Reproductive Coercion and Legal Recognition: Views of Domestic Violence Support Workers and Lawyers


Reproductive coercion is increasingly recognised as a common part of women’s experiences of domestic violence. The term refers to behaviour that aims to compromise a woman’s control over her reproductive choices. It includes coercing a woman to become pregnant or to terminate a pregnancy and sabotaging contraception. There is no Australian research exploring how domestic violence support and legal services understand and respond to reproductive coercion when it is raised. Drawing on focus group discussions, this article questions the use of the terminology ‘reproductive coercion’ suggesting that ‘reproductive abuse’ may be more accessible. The article finds that the response to reproductive coercion in the legal context may be similar to sexual violence allegations, particularly regarding difficulties associated with reporting and with the victim being believed. This connection is worthy of further investigation. The article concludes that legislative change may improve the recognition of reproductive coercion.


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Published: 2021-12-01
Pages:117 to 130
Section:Special Issue: Policing and Preventing Gender Violence in the Global South
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How to Cite
Douglas, H., Sheeran, N. and Tarzia, L. (2021) “Reproductive Coercion and Legal Recognition: Views of Domestic Violence Support Workers and Lawyers”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 10(4), pp. 117-130. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.1704.

Author Biographies

The University of Queensland

Professor Heather Douglas is based at the TC Beirne School of Law at the Univiversity of Queensland. She researches in the areas of criminal justice and domestic violence. Heather has published widely on criminal justice issues and around legal responses to domestic violence and child protection. In 2014- 2019 she was awarded an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to research the way in which women who have experienced domestic violence use the legal system to help them leave violence. She was the lead researcher and project co-ordinator with the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration on the development of the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book, a project funded by the Commonwealth Government.  Heather was appointed a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law in 2013 and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 2017.

Griffith University

Dr Nicola Sheeran (PhD Clinical Psychology) B Psych (hons). Nicola Sheeran is a lecturer in the School of Applied Psychology at Griffith University. Her research interests sit generally in the social health psychology field and has a particular interest in women's mental health including health communication, racism, domestic violence and adjustment to parenting.

Dr Laura Tarzia is an ARC DECRA Senior Research Fellow at The University of Melbourne. A sociologist working within the health sciences, her interdisciplinary research focuses on understanding the context and dynamics of sexual and intimate partner violence against women to inform early engagement and improve responses.