How Social Workers Can Help Survivors of Reproductive Coercion and Intimate Partner Violence

Jan 10, 2020

By Amber Sutton, LICSW, and Haley Beech, LMSW

Getty Images

Getty Images

Social workers have a unique role in identifying and addressing intimate partner violence (IPV) as they will inevitably encounter survivors and their families in a variety of settings.

One form of intimate partner violence that is often undetected and underreported is reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion includes tactics such as birth control sabotage and pregnancy coercion.

Birth control sabotage involves controlling behaviors such as stealthing or removing a condom without a partner’s permission damaging a condom, removing a contraceptive patch or vaginal ring, and throwing away oral contraceptives, according to the publication, Addressing Intimate Partner Violence, Reproductive and Sexual Coercion: A Guide for Obstetric, Gynecologic and Reproductive Health Care Settings.

Pregnancy coercion is defined as pressuring or threatening a partner to get pregnant and pressuring the continuation or termination of a pregnancy. Additional mechanisms can include threats to leave or harm a partner if they do not become pregnant or terminate a pregnancy.

Rates of reproductive coercion appear to be high for those experiencing other forms of intimate partner violence, have a lower socioeconomic status, and are single women of color, according to an article in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing. In addition, Global Health Action reports that adolescent girls experiencing reproductive coercion are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge-drinking and suicide attempts.

While intimate partner violence has been examined in the context of social work practice and theory, limited research exists that specifically addresses reproductive coercion within romantic relationships and how the social work profession can appropriately respond.

Social workers have a responsibility to promote social justice for all and to protect vulnerable populations according to our Code of Ethics, which includes understanding the intersection of violence and other social issues that plague the very communities we serve. As such, reproductive coercion and violence against women is a violation of human rights.

It is imperative for social workers to provide survivors with relevant and culturally sensitive care. Providers have the capability to screen for reproductive coercion and to intentionally create spaces where survivors can share abuse experiences and regain autonomy.

The profession of social work needs to be equipped in addressing increasing forms of violence against women’s bodies, their health, and their rights. Part of this preparation lies in highlighting reproductive coercion and giving survivors a language in order to validate their personal experiences. In addition, social workers are called to confront cultural norms and social, political, and economic climates that maintain complicity in violence against women and girls. They should also promote the use of trauma-informed education and care when working with victims of reproductive coercion.

Futures Without Violence, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence, provides a number of helpful resources for healthcare providers and social workers who are interested in learning more about how to recognize the signs of reproductive coercion as a form of IPV. Such useful resources include fact sheets, safety cards, and safety planners.

Visit Futures Without Violence  for more information. In addition, social workers can advocate to protect victims of IPV through supporting the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) currently under review in the Senate.

For additional resources, please check out the following organizations:

Love is Respect 

National Network to End Domestic Violence 

Office on Violence Against Women (U.S. Department of Justice)

One Love Foundation 


Haley Beech is a member of NASW. Both she and Amber Sutton are currently doctoral students at the University of Alabama’s School of Social Work.