On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about teen pregnancy and dating violence.
This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.
So, today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, Why is teen pregnancy more common in abusive relationships?”
Someone asked us this question anonymously online. Many researchers have reported about the link between teen dating violence and a higher risk of pregnancy for people who can get pregnant. For example, a 2005 study by Timothy A. Roberts showed that teen girls in physically abusive relationships were three times more likely to become pregnant than non-abused girls. This is just one example, but we want to be clear that abuse is more than physical, too – it can be emotional, sexual, financial, digital, stalking, and verbal, too.
There are some dangers to teen pregnancy in abusive relationships. Pregnant teens are more likely to feel trapped in the relationship and experience high rates of financial abuse. Pregnant teens are more likely to experience physical violence. Plus, they have higher rates of prenatal health problems, and are more likely to have an unintended pregnancy soon after the first.
So the question is, why is pregnancy more common in abusive relationships? Well, the easiest way to explain this is to talk more about abuse.
So, abuse happens when one person decides to gain power and control over their partner by violating their partner’s right to freely make their own choices, to set their own boundaries or limits, and to give or take away consent or permission. We know that abuse can happen in teen and adult relationships, although we are focusing on teens today.
Abuse can also be sexual, and that includes pressuring, guilting, and/or forcing someone into sexual activity. A 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, found that 10% of teenage students in dating relationships in the United States were coerced, or pressured through force or threats, into sexual intercourse in the previous year. This is never okay, because all sexual activity has to be freely consented to by all people involved. A pressured “yes” is not a freely given “yes.”
Some people feel like they have to agree to sex to avoid other consequences, like their partner hurting someone, sharing private photos, or revealing their gender identity or sexual orientation to others. This is also not okay, because all these things are blackmail and threats. Also, it’s not free consent if there’s blackmail, pressure, or force.
Again, this isn’t about what both people want – this is about one person gaining power and keeping power and control over their partner. Besides guilting, pressuring and forcing, someone might mess with the birth control, lie about using it, or trick their partner by removing it. In an abusive relationship, this partner might not even hide that they are doing it, and the other person feels like they have to go along with it because of threats and fear.
Then, there are partners who want to get the other person pregnant, so that there’s a greater chance they’ll stay with them. That’s also abusive. And, some people also may lie about using protection or birth control to get pregnant on purpose, to manipulate and control their partner. All of these things are forms of sexual violence.
Also, pregnant teens are more likely to have been raped or sexually assaulted. Something else to keep in mind is that, whatever the age, abuse from a partner can begin or get worse, unfortunately, when the other partner becomes pregnant.
Pregnancy is a risk factor for violence. Many victims report that abuse started or escalated or got worse during pregnancy. Think about it this way, too: if abuse is meant to gain power and control over someone else, an abusive partner might feel like they are losing control when their partner’s attention is focused on the pregnancy or baby. So the partner might try to then gain more power and control.
So, there are many reasons why abuse can lead to a higher risk of pregnancy. You can find support at Safe+Sound Somerset as a survivor of abuse or sexual assault.
To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.