Living in a state of freedom

You may wonder why I’m always blogging about emergency contraception (EC) and birth control. What does it have to do with domestic violence? Why would an advocate need to talk about this with a survivor of abuse? And why should domestic violence programs have EC, pregnancy tests, and condoms available on site?

If you have never experienced it, it might be hard to understand how birth control sabotage, or reproductive or sexual coercion, is an incredibly powerful way to exert power and control over someone. Imagine someone flushing your pills down the toilet or poking holes in a condom. What about stopping you from getting to the clinic to get your Depo shot? Or forcibly pulling out your IUD by the strings? If you’re in an abusive relationship, negotiations around birth control and whether to have—or not have—children might happen without your opinion being respected or even considered. The harm of this may be invisible to an outsider, but when survivors of abuse are not allowed to make their own decisions about pregnancy, they lose control over the trajectory of their life and their connection to the abuser. And they have to constantly weigh the risks of any act of resistance, any attempt at independence.

Domestic violence advocates know that survivors coming to their programs are experiencing a range of abusive behaviors. But even if they are experiencing reproductive or sexual coercion, it is usually not something they bring up. If we want long-term solutions for survivors and their children, then we need to bring it up. Offering EC and birth control information, and having it available on site, is a liberatory act.

We need to offer it because Plan B or Levonorgestrel (emergency contraception) is effective within five days after unprotected intercourse and is available to anyone, no matter age or gender, without a prescription. We need to offer it so that survivors know we are comfortable talking about sex, birth control (especially forms that are less likely to be felt by a partner), and reproductive health. We need to offer it because access to timely information and practical help can change the circumstances of someone’s life. And we need to offer it because advocacy is about supporting someone to determine their own life—to live in a state of freedom.

A flock of birds and the words "I'm Free"

Thoughts from a future mom: Parenting amidst violence

We bring you this guest post from Leah Holland with the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.

Recently, the folks at Can You Relate invited me to write a guest post on their blog. I planned to write about how trans folks are impacted by reproductive coercion. Then Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer and I felt compelled to change topics.Audre-Lorde-no-border

Working in the anti-violence field with an anti-oppression focus keeps the intersections of peoples’ lives in the forefront of my mind. I can’t ignore that the impact of abuse is different for children of color than for white children. I can’t ignore that children of color must be taught how to interact with the police differently than white children.

And I don’t want to ignore it. You see, I’m in the middle of planning a wedding and a pregnancy. My sweetie is brown. I am white. We talk a lot about where and how we want to raise our children. My sweetie asked me this morning what I thought the hardest part will be for me being a white mom to a brown baby. Easy: OTHER PEOPLE.

Needing to trust other people is what is scariest to me. That was one of my biggest hurdles in deciding to have kids—knowing I can’t always keep them safe. I know all the stats about who is more likely to sexually abuse a child (hint: it’s someone the child knows).

In an interview for Ebony’s Ending Rape 4ever series, Monika Johnson Hostler says: “I always tell people, ‘As a parent do I worry about stranger danger?’ Yes. [However] the people in our lives that are associated with us, that it appears that we trust, those are the people I worry about most.” YES! And with the reality that one African-American is murdered by police every 28 hours, comes the recognition that the people we’re supposed to trust to keep us safe don’t keep everyone safe.

I’ll never be able to understand what it’ll be like for our child to be multiracial. But my sweetie and I will do our best to get them ready for the institutional, systemic, and individual racism they WILL face. If the other bad stuff happens too, at least I know our child will be believed, told it’s not their fault, and get help. And if our brown baby identifies as trans, we’re ready to parent at that intersection too.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

A local abortion clinic receives a bomb threat, but it turns out the culprit was not an anti-abortion activist.

When you’re on your way to the emergency room, do you stop and find out if the hospital you’re heading towards is Catholic? If you are a woman, you definitely should.

Did you know that medical doctors are one of the lowest paid and least valued careers in Russia? Why? Because they think of it as women’s work.

Una Moraleja acerca del Privilegio y la Coerción Reproductiva (A Cautionary Tale of Privilege and Reproductive Coercion)

En Junio los noticieros irrumpieron con la noticia de que 150 prisioneras fueron coaccionadas a firmar papeles de consentimiento para ser esterilizadas en unas cárceles en California desde el año 2006. A algunas mujeres se les pidió consentir a la esterilización durante el parto. Otras mujeres fueron intimidadas a dar consentimiento por doctores que repetidamente las humillaron por ser pobres o tener más de un hijo.


Hasta el momento todas las que han denunciado el hecho son mujeres de color. Las prácticas de esterilización forzada como este han impactado desproporcionadamente a las mujeres de color y a la mujer pobre a lo largo de la historia de los Estados Unidos. Esta forma de coerción reproductiva es solo un ejemplo de la violencia cometida por las instituciones e individuos en contra de las mujeres de color.

