October 25, 2007

Abusive Teens Force Their Girlfriends To Get Pregnant! (Don't Let The Truth Get In The Way Of A Good Story)

Another internet meme that is spreading like syphilis all over the internet, maybe we should look at it a little more closely?

The news articles are titled, "Teens Report Abusive Boyfriends Try To Get Them Pregnant."  

The girls, aged 15-20, reported

their abusive partners were actively trying to get them pregnant by manipulating condom use, sabotaging birth  control use and making explicit statements about wanting them to become pregnant.
I'm not sure it's particularly surprising to anyone who works in a city that boys are actively trying to get
their girlfriends pregnant, but that's not what this is all about.  The implication, of course, the soundbite, is that abusive boys are using impregnantion specifically as a means of abuse.  In other words, the abuse is the point; hitting, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and forcing pregnancy are all tools for that purpose.  If the guys weren't  abusive, they wouldn't be trying to impregnante their girlfriends.

Interestingly, in any discussions about this article I've seen, the criticism is the small sample size of the study-- 61 girls interviewed. 53 used.  But that's not the flaw in the study, the flaw is in the way these results were reported in the news.  In fact, only 14 of the girls reported that this was happening.  A quarter.

"We were floored by what these girls told us," Dr. Miller said.

If this article had been titled, "75% Of Abusive Boyfriends Aren't Trying To Impregnante Their Girlfriends; Many Still Wear Raiders Caps" would we be talking about this? 25% is pretty low.  But it's actually lower than that:

Participants had varied responses to these pregnancy-promoting behaviors, including some sharing the same desire to become pregnant
Wow, it pays to RTFA.

Keep in mind that the pregnancy is supposed to be a means of abuse and control.  It's not supposed to be an example of a guy really, really wants a baby. (I'm not saying that this is a valid reason for sabotaging contraception, but I am distinguishing it from an intended abuse of the girl.)

Of those 26%, how many were being impregnated because the boy legitimately wanted a baby?  What percent were doing it for access to welfare/money/services/get to move in?  In how many cases did the girl want to get pregnant herself?  Or was at least ambivalent about it? 

I have nothing against the study, I'm all for investigating abuse patterns of likely future narcissists, but the reporting of these studies takes on a life of its own.  It doesn't matter whether it's true or not, what matters is that this soundbite is stuck in your head, and it informs your thinking about society.

And again, of course: even when someone shows you this is wrong, or you get new information to the contrary, the new information doesn't replace the bad information, the new information sits next to the bad information.  Instead of one study you've misunderstood, you have two studies you contrast.