to need emotional support from a partner, as well as perhaps financial assistance, help to prepare for the baby and more.

If your partner is emotionally or physically destructive toward you, it can make these months of transition especially difficult. Thankfully, there are resources available to help expecting women get the support needed for a safe, healthy pregnancy.

If the Abuse Is Increasing or Just Starting — Why Now?

According to the CDC, intimate partner violence affects approximately 1.5 million women each year and affects as many as 324,000 pregnant women each year. Pregnancy can be an especially dangerous time for women in abusive relationships, and abuse can often begin or escalate during the pregnancy.

Partners become abusive or increase the abuse during pregnancy for a variety of reasons. Since abuse is based on power and control, it’s common that an abusive partner will become resentful and jealous that the attention is shifting from them to the pregnancy. They may be stressed at the thought of financially supporting a child, frustrated at the increased responsibilities or angry that their partner’s body is changing. None of this is the new mom’s fault and none of these are excuses. Nothing is an excuse for abuse.

Abuse of any kind during pregnancy can put a woman and her unborn child at heightened risk, because a pregnant woman is in a uniquely vulnerable position both physically and emotionally. If the abuse is physical, trauma can cause both immediate injury as well as increase her risk for hemorrhaging, a uterine rupture, pre-term birth, complications during labor or miscarriage later in the pregnancy.

What Can You Do?

Approximately 96% of pregnant women receive prenatal care for an average of 12 to 13 visits. These frequent doctor’s visits can be an opportunity to discuss what is going on in your relationship. Whether or not you choose to tell a professional about the abuse, or how much you choose to disclose, is completely your choice. However, their job is focused on the wellbeing of you and your child so this could be a safe time to talk about any concerns.

If your partner goes to these appointments with you, try to find a moment when they’re out of the room to ask your care provider (or even the front desk receptionist) about coming up with an excuse to talk to them one-on-one. The doctor’s office can also be a quiet place to make a phone call to The Hotline. If you’ve decided to leave your relationship, a health care provider can become an active participant in your plan to leave.

Additionally, under the Affordable Care Act, all new and non-grandfathered health plans must cover screening and counseling for domestic violence — considering these to be preventive care services.

If possible, see if you can take a women-only prenatal class. This could be a comfortable atmosphere for discussing pregnancy concerns or could allow you to speak to the class instructor one-on-one.

Here at The Hotline, our advocates are also available 24/7 to help you plan how to stay safe during your pregnancy — both physically and emotionally. Physical safety planning could include tips for when fighting starts, for example, such as protecting your abdomen and staying on the bottom floor in a house with stairs.

Pregnancy can be a challenging time and it can feel hurtful if your partner isn’t being supportive, is putting you down or physically harming you. It’s important to develop ways to take care of yourself during such an important stage of your life — and we can help.

Further Reading and Resources

Safe Pregnancy in an Abusive Relationship

A Safe Passage

power control coercion

From “Broken” Condoms to Pill Tampering: The Realities of Reproductive Coercion

In season one of “Desperate Housewives,” the couple Carlos and Gaby can’t agree on whether or not they should have a baby. Carlos, anxious to start a family, replaces Gaby’s birth control with sugar pills, which leads to her getting pregnant. Five seasons (and some children) later, Carlos has again tricked Gabby, and confesses that he didn’t actually have a vasectomy as he’d told her he had.

While there are a lot of outlandish storylines in the show, this one isn’t far from reality for some couples. Unfortunately, these scenarios don’t just happen onscreen, and there’s a name for them: reproductive coercion. Both men and women can coerce their partners, as seen in Carlos and Gaby’s relationship, into being at risk to have — or actually having — a baby.

Reproductive coercion is a form of power and control where one partner strips the other of the ability to control their own reproductive system. It is sometimes difficult to identify this coercion because other forms of abuse are often occurring simultaneously.

