Q&A: Lisa James from Futures Without Violence on Teen Pregnancy and Relationship Violence

Lisa James

The link between teen pregnancy and violence, documented by researchers for two decades, is an often-neglected subject in teen pregnancy prevention programs. We spoke with Lisa James, director of health at Futures Without Violence (formerly the Family Violence Prevention Fund), to learn more about the link.

NCFY:  What is Futures Without Violence doing to understand the link between teen pregnancy and relationship violence? And what are the statistics on violence and teen pregnancy from your research?

Lisa James: We have done qualitative research on what puts young people at risk for unplanned pregnancy, and have found patterns of reproductive coercion, birth control sabotage (such as flushing pills down the toilet or poking holes in condoms), and forced unprotected sex, also known as sexual violence or rape, but with the intention of causing a pregnancy.

Relationship abuse of some form is really common among teens—one in five experiences it. And part of that is forcing an unwanted pregnancy. Girls who are in violent relationships are 3.5 times more likely to become pregnant than their non-abused peers. And two recent studies of women in violent relationships found that 25 percent say their partners are trying to get them pregnant when they don’t want to be. Clinic studies—such as those by Dr. Elizabeth Miller [of UC Davis Health System], which Futures Without Violence has been replicating—found high rates of violence in patients accessing family planning services.

NCFY: How do you advise youth workers to address violence and unhealthy relationships among teens in their pregnancy prevention work?

James: Make it clear that everyone, both boys and girls, deserves to be in a relationship that is respectful and supportive. Futures Without Violence developed a free safety card in English and Spanish you can order online and hand out to youth in your program, and youth.gov has a helpful concept-mapping activity to teach youth about healthy relationships.

NCFY: How should youth workers respond when they find out a young woman is experiencing relationship abuse?  

James: Asking direct questions about violence and sexual behaviors is an important step. If she is already sexually active, you can ask, “Has the person you're seeing ever messed with your birth control or forced you to have sex?” Connect her to a health care provider, who can offer contraception she can control, such as IUD, Depo Provera shot, Implanon and others, and connect her to a domestic violence advocate who can help her stay safe.


What to tell youth in violent relationships to do:

  • Talk with friends or family about what is happening
  • Call the teen dating abuse hotline (1-866-331-9479) or get help from Love Is Respect's online chat services at http://www.loveisrespect.org
  • Go to http://www.thatsnotcool.org for advice about how to respond to textual harassment
  • Contact a health care provider or Planned Parenthood about birth control that can’t be interfered with
9-5 pm Eastern