Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Fordham's Domestic Violence Action Center is co-sponsoring the clinic and health fair

I want to share a very thoughtful and informative email from Lee Brannon about why reproductive justice matters to Fordham's Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC):

To my mind, there are several reasons that people who are interested in advocacy for victims of domestic violence (or more broadly, gender-based violence) would be wise to make promoting reproductive health care access a priority.

Restricting birth control access is known to be a common part of the cycle of violence for people in abusive relationships. This can manifest as accusations that the victim of using birth control so as to conceal infidelity more easily, as the inflexible position that a woman's duty is to bear and raise children (which makes her more vulnerable and economically dependent, and gives the abuser pawns to use against her, thus making her easier to control), through the claim that birth control costs the abuser money that he is unwilling to spare, through the abuser's refusal to use condoms because he claims that they interfere with his sexual satisfaction, or through the abuser's refusal to allow the victim the opportunity to go to the doctor for birth control, to name a few. Blocking access to birth control or reproductive health care limits a person's agency in making decisions about her body, exposes her to greater risk of pregnancy or STIs, isolates her from medical professionals who might identify signs of abuse and offer her help, and renders her more susceptible to continued violence.

Restricting access to reproductive health care can go far beyond simple birth control access. It can include refusing to let a victim get testing or treatment for STIs, using a victim's medical status as a basis for isolation and abuse (e.g., "you have herpes because you're a dirty whore and no one else will ever want you"), preventing access to gynecological care generally, and/or interfering with medical treatment for painful reproductive system-related conditions, such as endometriosis, pre-menstrual dysphoria disorder (PMDD), or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). A person whose physical and/or mental health is suffering because of barriers to medical care for reproductive system-related conditions may be more dependent on an abusive partner, suffering direct pain from the condition and future negative health outcomes, and/or compromised in maintaining a job or schoolwork, with the negative economic effects that follow.

Young people under age 24 are the population at highest risk of domestic violence, sexual violence, AND unintended pregnancy and STI infection. College students have one of the highest rates of sexual violence of any demographic in the U.S. (something like 20% of college students report having been the victim of a sexual assault by the time they graduate). They therefore have among the highest needs for emergency contraception and STI testing following sexual assaults, which they may not be ready to report to police or counselors yet. (Needless to say, a person's need for EC and HIV prophylaxis is a physical reality not dependent on their willingness or ability to report sexual or physical violence). This reproductive health fair, aimed at college and young graduate students, is targeting a key demographic whose reproductive health care needs may flow directly from incidents of gender-based violence. It is moreover incorrect to assume that students in relative privilege face a negligible risk of domestic and/or sexual violence. Gender-based violence occurs across the socioeconomic spectrum, and undergraduate and graduate students commonly suffer from it.

Domestic violence has been correlated with adherence to restrictive gender roles and endorsing male supremacy. Reproductive justice is a major priority of feminist movements exactly because its absence both flows from and reinforces restrictive gender roles, creating direct economic problems for women unable to maintain control over when or whether to give birth and manifesting a culture of denying women the right to bodily integrity and ownership of their physical selves. In a very close parallel, the dynamics of domestic violence center around one person's claiming the right to own, control, violate, and exploit to their own ends the body and/or mind of another person.

I'm happy to clarify if any of this doesn't make sense. You may also find this website interesting for further links and references:

Thanks again to DVAC for their willingness to co-sponsor LSRJ's reproductive health care event.



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