Reproductive coercion. It’s a significant fear for many people in abusive relationships. And it’s rarely discussed publicly.
So three area organizations brought “My Body, My Voice” — a readers’ theater production originally developed in 2010 to raise awareness about the use of reproductive coercion as a tactic of power and control — to the Next Generation Theater in Brewer Thursday night.
The performance shared the stories of real-life experiences Maine women have had to overcome.
Reproductive coercion is when an abusive partner forces a victim to get pregnant, or follow through with or end a pregnancy against her will through manipulation, threats, intimidation, or physical and sexual violence. It’s one way an abuser can wield power and control over a victim.
Roughly 25 percent of women who report being physically or sexually abused by their intimate partners also report being pressured or forced to become pregnant, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The production was organized by the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center, Rape Response Services, and Spruce Run-Womancare Alliance.
Here are some of the stories that were told, from the views of victims, nurses and advocates:
I’m Jennifer. When I met Scott, my life was going well. I had own apartment, my own car, and a steady, well-paying job. I fell totally in love with him right away, and we decided to move in together. Soon afterward, I found out I was pregnant.
When I told Scott, he held me against a wall and choked me, saying that the baby wasn’t his. He started calling me names like “slut” and “whore,” and “one of them,” because he knew I’d dated women in the past.
I knew that things would only get worse, but I stayed anyway because I was too scared to leave. One night, I got a call to come pick Scott up downtown because he was at the bar fighting. The police were there, and they offered to arrest him, but I knew that things would be worse for me if I let him go with them, so I took him home.
When we got home, it didn’t matter. He beat me up and pushed me down the stairs. I was eight months pregnant at the time.
I’m a nurse practitioner at Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center. A 30-year old woman with 3 children came in for her yearly exam and asked if there are any birth control methods she could use that her partner wouldn’t know about.
After talking with her, I learned that her husband is verbally abusive, and every time she decides to leave him she gets pregnant and feels trapped. Her husband doesn’t believe in birth control, but she is desperate not to get pregnant again.
After much discussion and education, and on her request, I offered to insert an IUD and cut the string short so that her husband couldn’t tell.
Lisa’s doctor told her that she may want to talk to Spruce Run–Womancare Alliance. She picked up the phone and made a choice to reach out to a stranger. That stranger was me. Lisa told me about her relationship. She told me intimate details of her life, things she had not told her friends. She talked about how her boyfriend, Marcus, would pin her down when they had sex. Lisa talked about how scared she was sleeping next to Marcus and felt like she never knew if he would come home and force himself on her.
Lisa spoke into the phone and cried. She said that the only time Marcus hit her or was physical was in bed. Lisa talked about how caring and loving he was everywhere else. All of Lisa’s friends were jealous. Marcus was cute and polite. He had a steady job and would take her out on extravagant dates. He was extremely attentive at home. He was perfect as far as anyone could tell, but Lisa was terrified in her home.
Lisa finally told me that she was recently diagnosed with chlamydia. Lisa cried and said that she and Marcus have been together for 4 years, and Marcus is the only person she has ever slept with.
I was a stranger to Lisa and she entrusted information to me about her life that she had not told her family or friends. Lisa is a brave woman whose life changed when her doctor told her that she had a disease that she could have only gotten from her partner, a man she trusted. The betrayal that Lisa felt was enormous, and to be able to hear that in her voice was powerful. I was thankful to her doctor for passing along our number and amazed that Lisa reached out.
Lisa is not alone; many women call our hotline talking about very personal aspects of their lives. Things they have not yet decided to tell their family or friends. I am constantly amazed at the strength of the women who reach out and call us. I am also continually happy to hear when a doctor’s office wants to learn more about how they can help be one more support to a woman living with abuse.
When the condom broke, I honestly believed the whole thing was a mistake — at least at first. We were having consensual sex. When it happened the third time, I confronted him and he confessed that he had deliberately removed the condom because he felt it interfered with his sexual pleasure. I was terrified I’d end up pregnant or with an STD.
Soon after that, he started pressuring and forcing me to have sex, and he refused to wear a condom. Once after doing this, he said, “What’s the big deal? It’s not like you couldn’t get your hands on the morning after pill if you actually cared.”
When I ended the relationship I really began thinking and began realizing that what had happened to me was rape. It took me a while before I could talk to anyone about it. I was too ashamed to come out and say, “I’ve been raped,” no matter how much I wanted to talk.
When I finally did, and told a few of my close friends the whole story of what had happened, a few of them looked at me like, ‘Oh, I thought you’d actually been raped.’ Basically, they acted like they were relieved to hear it wasn’t some stranger jumping out of the bushes or something…
Catherine Kurr works at Spruce Run-Womancare Alliance, Bangor’s domestic violence resource agency. If you’re interested in sharing your story for a future production of “My Body, My Voice,” email Kurr at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 990-5102.