Reproductive coercion can be exerted in many ways:

  • Refusing to use a condom or other type of birth control
  • Breaking or removing a condom during intercourse
  • Lying about their methods of birth control (ex. lying about having a vasectomy, lying about being on the pill)
  • Refusing to “pull out” if that is the agreed upon method of birth control
  • Forcing their partner to not use any birth control (ex. the pill, condom, shot, ring, etc.)
  • Removing birth control methods (ex. rings, IUDs, contraceptive patches)
  • Sabotaging birth control methods (ex. poking holes in condoms, tampering with pills or flushing them down the toilet)
  • Withholding finances needed to purchase birth control
  • Monitoring their partner’s menstrual cycles
  • Purposefully trying to pass on a sexually transmitted disease
  • Forcing pregnancy and/or not supporting their partner’s decision about when or if they want to have a child
  • Forcing their partner to get an abortion, or preventing them from getting one
  • Threatening their partner or acting violent if they don’t comply with their wishes to either end or continue a pregnancy
  • Continually keeping their partner pregnant (getting them pregnant again shortly after they give birth)

If an abuser forces their partner to become pregnant, this is not necessarily about the outcome of the pregnancy but rather about the control and power an abuser holds over their partner and their partner’s body.

Reproductive coercion can also come in the form of pressure, guilt and shame from an abuser. Some examples are if your abuser is constantly talking about having children or making you feel guilty for not having or wanting children with them — especially if you already have kids with someone else.

In 2011 The Hotline conducted the first national survey to learn the extent of reproductive coercion. The findings were shocking. Over 3,000 callers participated in the survey and 25% reported that they had experienced this type of abuse.

Safety Plan With an Advocate and Your Gynecologist or Doctor

If you call The Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, an advocate can help you develop strategies to address your situation. A gynecologist or health care provider can also be a useful resource, especially in helping you conceal contraceptive methods if this is an issue. Doctors can give birth control pills in plain envelopes for example, or provide less detectable forms of contraceptive. Some of these options include a shot, an implant or an IUD with the strings trimmed.

If you have a positive STI test result and are afraid of how your partner will react, you can speak with your doctor about anonymous partner notification services.

Further Resources

Know More Say More: Futures Without Violence’s awareness campaign around reproductive coercion and domestic violence

helpful safety tips

When The Fighting Starts: Tips for Protection

While no one deserves to be in an abusive relationship and no one deserves to be physically or emotionally harmed by a loved one, the reality is that it occurs far too often and in many situations leaving is not always an option.

If you’re in a relationship where physical abuse is ongoing or likely to occur, there are some practical tips that could help keep you safer. Of course, making a plan for safety is very individualized — what works for one person may not be a possible or safe option for another.

Calling the hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE will connect you with an advocate who can help you make a plan for remaining safe based on your specific situation — where you are in the relationship, what tactics may have worked in the past, and more.

Above all, you are the expert of your situation. You may be able to recognize signs that violence is escalating, and plan accordingly based on this. Have a safety plan for you and your children to know who to call, where to go, and how to get out if you can escape.

While there are tips to try to prevent abuse from happening, a violent attack or assault can be unpredictable. If there’s no way to escape the violence, there are some tips for protection that could help keep you safer during an attack.

  • If you’re pregnant, there is always a heightened risk during violent situations. If you’re in a home with stairs, try to stay on the first floor.  Getting into the fetal position around your stomach if you’re being attacked is another tactic that can be instrumental in staying safe.
  • Determine which rooms are safe areas to go. Which rooms have locks on the doors? What offers you the most space? Small spaces such as closets or bathrooms could leave you trapped. Safe rooms may have windows or doors for escape, and may have a phone to reach in case of emergency. Try to avoid rooms with hard counters or other dangerous surfaces.
  • Be aware of what could be used as a weapon — and if you know where guns or knives or other weapons are, hide them away if you can, or stay away from where they’re located (in the kitchen or garage, for example).
  • Consider calling 911 if you feel like it’s safe to do so. Try to remove yourself from the situation first. If you’re calling from a cell phone, begin by telling the dispatcher the address where you’re located in case you need to hang up quickly — it’s more difficult to pick up on where a call on a cell phone is coming from.
  • Consider having a “back up phone.” If you think it won’t be possible to reach a phone in case of emergency — and if its safe to do so — think about purchasing a pay-as-you-go phone to hide in a safe room.
  • Protect your major organs. Make yourself small and curl up into a ball. Protect your face and your head.