Las personas que perpetran esta violencia institucional en contra de las mujeres y adolecentes de color frecuentemente la disfrazan de cruzadas con intenciones de salvarlas de los errores inminentes que están condenadas a cometer. Como si ellas no pudiesen responsablemente decidir cuándo ser madres pero solamente decidir a “no serlo.” De ésta manera usamos los embarazos de las adolescentes latinas y negras como cuentos de moralejas, como fue el caso en la ciudad de Nueva York donde los mensajes claramente intentaron de humillar a las madres y padres adolescentes. Las mujeres de color encarceladas son coaccionadas a consentir a la esterilización por la creencia de que ellas no tienen la habilidad de tomar ‘buenas’ decisiones sobre sus cuerpos y sus familias.
El mensaje de que las mujeres pobres y los adolescentes de color no debieran de ser padres o madres facilita le existencia de la coerción reproductiva. Mientras que la creación de un ambiente de apoyo por los derechos de cada persona a ser padre/madre hace que la coerción institucional e individual tenga menos chances de prosperar.La prevención de la coerción reproductiva requiere que apoyemos el derecho a la reproducción de todas las personas. En el momento que nos planteamos el problema como si algunas personas se merecen ser padres más que otras quedamos atrapados en un debate de valores y asumimos el rol de Policías del Derecho a Reproducir. Muchos de nosotros podemos nombrar fácilmente las dificultades de convertirnos en padres y madres muy jóvenes o sin tener suficiente dinero para hacerlo (y muchos de nosotros pensamos que el ser madres/padres es solamente una bendición lo que es frecuentemente un valor en las culturas colectivistas). El desafío para muchos de nosotros es el de también reconocer que no debemos marginalizar a las personas que han decidido reproducirse comunicándoles que cometieron un error que no resultará en nada bueno.


Back in June the news broke that 150 inmates were coerced to sign consent forms to be sterilized in California jails between 2006-2010. Some women were asked to consent to sterilization while in labor. Some women were bullied into signing consent forms by doctors who repeatedly shamed them for being poor or having multiple children.

So far, all the women who have come forward are women of color. Forced sterilization practices like this have disproportionally impacted women of color and low income women throughout the history of the United States. This form of reproductive coercion is just one of the many types of violence perpetrated by institutions and individuals against women of color.

The people who perpetrate this institutional violence frequently disguise it as a campaign to save women and teens of color from the impending bad choices they are doomed to make. As if they could not responsibly decide when to become parents but only not to become one. We use Latino and Black teen pregnancy as a cautionary tale like in the New York City campaign that clearly intended to shame teen parents. Women in prison are coerced into sterilization because of the belief that they do not have the ability to make “good” decisions about their bodies and their families.

Preventing reproductive coercion requires that we support everyone’s right to reproduce. The moment we approach the issue as if some deserve to be parents more than others, we are trapped in a debate about values and we assume the role of Reproductive Police. Many of us can readily name the challenges of becoming parent’s too young and/or lacking the financial resources to do it (and many of us can think of parenthood only as blessing, a prevalent view in collectivist cultures). The challenge for many of us is understanding that we shouldn’t marginalize those who choose to become parents by telling them that they made a bad choice and no good will come of it.

The narrative that poor women and teens of color should never become parents makes reproductive coercion more likely to happen. Creating an environment of support for the rights of anyone to become a parent makes institutional and individual coercion less likely to thrive.

Don’t ask, just tell

Lately, I have been learning about reproductive coercion—all the ways someone could interfere with your birth control, or pressure you to get pregnant or end a pregnancy. I read this surprisingly personal post by a doctor sharing her experience with a female patient where she missed identifying that her boyfriend was preventing her from using birth control.

reproductive-coersion-flyerI asked my friend who is a doctor if she’s had similar experiences. She said she routinely underestimates the lack of control women have around their reproductive choices. “I talk to my patients as if they have control and they may not.” She told me doctors need scripted, short questions, like “Are your decisions around birth control and pregnancy respected? Do you want information on birth control that can’t be interfered with?”

When I was pregnant, health care staff didn’t wait for me to ask about things that could happen, like preeclampsia, they just routinely gave me the info I needed to be safe and healthy.

Reproductive coercion is far more common than preeclampsia. Healthcare providers are missing an opportunity. They don’t have to ask patients to disclose abuse. They should just routinely tell every woman of reproductive age about birth control that can’t be seen, felt, or interfered with, and places they can get support if they, or a friend, might need it.

My doctor friend and I both have teen daughters. Our girls roll their eyes when we try to talk to them about birth control. So we need someone else to do it. It would be a relief to know that their doctors will tell them about undetectable forms of birth control and emergency contraception—not wait for them to ask. 

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