What is Reproductive Coercion?

By Jenn Rockefeller

It is not gender specific. It can happen to men, women and non-binary  victims of domestic violence. It can happen at any time within relationships. It doesn’t discriminate – it can happen to the rich or poor, and to all those with differing racial backgrounds. What is “it?” It’s called reproductive coercion and it can have severe adverse effects on its victims.

What it is

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, reproductive coercion is “behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent.”

More specifically, reproductive coercion is a form of sexual abuse that is not widely talked about because many people are unaware it even exists. People may have heard stories about the nightmarish occurrences when one partner pokes holes in condoms or when one partner commits an act of rape. But what these individuals likely did not know is that there is a name for those acts of intimate partner violence.

What it can look like

Reproductive coercion can take on many forms, such as interfering with contraception use that can end up in pregnancy. Please note that any person can be the instigator. If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might be a victim of reproductive coercion.

  • Has your partner hidden, destroyed or withheld your oral contraception?
  • Has your partner removed the condom during sex?
  • Has your partner poked holes in the condoms in order to result in a pregnancy?
  • Has your partner pressured you into having children?
  • Has your partner threatened violence against you if you do not agree to become pregnant?
  • Has your partner continually hounded you to have sex?
  • Has your partner threatened violence against you if you did not comply with terminating or continuing a pregnancy?


According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a national study in 2011 determined that one in four callers reported being reproductively coerced. However, a more recent report released in October 2018 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), indicated that one in 10 (40%) survivors reported reproductive coercion by either tampering with contraception or forcing them into becoming pregnant. Of that 40% who reported coercion, 84% became pregnant as a result. Furthermore, if a woman becomes pregnant due to reproductive coercion, it can severely hinder her options for financial independence, as well as educational or work opportunities.

How it’s used for control

Domestic violence is an imbalance of power in a relationship. As such, the primary aggressor will exhibit any kind of behavior to maintain that power and control over their partner. This can include becoming pregnant on purpose to trap the partner into staying in the relationship, or if the relationship did end eventually, the one partner would be in the primary aggressor’s life forever. The abuser can and will use the children as pawns for ongoing abuse aimed at the victim/survivor.

Even if no pregnancy occurs as a result of the reproductive coercion, there are still many ways that abusers can use coercive tactics to their advantage in order to maintain power and control over the victim. Violence and threats of violence are sometimes enough to get a victim to comply. There are already enough ways that abusers can covertly abuse their victims, and reproductive coercion is just another tactic in their arsenal.

As humans, it is our right to decide what is best for our bodies and our reproductive health. When abusers force us to give up that right, we are subjected to yet another form of domestic violence that ends up resulting in great harm to our mental, emotional and/or physical health.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

When Abuse Escalates

By Jamey Sheesley

Escalation in abusive relationships is very dangerous. Victims tend to experience a steep increase in the abuse as part of the abusive cycle or if they find any sort of independence from their abusive partner.

What is the cycle of abuse?

Even though every abusive relationship is different, there is always a cycle. The first part of the cycle is when you meet your abusive partner. They never show their abusive side right away and usually hook you in before they start the next phase of the cycle.

After this initial manipulation, abusers move into the next stage, which is the tension building stage. In this stage, the abuser will start to create tension by picking at the victim. Tension can be built in many different ways, including accusing the victim of wearing something too scandalous; making snide comments about the victim, or anything that makes the victim feel insecure. Many times the victim will start to feel on edge or fearful because of the change in atmosphere.

Communication in the relationship often breaks down at this point, as well. This phase can last anywhere from a day to weeks. Escalation begins in this stage.

The next stage in the cycle is the “acting out” stage or the abusive stage. This is where the escalation comes into full effect. This is where physical violence tends to happen. If a victim has only experienced emotional abuse from their abuser, this is the stage where it might rise to the next level and become physical. All forms of abuse, including emotional, financial, sexual, and physical, get worse during this stage.

What is “escalation?”

According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are two different types of escalation. The first type is gradual escalation. Gradual escalation is where the abuser will make comments that become more hurtful over time. The second type of escalation is sudden escalation. Sudden escalation is when the abuse suddenly becomes more severe, like an emotionally abusive partner becoming physically abusive for the first time.

Full escalation is a dangerous time for the victim because the abuser is using violence to show the power they have over the victim. The abuser wants to show the victim what can happen if the they disobey. The abuser is trying to gain all power back, especially if the victim has shown some sort of independence. This is especially likely when the victim is trying to leave the relationship. According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 75% of injuries in abusive relationships happen when the victim tries to end the relationship.

Why should I safety plan?

