Pregnant Teens: Forgotten Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

 

By Zach Sarvis

Teen dating violence is a serious problem overall, but among teenagers who are targets of abuse, some of the most at-risk groups are pregnant teenage women. In fact, one scholarly study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported that 38% of pregnant teenagers report being abused by their partners. According to Break the Cycle, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping young people establish healthy, abuse-free relationships, these teens are often particularly reluctant to seek help for abuse because they are ashamed of their pregnancies. Furthermore, they often became pregnant by their abusers, which makes leaving even harder.

It is sad to say that sexualized violence, and resulting pregnancies, can even become a tool of abuse and manipulation. One study has reported that 68% of women who have been physically abused also reported sexual assault.

Male abusers may force women to have sex without a condom, and they may also take away their birth control pills as an additional form of control, for many abusers believe that their partners’ access to birth control enables them to cheat. Some abusers also intentionally impregnate their partners so that they feel they cannot leave.

As Break the Cycle points out, teenaged women are especially at risk as targets of such coercion; because they are often not financially self-sustaining, they become financially dependent on their abusers, especially older men, and especially if pregnancy is part of the equation. According to a study on teenage pregnancy in the American Journal of Public Health, “In 1993, only a minority (34.5%) of California’s 46,500 school-age mothers gave birth after liaison with a school-age peer; by contrast, about two thirds (65.5%) had a post-school-age adult partner who, on average, was more than 4 years older.” This study was one of the first to challenge the assumption that teenage pregnancies typically involved teenage fathers. It helps to explain the coercion and abuse related to teenage pregnancy.

What can we do about it? Break the Cycle uses the acronym “RADAR” to suggest a path forward:

R:    Routinely screen all pregnant teenagers for abuse because the abuse rate is so high for them.

A:     Ask questions in a caring, non-judgmental way.

D:     Document information and all pertinent physical abuse signs.

A:     Assess the teen’s safety.

R:     Review options for the teen to escape the abusive relationship.

One of the best methods to reduce the abuse of pregnant teenagers is by reducing the rate of teenage pregnancy in the first place. As stated earlier, many abusers intentionally get their victims pregnant to prevent them from leaving. Many of these women are financially dependent on their abusers, and therefore neither they nor their child will not have enough financial support if they leave the abuser. Access to birth control, particularly for poor women, can engender both economic and emotional independence, which can make it much easier for them to leave their abusers.

Pregnant teens are often marginalized by everyone around them, even seen as failures in life. What is often left unconsidered is that many of these teens are physically and emotionally abused by their significant others, and they are less likely to leave their abusers because they are shunned by society. Many of these abused women hold the detrimental belief that they deserve this abuse. As a society, discouraging teenage pregnancy is a noble cause, but it also happens to mean that teens that do become pregnant do not receive the support that they need. Since the levels of abuse are so high for pregnant teens, it is necessary that we as a society show compassion rather than shun these women.

Zach Sarvis is currently a freshman at Saint Louis University, majoring in mechanical engineering.

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