‘He con­trolled every

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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