Child 'locked in room and forced to take abortion tablets' in one case of reproductive coercion

Child 'locked in room and forced to take abortion tablets' in one case of reproductive coercion

A girl, aged under 18, was locked in a room and given abortion tablets to force her to have a termination, staff at the sexual assault treatment units (SATU) have said. 

Women forced to get pregnant or forcibly denied access to contraception by their partners are among those suffering from reproductive coercion in Ireland, staff at the sexual assault treatment units (SATU) have said.

Greater awareness among the public and healthcare workers is needed of this shocking abuse, SATU staff have urged.

In one case, a girl, aged under 18, was locked in a room and given abortion tablets to force her to have a termination.

Another woman had contraception removed without her knowledge just weeks before she came to the attention of medical staff following a serious assault.

SATU national director Dr Maeve Eogan said patients such as these can be found not just in SATUs, but across the health service including by GPs, emergency departments, and maternity units.

Dr Maeve Eogan
Dr Maeve Eogan

“As a society, we have become more aware, traditionally we would have considered domestic violence purely as a physical injury,” she said.

“Now, very clearly, there are lots of discussions about the crime of coercive control, but in addition, there is this concept of sexual coercion. 

People not being able to make decisions about their own contraception, not being able to make decisions about controlling fertility.” 

She said this can be linked to sex trafficking, but added: “There is a concern that it’s there as a form of domestic violence as well, and we need to raise awareness about it and raise awareness among health practitioners.” 

There is no evidence yet whether this is more common now, she said, or people are becoming more aware of its existence.

“There were more disclosures of domestic sexual violence,” she said, referring to the pandemic when patients had to attend hospitals alone.

With the SATU figures, the proportion of patients who were assaulted by somebody who was an intimate partner or well known to them was much higher in the period of the pandemic than it had been prior to that or this year. 

"The concern with the pandemic is ‘were there people not seeking attention for health needs because they weren’t allowed?’.” 

Health facilities can support people they suspect need help by seeing patients separately from partners or posting notices in private spaces. 

“It is about supporting the staff to have the knowledge and skills that are required,” she said.

Clinical nurse specialist forensic clinical examiner Bridin Bell works at the Donegal SATU.

In a presentation at the Advanced Practice Nurse Network Conference 2022, she described reproductive coercion seen nationally. 

She urged training be given to emergency department staff due to the number of fractures these women typically suffer.

She discussed how nurses and midwives see women admitted to hospital with ruptured stitches having recently given birth, but would not always know how what to say.

“It’s all because we have no training and are so afraid to make it worse,” the World of Irish Nurses and Midwifery magazine quoted her as saying. "So I think there is an amount of work to be done."

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