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College Students and Dating Violence

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Our first thoughts on dating and relationships are usually associated with good things. We look for relationships that enhance our sense of well-being and make us feel good about ourselves. We dream of supportive partners who treat us kindly with love and respect. Violence can and does occur in intimate relationships, even in college. 30% of college students have been in relationships that involve physical aggression – with even more having been in relationships that are emotionally abusive.

Dating violence may involve a variety of abuses -emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or a combination of these. Dating violence can occur in a casual dating relationship or long-term relationship. It is often used as an attempt to gain control and power over a partner. Dating violence may start with demeaning remarks and then escalate to pushing, shoving, and/or physical battering.

It is important to be able to identify the warning signs and effects of abuse among dating couples. Remember that dating violence, just like domestic violence, is about power and control. The following behaviors may be exhibited during this struggle:

  • Harassment – follows you and frequently shows up uninvited, makes prank phone calls, spreads rumors, tries to have contact after the relationship has ended
  • Intimidation – tries to scare you by smashing things, yelling, driving recklessly, or with looks and gestures; threatens to get you in trouble with friends, family, your job, or your school
  • Violates your privacy – read notes, texts, or e-mails to or from other people, goes through your purse, locker, or book bag without permission, forces unwanted intimacy, refuses to stop “wrestling” when asked
  • Threats – threatens to harm you, friends, or family; threatens suicide if you leave him/her or don’t do what s/he wants; threatens to break up with you
  • Using male privilege – acts like s/he is the boss and what s/he says goes, tells you that men make all the decisions, demands you get his permission to go somewhere or do something
  • Limiting independence – wants to control what you wear and how you look, pressures you to use alcohol or drugs, wants to make all the decisions in the relationship
  • Humiliation – calls you names privately or in front of others; puts down or makes fun of your race, religion, class, or family; inappropriately grabs you or shows off your personal items in public
  • Isolation – pressures you to choose between him/her and your friends and family, pressures you to quit your job or other extracurricular activities.

Responses to dating violence vary greatly among individuals. These include but are not limited to:

  • a loss in confidence
  • difficulty making decisions
  • falling grades
  • school or work truancy
  • alcohol and/or drug abuse
  • change in clothing style or makeup
  • a change in weight
  • lack of interest in things that used to be important to that person
  • unexplained bruises, marks, sprains, etc.
  • expressing guilt for no apparent reason
  • secrecy or withdrawal from friends and family
  • constantly apologizing for partner’s behavior

There are both immediate and long-term risks of being in an abusive relationship. Women are more likely to become pregnant at an early age and engage in risky sexual behaviors. People in abusive relationships are also at significantly higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and eating disorders than people in non-abusive relationships. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to become victims of domestic violence as adults, which can lead to health, safety, and family problems.

It is important to seek help in a violent dating situation, whether you are the victim or the abuser. You need to recognize the cycle of abuse. This cycle often manifests itself in three stages: the escalation stage, the explosion stage, and the honeymoon stage. During the escalation stage, tension builds and blame is placed on the victim. In the explosion stage, an attack occurs in which the victim is psychologically, physically, and/or sexually abused. The honeymoon stage involves making up after the abuse has occurred. The perpetrator is apologetic, passionate, romantic, and often promises to change. Being aware of this cycle is just one step in identifying, preventing, and treating abuse. Perpetrators must also seek help with anger management, communication skills, and healthy relationship building.

Dating violence crosses all racial, economic, religious, and social lines. Abuse exists in gay, lesbian, and transgender relationships at approximately the same rate as in heterosexual relationships.

Stalking is a type of emotional abuse. It can occur in any gender combination. Interpretation of stalking is based on the victim rather than on the intentions of the perpetrator. It is any repeated conduct that causes a person to fear for his/her safety. This could include following, threatening, or intimidating another person or that person’s friends and family. According to a 1998 survey, more than one million women and 370,000 men are stalked in the U.S. 77% of female and 64% of male victims know their stalker. To try to prevent stalking, pay attention to obsessive or possessive behaviors and make a clean break when breaking up with a partner rather than leading them on. Many states have laws against stalking. Contact your local police department if you want to pursue charges against a stalker.

Men and women can both be victims in dating violence. Women are more likely than men to throw something at their partners, as well as slap, kick, bite, punch and hit with an object. Men were more likely to strangle, choke, or beat up their partners. A recent poll of college undergraduates found that 19% of women and 18% of men admitted being physically aggressive.

If you or someone you know is in a relationship that is violent in any way, seek help. If you are a perpetrator of dating violence, there is help for you. Virtually all schools and campuses now offer some form of counseling and support services for those involved in violent or abusive relationships.

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