The current study is the first to explore the prevalence of reproductive coercion among adolescent women currently or previously involved in the U.S. foster care system. Reproductive coercion (RC), a form of intimate partner violence (IPV) involving exertion of power over a partner by controlling their reproductive health and decision making, is a significant public health concern. Existing research on RC has primarily been conducted in either healthcare settings or on college campuses. Foster youth are disproportionately impacted by both adolescent pregnancy and interpersonal violence. RC may contribute to this elevated risk.
We conducted a cross-sectional survey in 2015 and 2016 of adolescent women (n=136), ages 16-24 years old, seeking services from youth-serving agencies affiliated with a child welfare system in Pennsylvania, United States. Participants completed measures assessing RC, experiences of physical and sexual violence, sexual behaviors, and pregnancy. We used multivariable logistic regression to assess associations between RC and study outcomes.
The sample was predominantly African American (67.4%) and largely identified as something other than heterosexual (46.6%). Nearly one-third of the sample (30.1%) reported a history of RC, with the most common being male partners telling them not to use birth control. High rates of IPV (62.1%), lifetime pregnancy (43.4%), and unwanted pregnancy (30.9%) were also reported. RC was associated with significantly higher odds of IPV (Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) = 4.22, 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.60, 11.13), multi-perpetrator rape (AOR 3.56, 95% CI: 1.04, 12.24), pregnancy (OR = 5.39, 95% CI: 2.14, 13.60), and unintended pregnancy (AOR 5.39, 95% CI: 2.04, 14.25). Young women reporting RC also had elevated odds for using alcohol or drugs before sex (OR = 4.34, 95% CI: 1.72, 10.97) and having sex with a male partner 5 years or more older (OR = 7.32, 95% CI: 2.84, 18.87). No significant differences emerged between RC and sociodemographic characteristics.
Implications: These data suggest women involved in the U.S. foster care system, particularly women of color and/or LGBTQ+ identified who comprised the majority of participants in the current study, may be at an increased risk for experiencing RC and other forms of IPV associated with adolescent pregnancy. In addition to efforts to prevent IPV and sexual violence, assessment for RC, healthy relationships education, and access to sexual and reproductive health care may mitigate these risks and improve outcomes for these young women.