A paper published in the current issue of Ambulatory Pediatrics reports on a small survey of 53 sexually active women ages 15-20 who experienced intimate partner violence. Of them, 14 reported that their partners had deliberately tried to force them to become pregnant, through both refusing to use condoms and sabotaging contraceptives.
Some of the adolescents who were interviewed reported that their partner had poked holes in condoms (one teen became suspicious when six consecutive condoms “broke”) or flushed their oral contraceptives down the toilet, or that they needed to hide their contraceptive use from an abusive partner. Of the 14 adolescents who reported that their partners actively tried to force them to become pregnant, five had become pregnant by a violent partner at least once, and five had been forced to have sex at least once in the previous 12 months.
Although this was a very small sample of abused teens, it raises the important point that intimate partner violence isn’t always limited to traditional physical abuse, which is very serious on its own, but can extend to attempts to control reproduction.
This type of abuse may be particularly difficult to detect, given that teens often hide their sexual activity from parents, physicians or others who might be equipped to intervene. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Elizabeth Miller, reports that she was inspired to begin researching the problem after a young girl sought her care for a pregnancy test and later turned up in the ER with severe head injuries after her partner pushed her down the stairs.
Miller stated, “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.” Larger studies are in the works to assess the scope of the problem.