Asking about pregnancy coercion and intimate-partner violence

Dear Engaged Bystander:  When I read a study that says by "asking about pregnancy coercion and intimate-partner violence can reduce their incidence" I have to sit up and take notice. Below is a brief overview of this recently released study. 

Study finds asking about pregnancy coercion and intimate-partner violence can reduce their incidence
Jay Silverman and Heather McCauley of  the Harvard School of Public Health, Rebecca Levenson of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, Michele R. Decker of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Daniel Tancredi of UC Davis.
 
There are a growing number of professionals who insist upon an evidence-based approach to any new program innovation. I am so encouraged by this trend, but also discouraged by the relatively few studies that clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of a specific intervention. Without these studies, we are flying blind about what works and what doesn’t work.
 
Background
This pilot study conducted by UC Davis School of Medicine found that when clinicians specifically asked young women during visits to family planning clinics whether their partners had attempted to force them to become pregnant, it dramatically reduced the likelihood that the women would continue to experience such pressures.
 
The questions were fairly simple and straightforward yet they can have a profound impact on a young women’s life. They asked a series of questions (see below) and offered simple educational information. 
  • "Have you hidden birth control from your partner so he wouldn't get you pregnant?"
  • "Has your partner tried to force you to become pregnant when you didn't want to be?"
  • "Does your partner mess with your birth control?"
  • "Does your partner refuse to use condoms when you ask?"
  • "Has your partner ever hurt you physically because you didn't agree to become pregnant?"
 
Results
“Young women who recently experienced partner violence had a 70 percent reduction in the odds that they would continue to experience pregnancy coercion following the questioning, which is called a brief intervention, the study found. The study participants also were 60 percent more likely to report ending a relationship with a partner because they felt unsafe or the relationship felt unhealthy.”
 
Implications
This study shows that a relatively small investment of time, we can have an enormous impact on the lives of women living in violent situations. In this pilot study, the researchers found that by opening up a difficult subject and taking out the shame of domestic violence, by asking simple questions by someone in a position of responsibility, and by supplying simple educational materials, women are able to change their exposure to violence.  For bystander programs, this study points to the importance of simply asking questions. When people ask what they can do, this study could validate the importance of just learning to ask questions about what is happening in a non-judgmental way and within a confidential setting. 
 
One of the authors, Rebecca Levenson, of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, eloquently described the potential impact of these findings, “This study is extremely important because it identifies an effective solution that can be implemented relatively easily. We need to build on these results by making this intervention the norm in health-care settings throughout the nation as quickly as possible."
 
Click here for a link to the press release for the study.