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One of the nation’s top violence prevention organizations today launched an unprecedented new initiative to raise awareness about a kind of abuse that is rarely discussed, but has severe consequences. The Family Violence Prevention Fund’s (FVPF’s) kNOw More initiative examines the reproductive health consequences of sexual coercion and violence, which include unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, miscarriage, infertility, coerced abortion, and a range of other serious health issues. kNOw More is designed to start a dialogue about the birth control sabotage and reproductive coercion that many teens and young women face, and help draw the link to the reproductive health problems it causes. Its website is www.KnowMoreSayMore.org.
New research conducted for the initiative by Child Trends finds that some 18 percent of women age 18 to 24 report having experienced forced sexual intercourse at least once in their lives. Child Trends used data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth for the analysis, basing estimates of forced sexual intercourse on a sample of 1,833 females aged 18 to 24. The most common types of force are verbal or physical pressure, and being physically held down. More than half the women forced to have sexual intercourse report experiencing each of these types of force. Approximately a quarter of the women report being physically hurt.
“The intersection of sexual violence and reproductive health is largely unexplored,” FVPF President Esta Soler said. “With this initiative, we are overcoming stigma and raising awareness about the many women who, while dating or in relationships are forced into choices not their own through rape, sexual coercion or because partners prevent them from using protection. These women are at risk for sexually transmitted infection, unintended pregnancy, HIV, and more. Some suffer miscarriages when they want to carry pregnancies to term. Others become mothers before they are ready. Still others lose their fertility. We are creating a space for women to share stories, and raising awareness among those who may be at risk as well as their friends, policy makers and others.”
The kNOw More website features stories from women who have experienced abuse, including reproductive coercion, in many forms:
• Jessica says:
I became pregnant less than four months into dating him. He refused to give me funds to purchase birth control, and always refused to use condoms after we became exclusive… I had minimal options. When we decided to continue the pregnancy and marry, the overt abuse started within days of our wedding; it continued throughout the marriage. He was verbally, emotionally, financially, sexually, and physically abusive to me. He would videotape me during vulnerable moments, after abusing me verbally to the point where I was in hysterics, or try to video tape us against my wishes while having sex. He would always refuse my attempts at birth control.
• Carollee started dating a 32-year-old man when she was 19. Things went well at first and they began to sleep together. She was on birth control pills; however, she 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. Carollee also noticed that he was sabotaging the condoms.
• Kylie writes:
When I first met my ex, he never wanted to use condoms. He did want me to use the ‘morning-after pill,’ I’ll admit. I was quite young and didn’t know how to stand up for myself, so I became pregnant after coerced sex. For the next four years, I stayed with my ex for the sake of the baby, suffering the most horrific kinds of abuse – physical and emotional. His ‘reason’ for abusing me? Because I ‘trapped’ him through pregnancy. Although the only thing I’d been doing since the pregnancy was begging him to let me leave, he threatened to kill me, the baby, and my entire family if I ever attempted it.
The new website provides a blog and space for other women to share their stories.
On November 10, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity will join the kNOw More initiative by bringing together more than 500 students, faculty and Omega members on the Howard University campus in Washington, D.C. to take a pledge against violence. The fraternity will host a panel discussion on the links between violence against women and negative reproductive health outcomes. With more than 700 chapters worldwide, Omega is one of the oldest and most prestigious African-American fraternities in the United States.
Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at every stage of development. In its study, forced sex was defined as either responding “not voluntary” to the following question about first sexual intercourse: “Would you say then that this first vaginal intercourse was voluntary or not voluntary, that is, did you choose to have sex of your own free will or not?” or responding “yes” to: “Have you ever been forced by a male to have vaginal intercourse against your will?” The full Child Trends brief is available at http://www.knowmoresaymore.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/child-trends-f... . For information on Child Trends, visit www.childtrends.org.
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. For more information, visit endabuse.org.