Is There Such Thing as Reproductive Abuse?
This weekend, I was chillin’ on the couch, having a Law & Order marathon of my own, when this one particular episode came on that really caught my attention.
In season 12, episode 22 of Law and Order: Special Victims’ Unit, John Stamos, most know for the affectionately cute role as Uncle Jessie on Full House, guest starred as a manipulative womanizer, who fathered well over 20 children by 20 different women around the world. His tactic was simple: punching holes into condoms and then when the women showed up pregnant, he would shower them with reassurance that this “miracle” pregnancy was a good thing. And then after they gave birth, he was off to the next one to repeat the cycle again.
According to the character, Ken, he was not an evil man for fathering all of these children and lying to his baby mommas, many of whom never knew about his extensive reproductive history, but rather fulfilling his duty as a man to spread his DNA across the globe. Plus he loves children. Needless to say, he got murdered.
Now, the-who-killed-Ken question is not as relevant as the, oh-my-God-is-this-a-real-thing question, which I had me up half the night researching. And ladies, I’m sorry to say but reproduction abuse does exist. Reproductive coercion, also known as birth control sabotage, is the act of manipulation in which one person undermines another person’s birth control in an effort to bring about an unwanted pregnancy. Examples of this act include replacing birth control pills with fake pills, poking holes in condoms and diaphragms, blatantly flushing birth control down toilets, threats of violence and even passive coercion such as the ever popular, “you would do it if you love me” speech.
In fact, a phone survey by the National Domestic Violence Hotline has revealed that 1 in 4 women have claimed that a partner had pressured them to become pregnant. This rate includes men, who would force them into unprotected sex by refusing to wear a condom. Likewise, in a study published last year, as many as 75 percent of women, between the ages of 18 and 49, who had a history of being in an abusive relationship also reported some form of reproductive coercion.
This kind of makes sense when you begin to think about stories like 33-year old Desmond Hatchett, the man who fathered 24 children by 11 different women. Hatchett appeared in a Knoxville, Tenn., child support court to ask the judge for clemency because he was struggling to make ends meet at his minimum wage job. Many have blamed the women in this unfortunate situation however perhaps they didn’t know? What if, like the fictionalized Ken, these women were duped and coerced into reproduction?
Ratchettness…er…I mean, Hatchett aside, from a more global worldview, reproductive coercion has also been found to be a common denominator in the rise of birth rates within Somalian refugee camps. According to Women’s Network News, many refugee women have been pressured to procreate over and over again, as a way to soothe the embattled ego of war-torn men. In fact, the women who refuse the pressure to procreate often become victims of violence from their husbands within these camps.
Which leads me to ask? How come there are no laws on the books protecting women (and some men) from this kind of abuse? Like domestic violence and sexual abuse/rape, the victim often does not consent to what is being done to them. Likewise, reproductive coercion, which results in pregnancy and eventually birth, may make its victim feel trapped. With the addition of a new child the victim may now feel that they unable to provide for a child, especially if there are financial difficulties. Thus they become victims to control and further manipulation. Not to mention the increased vulnerabilities to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and AIDS.
In our world, which continues to treat women’s bodies as property and value them as only mere vessels for procreation (see, our media and our political landscape, which uses women as political bargaining chips for further evidence of this phenomenon), some might be inclined to believe that reproductive coercion isn’t worth considering. After all, all women must eventually become mothers, right? But if women are ever to be seen as equals to men, we too must have a full say in our reproductive choice. That includes birth control, abortion, abstinence and the ability to exercise all three options without force.
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