Here at The Hotline, brainstorming with and talking to callers about how to stay safe is one of the most important parts of each call. While the above are practical ideas for protecting yourself in the face of danger, every situation is different.

If physical violence has occurred in the past, you may know what it takes to deescalate and end it — or, you may not know how you’ll react until you find yourself in a situation where you need to. Trust your instincts — and we can help, too. If you’re in an abusive relationship or know someone who is, please give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE, 24/7, to speak confidentially with a trained advocate.


1 in 4 Callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline Report Birth Control Sabotage and Pregnancy Coercion

San Francisco, CA – What may be the first national survey to determine the extent of a form of abuse called “reproductive coercion” was released today by the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the Family Violence Prevention Fund. The survey found that 25% of callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that they had experienced this form of domestic and dating violence.

Reproductive coercion is defined as threats or acts of violence against a partner’s reproductive health or reproductive decision-making. It includes forced sex, a male partner pressuring a woman to become pregnant against her will and interference with the use of birth control. The women who reported this form of abuse said that their male partners either would not allow them to use birth control or sabotaged their birth control method (such as poking holes in condoms or flushing pills down the toilet). Some of the women said they had to hide their birth control.

“Birth control sabotage is a serious form of control that leads to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,“ said Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler. “While there is a cultural assumption that some women use pregnancy as a way to trap their partner in a relationship, this survey shows that men who are abusive will sabotage their partner’s birth control and pressure them to become pregnant as a way to trap or control their partner.”  (In the words of one caller, “keep me in his life forever…”)

More than 3,000 callers participated in the survey by answering all or some of four questions between August 16 and September 26, 2010. Callers’ ages ranged from 13 to over 55, with nearly 40% age 25 to 35. More than half of the callers were Caucasian, and nearly one quarter were African-American, and 17% were Hispanic. Callers who were in immediate danger were not asked to participate in the study.

For those who did participate in the study, patterns included pressure to become pregnant early in the relationship or before the victim felt ready and, in some cases, pressure to become pregnant followed by pressure to have an abortion. These abuse patterns were apparent in callers’ comments, such as:

  •  “I better be pregnant, or I’m in trouble with him.”
  • “He refuses to use a condom. I’ve bought them and he throws them out.”
  • “He has tried to talk me into having a child. He told me he wanted to keep me from leaving him.”
  • “He admitted to me and the psychologist that he intentionally got me pregnant to trap me.”
  • “My sister was 14 years old when she became involved with this abusive guy, and when she was 15 his mother wanted grandkids so he coerced her into getting pregnant.”

“Survivors of domestic violence don’t always recognize reproductive coercion as part of the power and control their partner is exerting over them in their relationship,” said National Domestic Violence Hotline Operations Manager Mikisha Hooper. “This form of abuse can be shrouded in secrecy and may be uncomfortable for people to talk about it. By asking the right questions, we help victims identify and understand the abuse – and provide the support and resources they need.”

The survey questions and response rates were as follows:

  1. Has your partner or ex-partner ever told you not to use any birth control (like the pill, shot, ring, etc.)? – Of the 3169 callers who responded, 25% said yes.
  2. Has your partner or ex-partner ever tried to force or pressure you to become pregnant? – Of the 3166 callers who answered this question, 25% said yes.
  3. Has your partner or ex-partner ever taken off the condom during sex so that you would become pregnant? – Of the 3103 callers who responded, 16% said yes.
  4. Has your partner or ex-partner ever made you have sex without a condom so that you would become pregnant? – Of the 3130 callers who responded, 24% said yes.

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the rate of reproductive coercion is probably even higher than these findings showed because some callers who experienced this form of control were not included in the survey because they needed to be referred to help immediately.

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.

As a result of this study, the National Domestic Violence Hotline started to train its advocates on how to identify and support callers who experience reproductive coercion. “It is validating for women who are experiencing this form of abuse to know that they are not alone and that there is help available.  You can really hear the change in their voice when they realize someone understands what they’ve been through.” said Hooper.


