It’s back-to-school season for college students, and for so many that means moving somewhere new, starting at a brand new school and discovering who we are away from our parents, siblings and childhood friends. Taking on so many new responsibilities can be overwhelming, but there’s also a lot of fun that comes along with exploring your identity, dating and making new friends. Unfortunately, along with dating and meeting new people comes the risk of dating abuse — a very harsh reality on a lot of campuses.
Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 actually experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, which is almost triple the national average. But there are steps you can take to stand up for your friends of all genders and yourself and to recognize the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship.
The first step is knowing what abuse is and being able to identify unhealthy situations.
Does you or your roommate or best friend deal with a partner who is constantly checking their phone or email without permission? Do their mood swings cause you anxiety and does their explosive temper cause fear? Those aren’t healthy relationship qualities. Abuse isn’t always physical (although that’s a legitimate concern, too). If your partner is isolating you from your family, telling you what to do, controlling who you interact with on social media or making false accusations about you constantly, that’s still abuse. Know that these actions are not out of love, they are manipulative.
But understand that you are not alone in these experiences. About 43 percent of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors. Abuse can affect everyone. The next step is seeking help. If you live with your partner, it can be an especially hard burden to bear and can motivate you to ignore or downplay these behaviors. But it’s not impossible to seek help and stay safe. Record your abusive incidents, tell someone you trust and create a safety plan. Once you share that plan with someone you trust, you can avoid being alone with your abusive partner and can make an escape plan. There are local resources that can help you stay safe; don’t be afraid to reach out to them.
The advantage to being on campus in these incidents is that there are Title IX protections and campus resources that are put in place to protect you. Whether you’re still in the dorms or living off campus, these resources, specifically for college students, are there to support you in your decision to stay out of harm’s way.
But what if you aren’t the one who needs help? Watching someone you love experience abuse can be stressful and heartbreaking, and there are even cases of secondary trauma for those in the position. But there are steps you can take to support and motivate your loved one to get help.
Abusive relationships lead to an imbalance of power, so everything you can do to empower your friend or roommate to make their own decisions or get help is key. Talk to them about safety plans (i.e. when you should call the police on their behalf, talking to your neighbors or campus security, identify safe rooms in your home), create code words for when they are in danger, talk about having groups around (benefit from the strength in numbers), and more. Overall, just be there for them in a non-judgmental way. Understand that these situations are complicated, but your support could be the lifeline they need.
The college experience is full of growth, fun, love and discovering who you are. But just like anything, there are dangerous situations that can arise. Be alert and aware of who you surround yourself with and the state of your friends and roommates. Be a good listener and a good friend, and see how your support and love can keep what’s supposed to be a positive life experience just that.
If you need more resources on how to help a friend in an abusive relationship, refer to these tips from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
This post is brought to you in collaboration with the National Domestic Violence Hotline.