Monthly Archives: October 2012

Reproductive Coercion: A New Term for an Old Problem

By Karen Moldovan, Guest Blogger and Program Manager at CCASA
Originally posted at and re-blogged with permission from the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA)
Throughout my career, I’ve consistently worked with women (and girls) who are pregnant.  As an advocate at a domestic violence shelter, it was not uncommon for pregnant women to access residential and other supportive services.  When I became a teacher at a Florence Crittenton program, all of my students were pregnant and/or parenting teen girls, between the ages of 12 and 18.  In those settings, it wasn’t uncommon to have conversations about morning sickness, baby names, back aches, and the logistics of getting to and from countless OBGYN appointments.  While those conversations came easy, I gradually realized how complicated it was to have conversations beyond the more mundane pregnancy and birth talk.  As I was able to build trust with the women and girls I worked with, I slowly learned about the mounting physical and emotional safety needs that were often a quiet struggle.  One student was a twelve year old 7th grader, who flatly refused to tell anyone, anything about the male who was no doubt involved in her pregnancy.  Yet other students would quietly murmur about how the biological father was a grown man, and she didn’t want to get him in trouble.  Apparently her family didn’t want to get him in trouble either, because he did have steady employment and would be able to financially provide for the baby.

Still to this day, it’s painful to think about the struggles of many of these young women.  Pregnancy was often closely intertwined with intimate partner violence, incest, inter-familial sex trafficking, and rape.  There was a young women who refused to speak about or even acknowledge her pregnancy, a young woman who confided that she could not hold her baby daughter without breaking down into tears due to the flood of traumatic memories she could not stop, and the young woman who flatly refused seeking any sort of child support because the most important thing was being away from the man who impregnated her.  I bring up these cases because they changed me as an Advocate.  Now I look back and see that the context of the pregnancy was often the “elephant in the room.”  As an advocate, baby names and OBGYN appointments felt okay to bring up, but I really didn’t talk integrate the following facts into my work:

  • Approximately one in five young women said they experienced pregnancy coercion and one in seven said they experienced active interference with contraception (National Crime Victimization Survey, 2005).
  • Girls who are victims of dating violence are 4 to 6 times more likely than non-abused girls to become pregnant (Silverman, 2004).
  • As many as two-thirds of adolescents who become pregnant were sexually or physically abused some time in their lives (Leiderman, 2001).
  • Homicide is the second leading cause of traumatic death for pregnant and recently pregnant women in the U.S. (Chang, 2005).

Considering what we know about perpetrators of intimate partner violence (and the power and control they demand), it should not be surprising that sexual coercion and forced pregnancy are frequently used as tools of abuse.  This abusive behavior may manifest as threats and/or violence if a partner does not comply with the perpetrator’s wishes regarding contraception or the decision whether to terminate or continue a pregnancy.  It may manifest as intentionally interfering with the couple’s birth control, or forcing invasive fertility treatments.

In my own personal life, my partner and I have spent the past two years seeking medical advice and intervention regarding (in)fertility.  In our journey to try and become parents, we’ve seen numerous doctors and medical professionals. When exchanging small-talk before or after an appointment, they’ve all asked me what I do for work.  As I explain CCASA, the tone of the conversation shifts, and more than one Fertility Specialist has shared case examples of reproductive coercion.  One case involved a couple coming in to seek in-vitro fertilization (IVF).  The Doctor just sensed something wasn’t right and (smartly) decided to talk to the husband and the wife separately.  When separated, the wife confided to the Doctor that she didn’t want to be pregnant and didn’t want to do IVF, but that her husband was forcing her.  Another Doctor told me about a situation where she had performed an Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) procedure for a couple, which was successful and resulted in twins.  Shortly after, the couple was back with the husband demanding IVF.  The Doctor was perplexed by both his urgency and demeanor.  Within a couple months of that appointment, the husband was arrested for both child abuse and domestic violence.  When these stories have been relayed to me, the Doctors each seemed incredibly saddened, baffled, and unsure of how to both identify warning signs and respond appropriately.

Because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I think it’s important for all of us to think about how we can collaboratively improve outreach and awareness around reproductive coercion and the unique considerations of survivors who are pregnant.  I’ve found that health care providers want assistance with these issues, yet are often just too busy to be the ones outreaching to community agencies. The good news is resources are available.  Futures Without Violence (www.futureswithoutviolence.org) has numerous, groundbreaking tools for addressing reproductive coercion and facilitating cross training and collaboration between health care providers and advocates.  Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus’s book, “When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women” is a must-read for anyone working directly with survivors who are pregnant.  Research determines that a physically-abused woman also experiencing forced sex [is] over seven times more likely than other abused women to be killed (Campbell, 2003).  In light of this horrific statistic, these conversations are absolutely worth having.

Karen Moldovan is the Program Manager for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA). She joined CCASA with strong experience in advocacy, education, community organizing and international development. Her professional experience has often focused on working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, individuals experiencing homelessness, and pregnant and parenting youth. Karen has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Gender Studies, and a Masters of Arts in Teaching. In 2009, she completed service as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga. She is a founding member of First Response Action, which advocates for comprehensive reform for sexual assault prevention and response within the Peace Corps.