The National Domestic Violence Hotline was established by Congress in 1996. The Hotline is a nonprofit organization that provides crisis intervention, information and referral to victims of domestic violence, perpetrators, friends and families. The Hotline serves as the only national domestic violence hotline. Advocates receive approximately 23,500 calls each month. The Hotline is toll-free, confidential and anonymous. It operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 1-800-799-SAFE. The Hotline is supported by funding from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The 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 The FVPF’s kNOwMore initiative, which examines the consequences of reproductive coercion and violence, is online at

CONTACT: Susan Lamontagne, 631 899-3825 or

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Partner Abuse and Unintended Pregnancy: Making the Connections

The following blog entry is written by Margaret Conway

A new study sheds light on a little-recognized form of abuse in which men use coercion and birth control sabotage to cause their partners to become pregnant against their wills.

“Pregnancy Coercion, Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy,” published in the January issue of Contraception, is the first quantitative examination of the relationship between intimate partner violence, coercion and unintended pregnancy. It finds that young women and teens often face “reproductive coercion,” or efforts by male partners to sabotage their birth control or coerce or pressure them to become pregnant. These behaviors may include damaging condoms and destroying contraceptives.

The study of women ages16-29 years of age who sought health care at reproductive health clinics was conducted by researchers at the University of California Davis School of Medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health, in collaboration with the FVPF and Planned Parenthood Shasta Diablo.  It also finds that among women who experienced both reproductive coercion and partner violence, the risk of unintended pregnancy doubled.  The prevalence of reproductive coercion is notable:

• Approximately one in five young women said they experienced pregnancy coercion;
• 15% said they experienced birth control sabotage;
• 53%  had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner;
• 35% of the women who reported partner violence also reported either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage.

Reproductive coercion takes many forms, but frequently involves a male partner’s direct interference with a woman’s use of contraception, called “birth control sabotage.” It may include removing condoms during sex to get a woman pregnant, intentionally breaking condoms, and preventing her from taking birth control pills. In addition, a male partner may threaten, coerce a woman to get pregnant (‘pregnancy coercion’), such as telling her not to use contraception and threatening to leave her if she doesn’t get pregnant.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund has an initiative called kNOwMORE to create a dialogue about birth control sabotage and reproductive coercion, which can result in unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, miscarriage, infertility, coerced abortion, poor birth outcomes including preterm birth and low birth-weight babies, and other serious health problems. The website features the stories of women who share their experiences with birth control sabotage and reproductive coercion.

“Janey” tells how her boyfriend forced her to have sex: “Every time I would confront him about his lies and unfaithfulness, he would force himself on me sexually. He always refused to wear a condom and would act offended when I suggested he use one.”  “Carollee” noticed that whole rows of pills would disappear. When Carollee called her boyfriend on the disappearing birth control, he responded that he “knew” she wanted to have his child.  “Sandi’s” boyfriend Chris pretended that his condoms had slipped or broken, when in fact he would purposely remove them.

Those of us who work to stop dating, domestic and sexual violence have long known that many victims face threats, verbal demands and physical violence designed to interfere with their efforts to use birth control. It is a big part of the reason that women in abusive relationships are at a higher risk for unintended pregnancy. This very important study underscores the link between violence and abuse and unintended pregnancy – and the need for providers at reproductive clinics to screen female patients for violence, as well as for pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage. If we are serious about reducing unintended pregnancy in this country, we have to do more to stop violence and abuse, and help victims.

The kNOwMORE project also works to promote policies and other efforts to increase awareness about reproductive coercion among both men and women, among providers of reproductive health services, and among advocates working to end intimate partner violence, including:

• Increasing awareness among women and men, who may perceive reproductive coercion and physical violence in a relationship as different issues, and may need support and information to connect the dots between this range of behaviors and their reproductive health needs;
• Educating family planning practitioners about effective ways to identify reproductive coercion and provide interventions;
• Encouraging comprehensive sexuality education and pregnancy prevention programs to integrate information about reproductive coercion and healthy relationships.

Have you experienced reproductive coercion?  If you would like to learn more, or are willing to share your own story, please visit us at or email  Together we can help increase awareness and decrease the incidence of reproductive coercion and its negative health outcomes.