Why is a domestic violence agency involved in sexual health, anyway?
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
by Ceara Smith, Teens Climb High Program Coordinator
Close your eyes and imagine someone saying, “Compass Center” to you. What comes to your mind? Do you think of our 24-hour domestic violence hotline? The support groups we offer? Our housing or Mental Health Access Program? Maybe your mind goes to career or financial workshops, the diaper bank, or our referral service to other community resources.
Did you picture workshops about birth control options, sexually transmitted infections (STI) prevention, HIV, or consent? Did images of hundreds of students learning how to take care of their sexual health or parents learning how to communicate with their children about sex and relationships flood your mind?
While we are well known for our domestic violence and self-sufficiency services, a lesser known branch of Compass Center services is our adolescent empowerment programs. One of those programs, called Teens Climb High, focuses on providing evidence-based sexual health education in school and community settings.
You may be wondering, “But….why? What do domestic violence, (often called intimate partner violence), and sexual health have to do with each other?”
I’m so glad you asked!
Research shows that a partner who is controlling, violent, or manipulative can make it difficult to implement practices that protect health such as negotiating condom use or regular STI testing.1 This then increases the risk of STI or HIV infection and reduces the likelihood of seeking treatment. Untreated STIs can lead to serious health issues including pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and some cancers.
There are significant potential risks for those who are able to become pregnant as well. Domestic violence increases the chances of rapid pregnancies which increases the risk of experiencing adverse outcomes including preterm birth, low birth weight for newborns, and babies that are considered small for their age.2 Additionally, those who experience violence before or during a pregnancy have been found less likely to seek prenatal care which also increases the likelihood of these negative outcomes. Some research has found a connection between experiencing intimate partner violence and postpartum depression as well as evidence that violence increases the risk of experiencing a stillbirth by 4 times compared to those who do not have violent partners.3
At Compass Center we believe that it is necessary to take a holistic approach to addressing domestic violence and one of the ways we do that is by providing sexual health education, because we know that domestic violence directly and negatively impacts sexual and reproductive health.
It is vital that the youth we serve know about their right to safe and pleasurable sexual experiences as well as how to recognize the difference between healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationship behaviors.
We also support parents and youth-serving organizations in their efforts to create or improve their communication with the youth in their lives about these topics.
Our adolescent empowerment programs serve hundreds of students and parents of various ages, gender identities, and backgrounds each year, and we would love to see our partnerships grow. If you or an organization you work with is interested in having a workshop about youth relationships and/or sexual health, contact our Director of Community Education at firstname.lastname@example.org today!
Moore AM, Frohwirth LF and Miller E, Male reproductive control of women who have experienced intimate partner violence in the United States, Social Science & Medicine, 2010, 70(11):1737–1744, http://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/pubs/journals/socscim....
Kavanaugh ML and Anderson RM, Contraception and Beyond: The Health Benefits of Services Provided at Family Planning Centers, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2013, http://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/health-benefits....
Hasstedt K and Rowan A, Understanding Intimate Partner Violence as a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Issue in the United States, Guttmacher Policy Review Vol.19. 2016 https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2016/07/understanding-intimate-partner-violence-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights-issue