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women

Intimate Partner & Familial Human Trafficking: when Domestic Violence & Human Trafficking Collide

By Becky Owens Bullard

Image source: preventconnect.org

Today marks the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), an awareness month that is particularly meaningful for me. Domestic violence was the first issue I worked on as an advocate, and I remember my first training vividly – the power and control wheel, the cycle of violence, and the myths surrounding intimate partner and familial abuse. I remember the women and children that I worked with in shelter, support groups and in the courtroom, and I can’t forget the devastating impact I saw this issue have on so many people’s lives. So, when I left my work on domestic violence in Nashville, TN and shifted my focus to the anti-human trafficking field in Washington, D.C., I carried my first passion with me.

Although I had little expectation that domestic violence would be so closely tied to human trafficking when I arrived in D.C. to work for Polaris Project, I did have an inkling that my work with domestic violence victims was far from over.  In my first week of training, I quickly realized that the power and control used by traffickers was incredibly similar to that of batterers and I subsequently developed the Human Trafficking Power and Control Wheel to raise awareness about these similarities in non-physical forms of control. The abuse was similar, cycles of violence and coercion were present, and to top it all off, the case that brought me to the anti-trafficking field in the first place was both a case of domestic violence and human trafficking.

On the surface, the case appeared to be a straight-forward domestic violence incident where a woman and her child had been physically abused by the woman’s live-in boyfriend. However, while waiting to testify, the woman expressed fear of being in trouble with the police because a Vice Detective had been questioning her about the defendant. I was confused, thinking she meant a DV Detective, and seeing my confusion she explained that her boyfriend had not only abused her and her child but had also forced her to engage in commercial sex. With this disclosure, I felt fairly helpless as an advocate.  I had worked on plenty of cases of intimate partner sexual abuse, but sexual exploitation (i.e. human trafficking) had not really occurred to me as a potential form of intimate partner abuse. The case and my feeling of incompetence stayed with me, opening my eyes to the intersections of domestic violence and human trafficking.

However, when I came to the anti-trafficking field, I couldn’t seem to find an appropriate place for this woman I had worked with. There was no mention of an intimate partner as a trafficker and her story was lumped into a fairly large category of “pimp-controlled” trafficking. While my take on pimp-control was that it was intimate partner violence anyway, she still didn’t fit the idea of pimps having a “stable” or controlling multiple women at one time. And what if her abuser had started selling her daughter for sex?  There was also very little recognition of family members or parents as traffickers.

Maybe it was just a rare case and not the norm for human trafficking? Maybe I was over-thinking it? Nevertheless, a few months into my work on the national hotline for human trafficking, I realized that her case was far from unusual. I ended up working on multiple cases where family members and intimate partners were perpetrators of both sex and labor trafficking and in 2010, we started to categorize them as such. In a few months, 10% of hotline calls were reports of intimate partner or familial human trafficking and I had heard multiple stories of intimate partners, parents and other family members who compelled their victims into commercial sex, domestic servitude, sexual servitude and labor.

Although it is rarely the type of exploitation or abuse highlighted by the media or by either field, it is happening and it’s time we start calling it what it is – both Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking.

When a mom and dad sell their daughter for sex to make their car payments – it is familial sex trafficking and child abuse.

When a husband forces his wife to sell herself for sex by threatening to take their child away – it is intimate partner sex trafficking and intimate partner abuse.

When a teenage boy convinces his girlfriend to sell sexual favors to feed his drug addiction – it is intimate partner sex trafficking and teen dating violence.

When a parent makes their child work long hours at the family restaurant under duress instead of going to school – it is familial labor trafficking and child abuse.

And when a husband forces his wife to work, taking all of her wages and beating her if she loses her job – it is intimate partner labor trafficking and intimate partner violence.

But why don’t we call these crimes what they are?  What stops us from understanding that domestic violence and human trafficking can not only involve the same types of power and control, cyclical violence and manipulative perpetrators, but can also directly collide, mixing the two crimes together completely?

Unfortunately, there are several myths that keep us from identifying these crimes and inhibit our understanding of intimate partner and familial human trafficking:

The myth that traffickers are usually someone unknown to the victim, not their mom or dad or intimate partner – even though we know that those closest to us, those who are supposed to love and care for us, can also exercise forceful bonds of control, manipulation and abuse.

The myth that abusive partners and family members wouldn’t go so far as to exploit – even though we know they commonly dehumanize, sexually abuse and economically manipulate.

And the idea that intimate partners (especially husbands) and family members (especially parents) somehow have a right to force their loved ones to work but not calling this forced labor – even though if the perpetrator were a stranger or an “official” employer, we would recognize it as human trafficking.

These myths and discriminatory ideas inhibit us from recognizing the intersections of these two issues, keeping domestic violence and human trafficking in separate silos. When we treat these issues as completely distinct, we risk misidentifying victims, providing inadequate and uninformed services, and missing out on crucial collaboration between the domestic violence and human trafficking fields.

So as we work to enhance the public’s understanding of abuse during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let’s also improve our own understanding of the types of abuse that we can encounter in our work. By acknowledging that human trafficking is one of these forms of abuse and that it can intersect directly with domestic violence, we can ensure no advocate feels ill-equipped when they come across their own case of intimate partner or familial human trafficking. By uniting the domestic violence and human trafficking fields around this issue, we can amplify our voices and work together to end abuse and exploitation by those closest to victims: their family members and intimate partners.

For more information on the intersections, please see the following resources:

Issue Brief on the Intersections of Domestic Violence & Human Trafficking

Intimate Partner and Intrafamilial Exploitation: How the Intersections of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking can profoundly affect our Work by Becky Owens Bullard

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Labor Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Violence Against Women