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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

reaching out for help

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 1-10

“It would take me yet another year of planning, forgiving, calling, reaching for help, before I could leave.” —Sarah Buel

Leaving is not easy. On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. Exiting the relationship is most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they’re losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim.

We know victim’s frustrations with feeling like the abuse is somehow their fault. If only they’d leave, right? Wrong. We know better. In fact, we’re taking a closer look at 50 reasons why it may be near impossible to leave. To answer the often-asked question “Why don’t you just leave?” we’ve adapted Sarah M. Buel’sFifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay” — 50 different reasons that she has encountered throughout her 22 years of work in the domestic violence field.

Follow along on the blog this week as we discuss 10 different obstacles each day.

1. Advocate: The victim doesn’t have an enthusiastic supporter on their side so may feel discouraged or hopeless.

2. Batterer: The batterer is wealthy, famous, powerful in the community, etc., and can afford to hire private counselor and pressure decision-makers.

3. Believes Threats: The victim believes the batterer’s threats to kill them and the children if they attempt to leave.

4. Children’s Best Interest: The victim believes it is in the children’s best interest to have both parents in the home, especially if the abuser doesn’t physically abuse the children.

5. Children’s Pressure: The children put pressure (independently or by the abuser’s influence) on the abused parent to stay with their partner.

6. Culture and Race: Because of differences in race or culture, the victim worries about being treated unequally by the justice system if they come forward, or believes stereotypes about acceptable actions in their own culture.

7. Denial: The victim is in denial about the danger, instead believing that if they could be better partners, the abuse would stop.

8. Disabled: Victims who are disabled or physically challenged face obstacles in gaining access to court and social services, and may be isolated from basic info about resources.

9. Elderly: Elderly victims may hold traditional beliefs about marriage and believe they must stay, or are dependent on the batterer for care even in the face of physical abuse.

10. Excuses: The victim believes the abuser’s excuses to justify the violence, blaming job stress or substance abuse for example.

what is consent

What Is Healthy Consent? What ISN’T Consent?

Consent. This one word draws a line between acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviors. This one word helps define whether an experience was sexual assault or not. Was the action wanted? Was the act agreed upon by both people?

For as important as consent is, we don’t talk about it enough. In the wake of so many high coverage media cases of sexual assault in which much of the coverage shifted the blame to the victims who were somehow “asking for it” or “didn’t say no,” it’s important to reevaluate what consent is and how we can give it or withhold it. It’s also essential that we understand what it looks like when our partners give — or don’t give — consent.


First, we need to change how we think about consent. The old idea of “no means no” is not a good approach. It puts the responsibility on one person to resist or accept, and makes consent about what a partner doesn’t want, instead of what they do want.

Consent can be sexy. It can be a moment for both partners to openly express to each other what they’re looking for and what they do want to experience. The saying “yes means yes” can be empowering and useful in thinking about what consent is.

Consent is ongoing. Both partners should keep giving, and looking for, consent. Just because you’ve given consent to an act before, doesn’t mean it becomes a “given” every time. This idea also relates to new relationships — just because you’ve given consent to something in a different relationship doesn’t make it “automatic” in a new relationship.

Consent is not a free pass. Saying yes to one act doesn’t mean you have to consent to other acts. Each requires its own consent. EX: Saying yes to oral sex doesn’t automatically mean you’re saying yes to intercourse.

Your relationship status does not make consent automatic. If you’re married to someone, friends with someone, or dating someone, it doesn’t mean they ‘own’ your consent by default. Or that you own theirs. Also, consent can be taken back at any time — even if you’re in the midst of something and feeling uncomfortable, you always have the right to stop.

There’s no such thing as implied consent. The absence of a “no” does not equal a “yes.” What you or a partner chooses to wear doesn’t mean that you or they are inviting unwanted sexual attention or “pre-consenting.” The same can be said for flirting, talking, showing interest or any other actions.

It’s not consent if you’re afraid to say no. It’s not consent if you’re being manipulated, pressured, or threatened to say yes. It’s also not consent if you or a partner is unable to legitimately give consent, which includes being asleep, unconscious, under the influence of conscious-altering substances or not able to understand what you’re saying yes to.

Nonconsent means STOP. If anyone involved isn’t consenting, then what is happening is or could be rape, sexual assault or abuse.


Here are some red flags that your partner doesn’t respect consent:

  • They pressure or guilt you into doing things you may not want to do.
  • They make you feel like you “owe” them — because you’re dating, or married, they gave you a gift, etc.
  • They react negatively (with sadness, anger or resentment) if you say “no” to something, or don’t immediately consent.
  • They ignore your wishes, and don’t pay attention to non-verbal cues that could show that you’re not consenting (EX: being reluctant, pulling away).

How to practice healthy consent: 

  • Talk about it! Communication is one of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship. Establish boundaries by explaining what things you and your partner are comfortable with and what things you may not feel comfortable with. Always ask first. Try phrases like:
    “Are you OK with this?”
    “If you’re into it, I could…”
    “Are you comfortable with this?”
  • Be aware of the physical and nonverbal signs of consent as well. If your partner seems uncomfortable, talk about it and discuss it. Don’t assume that silence is them saying yes.
  • Remember that giving and receiving consent is an ongoing process.

Further Reading

The Good Men Project has an amazing article about how to teach consent to your children, breaking down the ‘methods’ and ideas into what would be most appropriate for each age group.

The post “Drivers Ed for the Sexual Superhighway,” is geared toward teens but relates to any relationship.

The Consensual Project focuses on partnering with schools and universities to teach students about consent in their daily lives.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Know the Red Flags of Abuse

It’s not always easy to tell at the beginning of a relationship if it will become abusive.

In fact, many abusers may seem absolutely perfect on the surface — as if they are the dream partner — in the early stages of a relationship. Possessive and controlling behaviors don’t always appear overnight, but rather emerge and intensify as the relationship grows.

If you’re beginning to feel as if your partner or a loved one’s partner is becoming abusive, there are a few behaviors that you can look out for. Watch out for these red flags and if you’re experiencing one or more of them in your relationship, call The Hotline to talk about what’s going on:

  • Embarrassing or putting you down
  • Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
  • Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
  • Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing your friends or families
  • Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions
  • Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
  • Preventing you from working or attending school
  • Blaming you for the abuse, or acting like it’s not really happening
  • Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
  • Intimidating you  with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Shoving, slapping, choking or hitting you
  • Attempting to stop you from pressing charges
  • Threatening to commit suicide because of something you’ve done
  • Threatening to hurt or kill you
  • Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
  • Preventing you from using birth control or pressuring you to become pregnant when you’re not ready

Domestic violence doesn’t look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. But one thing most abusive relationships have in common is that the abusive partner does many different kinds of things to have more power and control over their partners.

If you’re concerned about some of these things happening in your relationship, please feel free to give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

(Photo: “Red Flag” by Andy Wright)