Domestic violence rates and effective response programs are necessary considerations in an analysis of choice and reproductive health. Women in unsafe home situations or with coercive or violent partners face greater obstacles to exercising autonomous control over their bodies and reproductive lives. In 2014, a conservative estimate of cases of intimate partner violence was 65,000 among women ages 18 to 64 (Ohio Colleges of Medicine Government Resource Center, 2014). In 2013 there were 66,503 domestic violence calls to Ohio law enforcement; 26,614 of those calls resulted in no charges (Ohio Domestic Violence Network, 2013). The actual rates of domestic violence are probably much higher than these numbers suggest, given the propensity for victims to be discouraged from reporting these crimes because of their intimate relationship with their assaulter, as well as the societal tendency to dismiss accusations. According to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, 40,961 adults were served and 2,571 adults were sheltered at domestic violence shelters across Ohio in 2013 (ODVN, 2013). At these facilities, 20 adults had injuries that were fatal (ODVN, 2013).
Sexual assault impacts reproductive choice not only because it can directly result in pregnancy, but also because it can have a lasting affect on a person’s relationship to their sexuality, affecting their control over their body. In 2013 in Ohio there were a total of 3,913 forcible rapes reported to law enforcement (ODVN, 2013). The Office of Criminal Justice Services defines forcible rape as “the carnal knowledge of a person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or, not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity” (Ohio Incident Based Reporting System, 2013). The definition of “forcible rape” excludes coercion and does not account for rape culture or the broad societal pressures that people, particularly women, experience. These cultural expectations may make individuals feel that refusing sexual intercourse is not an option, thus removing true choice and control of their bodies.
In many situations rape and sexual assault are not reported to law enforcement, and only a fraction of the incidents that are reported result in legal charges or jail time. The lack of reporting is evident in 2012 data that shows that 14 rape crisis programs in Ohio responded to 13,598 hotline calls; the year prior, 2011, there were only 7,972 incidents of sexual assault reported to law enforcement (OAESV, No date and OIBRS, 2013). Eighty-five percent of the cases reported to law enforcement involved female survivors (OIBRS, 2013). The fact that there were almost double the amount of calls to rape crisis centers than the number of sexual assaults reported to law enforcement indicates that people are not using formal avenues for redress, revealing problems that must be addressed in the justice system.
Rape crisis centers that provide culturally-competent, non-judgmental counseling as well as comprehensive information are important resources for ensuring access to care for rape survivors. Data from 2014 show that the paid staff at eighteen rape crisis programs across Ohio are overwhelmingly white women, with 104 white women paid staff members, ten Black women, two Hispanic women, three paid employees that identify as bi-racial and no Asian American or American Indian paid staff (OAESV, 2014). This racial makeup shows an area of necessary change. It is harder for white counselors or service providers to understand the unique cultural and racial issues that people of color experience. Given racial power dynamics in America, people of color who are survivors of sexual assault may be less comfortable receiving counseling from white women, thus creating another disparity in access (OAESV, 2014).
The anti-choice majority in the Ohio legislature has restricted rape crisis programs’ ability to offer complete counseling to their clients through a variety of actions. In 2013 the Ohio Attorney General began funding rape crisis programs through a new grant opportunity. When creating the necessary funding stream for this program, the legislature forbade rape crisis programs receiving this funding from including information about abortion in the counseling offered to clients facing pregnancy following a sexual assault. Additionally, in February of 2016 the Ohio legislature passed HB 294, which prevents state funds from going to any entity that performs or promotes non-therapeutic abortions, or any entity that contracts with someone who performs or promotes non-therapeutic abortion. One of the funding streams impacted by this new legislation is a Violence Against Women Act program on rape prevention. This legislation thus takes away funds that are aimed at combatting rape culture and educating men and boys about consent. The bill’s wording is vague enough that even a pamphlet about abortion as an option could be cause for loss of funds. The full impact of this new defunding effort will not be felt until after the bill goes into effect on May 23, 2016.