‘He controlled every
Anne’s* controlling partner was so intent on getting her pregnant that he tossed her contraceptive pills in the rubbish. In her desperate attempt to avoid pregnancy, she secretly visited her doctor to have an IUD fitted.
‘‘It was fine for a while until he discovered it. He then forcefully ripped it out of me. Once I fell pregnant, he refused to let me have an abortion,’’ she says.
Anne managed to escape from her violent partner. But in the muted world of partner violence, many are suffering in silence.
Because Anne’s story is not unique.
Her voice is just one of many describing violent and sinister abuse in a report by Women’s Refuge and Family Planning that was released today.
The report stems from a survey into reproductive coercion – a form of intimate partner violence where a person tries to undermine the reproductive autonomy of their partner, including denying their access to contraceptives, birthcontrol sabotage, pressure to get pregnant and controlled access to abortion.
It is a sorrowful and horrific collection of anecdotes shared by 161 (mostly) women.
More than 80 per cent of the anonymous respondents to the survey said their partner controlled their access to contraceptives. Just under 60 per cent also experienced their partner tampering or sabotaging their method of birth control.
The majority said their partners tried to coerce or pressure them into pregnancy in the form of threats of harm towards them, or to themselves, such as suicide threats.
‘‘He forced me to have sex almost every day to get me pregnant. I never wanted to get pregnant but I felt I had no choice or he’d hurt or come after me if I didn’t comply,’’ one woman wrote.
Another revealed her despair and utter helplessness at being unable to escape her partner’s brutality.
‘‘From a victim standpoint, he is much stronger than me. He will hit me and seriously hurt me if I don’t comply. ‘It can’t be rape, we’re in a relationship’, [he would say]. Police are no help. Unless you have a bruise they can see, they won’t help you press charges.’’’
Another woman’s testimony revealed the trepidation she felt each month as she waited for her period.
‘‘He controlled every aspect of my life. I cannot stress enough how much I felt that I had no control over my body. The weeks before my periods would be due I’d become terrified in case it didn’t come and I was pregnant. I remember one particular period when it was a week late. I sat and cried for hours. I googled how to have an abortion naturally so he wouldn’t find out. I felt guilty and a terrible person.’’
Many reported their abusive partners got them pregnant as a way of trapping them in the relationship.
‘‘He told me he was going to get me pregnant so I could never leave him,’’ wrote one woman.
More than a third of the 141 respondents to questions on terminations had experienced a partner trying to prevent access to an abortion procedure.
One woman said every time she tried to book an appointment her partner would threaten her or make wild accusations that she only wanted to abort because she had been unfaithful.
‘‘He threatened to stab me and the baby to death if I tried to abort.’’
Many (almost half) were intentionally infected with STIS by partners and a further 62 per cent had experienced their partner trying to impede their recovery from birth, miscarriage or abortion. The vast majority of women had experienced other forms of abuse in addition to reproductive coercion.
More than 40 women experienced a partner trying to coerce them into terminating a pregnancy, and almost a third said their partner deliberately tried to bring about a miscarriage.
One woman said she was admitted to hospital after being beaten and raped by her partner when she was five months into her pregnancy.
Sexual violence was particularly prevalent and played an integral role in reproductive coercion, the report found.
Many women shared their experiences of rape, beatings and mental torture.
‘‘I was raped repeatedly till I was pregnant. This happened with my second and third child and four miscarriages in between,’’ wrote one.
Another told of the violence meted out by her partner during pregnancy: ‘‘At night, he’d be out and when he came back he’d drag me out of bed to cook. If I didn’t wake up or get up, he’d pour cold water over me in bed.’’
Reproductive coercion remains a relatively underresearched phenomenon, but while the sample of participants was relatively small, the problem is probably much larger, says Women’s Refuge boss Ang Jury.
‘‘There’s this tendency to think this is a unique experience, whereas it might not be.
‘‘We have a whole lot of taboos around anything to do with sex and sexual violence. There’s this inherent shame that attaches to the victims who don’t necessarily want to claim it as an experience. They don’t want to go there.
‘‘Domestic violence used to be something people wouldn’t talk about but that’s changed now. But reproductive coercion is not an area that’s been explored much here.’’
The stories shared by women in the survey were ‘‘overwhelmingly cruel’’, she says.
‘‘I have been around this work a long time and this boggles my mind. What value can there be in a relationship where you have to behave like that towards your partner to get what you want?
‘‘It’s beyond me. Using a woman’s sexuality as a control technique is really nasty. The fact that it was being used in an ongoing basis to maintain control and being escalated if it didn’t work – I found myself being a little less than articulate