Domestic Violence in College Relationships

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By Alyssa Carter

Love makes us do crazy things, but it should never result in violence.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and each year, the problem of domestic violence becomes even more prevalent. What many don’t notice, however, is how domestic violence can affect college students.

According to Caron Hope, Assistant Director of Health Promotion and Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention at the University of Georgia Health Center, twenty percent of all college students experience a type of domestic violence during their time in college. This means that one in every five students is directly affected by violence in relationships.

Hope explains that college students are vulnerable to all forms of domestic violence. However, she points out that college students have the disadvantage of living in a digital age, which brings new dimensions to stalking and control.

Social media’s ease of access makes it easier for stalkers to take their obsession to the next level. Social media stalking can happen within and outside of a relationship and can cause a person to believe that have more control over an individual than they do.

Emotional abuse is not visible, yet the effects it can have on someone are. Many times, the abuser will attempt to isolate their partner from their friends and family and gradually takes over their life in terms of decision making and time management.

Common phrases such as, “I don’t like your friends,” can hugely affect college aged victims and this type of abuse may gradually progress into more violent behavior, often physicality.

It’s also common for college students to not associate themselves with the demographic of domestic violence.

Mary Haddon, a youth educator for Project Safe, a local domestic violence awareness organization, explains that the issue is closer to home than many students think.

“Women ages 16 to 24 experience the most violence in their relationships,” Haddon says. “Many people often tell me they think that statement is false because when they think of domestic violence, they think of a married couple in their 40s or 50s.”

This idea can enable violent and controlling behavior to go unnoticed by college students, as they do not associate domestic violence with people their age.

College students fear exposing the abuse they face for many reasons.

If an abusive relationship is not already physical, it can become that way if the abuser feels that they have been found out. Because of this, an abused person may not come forward for fear of their physical safety.

The fear of not being taken seriously is another issue for abuse victims. Social stigma related to relationship violence prevents victims from being honest with themselves and with their loved ones who may be able to extend a helping hand.

Friends and loved ones often think there is no way in which they can help abuse survivors, when in reality there are many different ways. The first step is learning how to react and respond.

An outsider should never try to fix an abusive relationship. Instead, communicate your support through sympathetic language. Ensure the victim that none of this is their fault and support their decisions by standing by their side.

Often, people that recognize abuse do not speak up as they see it as not their issue. This is known as the bystander effect, which allows for more violence to occur due to the lack of action. Bystanders need to know that even the smallest sign of support can make a difference.

“There is a huge difference in not recognizing that there is a problem and recognizing but ignoring the issue,” Hope says.

UGA’s WatchDawgs Program provides bystander intervention workshops for anyone interested in learning more about awareness. The Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention Program, also known as RSVP, also provides valuable information for those who are interested in promoting domestic violence awareness.

Project Safe, located in Athens, provides crisis intervention and support services for survivors of domestic violence. You can contact their 24 hour crisis hotline at (706) 543-3331, their business phone at (706) 549-0922, or at their family protection center on Lexington Road.

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