Monthly Archives: December 2013

Making reproductive coercion a crime

In the United States, it’s illegal to force a woman to take an abortion pill against her will. Every once in a while, charges will be brought against a man for tricking his partner into taking abortion-inducing drugs, a crime that can lead to decades in prison.

But what about the women who are forced into other reproductive health outcomes against their will? Although the anti-choice community frequently pushes to strengthen the legal protections against “coerced abortion,” it’s not currently against U.S. law to tamper with a woman’s birth control to try to trick her into getting pregnant. Domestic violence prevention advocates say this type of abuse is rampant, and should be punished more seriously in the eyes of the law.

The official term for this type of abuse is “reproductive coercion” — and it can encompass anything from poking holes in a condom without a woman’s knowledge, to hiding her birth control pills, to making her feel guilty about not wanting to have a baby, to trying to yank out her intrauterine device (IUD). If a woman does become pregnant, the coercion can either take the form of pressuring her to have an abortion when she wants a child, or pressuring her to continue an unwanted pregnancy when she wants an abortion.

According to a 2010 study into the issue, as many as 15 percent of low-income women who rely on public family planning clinics experience this type of tampering with their birth control. And it’s a particular prevalent aspect of abusive relationships — a clear sign that a man is attempting to control and manipulate his partner’s body. In fact, at the beginning of this year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a new policy statement recommending more widespread screening for reproductive coercion. “We want to make sure that health care providers are aware that this is something that does go on and that it’s a form of abuse,” one of the experts who helped write the new recommendations explained at the time.

Domestic violence prevention advocates argue that reproductive coercion should fit under the criminal statutes regarding domestic abuse and rape. It’s possible to make the legal case that it constitutes an act of violence — but, as the Daily Beast reports, one of the central roadblocks to prosecuting reproductive coercion is the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a robust definition of consent.

Complete article

DA pushes for domestic violence bill after homicide case

Months after her office was criticized for its handling of a domestic violence casethat ended in murder, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan is pushing legislation that increases penalties on defendants with a history of violence and in cases where the victim is a household or family member.

Ryan testified before the Joint Committee on Public Safety Thursday in favor of a bill (H 3242) that broadens the aggravated assault and battery statute when the defendant has previously been convicted of certain crimes, including violating a restraining order. The bill, entitled “an act relative to protecting domestic violence victims from repeat offenders,” was filed by Rep. Carolyn Dykema, a Democrat from Holliston.

The legislation also increases penalties for a defendant on an assault and battery charge who violates a judge’s order not to contact the victim as a condition of release on bail. Currently, a defendant is subject to increased penalties only when the assault and battery occurs in violation of a restraining order, according to Ryan.

Complete story

N.H. bill aimed at tracking domestic violence data

An effort to keep better track of domestic violence offenders will go before New Hampshire lawmakers next year, and advocates expect it to bring about a debate over gun rights.

A proposal calls for a statute that would add the victim’s relationship to the offender as an element of the crime. Thirty-four states and the federal government have such laws, but New Hampshire is not one of them.

The law would make it easier to compile data about domestic violence and help the police investigating an assault know whether a previous assault on a suspect’s record was, for example, a bar fight or a case of domestic violence, said Amanda Grady Sexton of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

She said it also would help clarify which offenders lose the right to own guns under federal law.

People convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses under state, federal and tribal law lose the right to purchase or possess guns and are placed on a federal registry. The crime must include the use of physical force, an attempt at it or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. It must also involve a current or former spouse, parent or guardian of the victim. Other relationships that trigger the placement on the federal registry include sharing a child in common or living with the victim currently or in the past as an intimate partner.


Domestic Violence: The Secret Killer That Costs $8.3 Billion Annually

Forbes article outlines the societal costs of domestic violence, and how everyone has a role in helping to curb it, including employers.

Nearly a quarter of employed women report that domestic violence has affected their work performance at some point in their lives. Each year, an estimated 8 million days of paid work is lost in the U.S. because of domestic violence.

Domestic violence costs $8.3 billion in expenses annually: a combination of higher medical costs ($5.8 billion) and lost productivity ($2.5 billion).

Addressing this issue could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. But as long as the symptoms and consequences of domestic violence go unnoticed or overlooked, nothing changes.

Regardless of who helps identify the problem or which agency provides the care, the majority of individuals who end violent relationships do not experience another one. The victims of domestic violence are just that: victims. They don’t want to be in abusive situations. They just are. And we all need to recognize the role we can play in helping them.

When we fail to provide the training and infrastructure needed to address domestic violence, the individual suffers. But so do the individual’s children, business colleagues and all of us. As we search for ways to improve this country’s health while lowering costs, shedding light on domestic violence and protecting the victims of abuse is a great place to start.

Complete article

Pilot study finds ways to better screen and recover guns from domestic violence offenders

More intensive screening to identify firearm owners among individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders, and streamlining processes to recover guns at the time those restraining orders are served could help enforce existing laws that prohibit these offenders from having firearms, a pilot study conducted by violence prevention experts at the University of California, Davis, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found.

The initiative, developed by law enforcement officers in San Mateo County and Butte County in California with consultation from the California Department of Justice and study authors, developed and assessed processes that could potentially improve firearm-recovery rates among individuals with domestic violence restraining orders. The study was published online Dec. 12 in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Intimate partner violence is a significant threat to the public’s health and safety, especially for women, and firearms play a prominent role,” said Garen Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program and lead author of the study.

“Women are at least twice as likely to be murdered by partners using a firearm than by strangers using any weapon,” he said. “Abusers with firearms are five to eight times more likely to kill their victims than those without firearms. Firearm-owning abusers also are nearly 8 times more likely to threaten partners with firearms. We need to do more to disarm known offenders to prevent violence.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation crime database, an estimated 1,127 women were murdered and some 605,000 were assaulted by their partners in the U.S. in 2011. In addition, nearly 36 percent of U.S. women participating in the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey said they have experienced violence at some time in their lives.

“Existing federal and state statutes addressing firearm possession among individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders are one step in assuring that people who are violent toward their intimate partners don’t have access to guns,” said Shannon Frattaroli, faculty with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and a study co-author. “Our study is instructive for states and localities interested in assuring those laws are enforced.”

Currently, federal and state statutes prohibit the purchase and possession of firearms by persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders. Many states authorize or require courts to order offenders to surrender their firearms for the duration of the order. But these statutes are not enough, even in states with particularly strict requirements, the authors say.

In California, for example, offenders must surrender their firearms to a law enforcement agency or sell them to a licensed firearms retailer within 24 hours after the order is served, and file a receipt with the court to document compliance within 48 hours. Since 2007, they also must surrender their firearms immediately if a law enforcement officer makes a demand for them.