It is good to have a safety plan if you are planning to leave an abusive relationship. Please take all precautions when leaving an abuser. According to Love is Respect and Huffington Post, some safety plan tips include:

  • Documenting everything that is happening, including taking photos of any injuries,
  • Creating a safety network of friends and family and letting them know your plans,
  • Going to the emergency room and documenting injuries,
  • Finding a safe place for your children to go during abusive incidents (like going to a separate room or staying with a friend or family member),
  • Contacting local shelters if you need a place to stay or visit WomensLaw.org for state-by-state legal action,
  • Trying to set money aside and having a trusted family member or friend hold it for you.

If you are experiencing escalation, chances are it is not your first time seeing your abuser do this. Every relationship is different so each victim may have different strategies on keeping the abuser calm during this stage. Since this is a very dangerous part of the cycle, it is very important to keep yourself and your children safe, whatever that means for you. You are the expert on your own safety, so take every precaution you can when creating your safety plan. If you know the best time to leave is when the abuser is not around, then leave when they are gone. Do not wait around, get out.

It is important to get out before it is too late. Many times as each cycle happens, the abuse continues become more violent in order to establish power and control. The escalation of abuse can also change each cycle. Sometimes the escalation is gradual, but other times it is sudden. That is why it is important to create a safety plan and get out as soon as possible. Trust your “gut” instincts and get away so you can start living your life away from the abuse cycle.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Reactive Abuse: What It is and Why Abusers Rely on It

reactive abuse woman floating in water

One of the most common tactics abusers use is to shift blame for the abuse onto the victim. The abuser will claim the victim is the abuser because of the reaction the victim has. The abuser may even attempt to convince the victim that there is nothing worth reacting over and that the victim is overreacting to the abuse. What the victim is actually experiencing is called reactive abuse.


Reactive abuse occurs when the victim reacts to the abuse they are experiencing. The victim may scream, toss out insults, or even lash out physically at the abuser. The abuser then retaliates by telling the victim that they are, in fact, the abuser.

Why abusers rely on it

Abusers rely on this “reactive abuse” because it is their “proof” that the victim is unstable and mentally ill. The abuser will hold these reactions against the victims indefinitely. It could be years later and the abuser will say, “Well, back in (whatever year), you had this reaction and acted all crazy. You’re the crazy one! You need help.”

Sometimes abusers use this reaction as an excuse to go to police or even file for protective orders of their own.

A method of manipulation

To manipulate is to unfairly influence a situation. When an abuser claims they are the ones being abused, they are manipulating us into believing we are at fault for the abuse. The abusers are conditioning and manipulating us to accept the blame. The longer this blame shifting goes on, the longer we will believe we are to blame for the reactive outbursts and abuse that the abuser is dishing out. We will begin to believe we are the violent and unstable ones.

This manipulation can even go so far as to cause us to feel shame. When we react, it causes the abuser to claim we are the abusive ones. But these reactions also add a second element to the mix – they cause us to feel bad about ourselves to the point of guilt and shame. We act against what we know to be true about ourselves – that we are good, kind, capable, loving people. But that goes out the window when we experience the guilt and shame more and more. The guilt and shame that the abusers continue to condition us to feel.

Reactive abuse vs. mutual abuse

According to domesticshelters.org, mutual abuse is when both partners are equally abusive to one another. Many survivors often ask themselves if they are abusive too because of how they react, but the truth is that mutual abuse is very rare and many experts don’t believe it exists. The power and control dynamics involved in domestic violence would make it nearly impossible for both partners to be abusive.

The key word here is “react.” That’s the difference between reactive abuse and mutual abuse. Victims and survivors react to the abuse doled out by the abuser.

What we can do instead

When you see yourself reacting in this manner, many times you begin to say to yourself, “Whoa, this isn’t me. This isn’t how I am normally.” When you begin to ask yourself those questions, you know something is not right with the relationship. I know I thought those things before – that I knew how I was reacting wasn’t me. It wasn’t who I was. That’s what the abuser wants – to make you question yourself, your character, and your integrity. But many times, by the time we get to the point of asking ourselves those questions, we are either too scared to leave the abuser or we just don’t have the means to do so.

So what can we do instead? The abusers bank on us reacting negatively to their tactics. When we begin to truly think about how we respond to them, we are taking back our power. We begin to respond and not react. To react is almost like an automatic thing – it’s the fight or flight response. But responding involves a thought process that requires us to really consider our thoughts and actions.

Within the realm of domestic violence, there is always one who initiates or instigates the problems in the relationship. It comes back to that one person needing power and control over their  victim. That’s what abuse is – the imbalance of power. The abuser, however, would like us to believe otherwise and say, “Well, we were abusive to each other. It’s mutual abuse.” It’s because the abusers will never accept responsibility for their actions and instead shift blame for the abuse onto us.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.


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