Abuse: The Dark Side of Dating on Campus
Violence in the school and university student dating scene is all too common. Know the signs of abuse so you can respond appropriately.
“They may be away from home for the first ti
me,” says Corcoran. “They might not have the support network they had in high school or middle school. There can be new friends, and this might be their first serious relationship.”
Both the victim and offender might live on campus. Even if they break up, they will most likely come in contact and have some level of interaction.
According to Escobar, unlike K-12 campuses, most colleges have some resources available for victims, although they aren’t very good. Also, because most college students are adults, they have access to the full protection of the law.
“There are still some states where you have to be 18 or older to get full access to the domestic violence restraining order system,” she says. “That creates a problem for minors.”
Additionally, middle school and high school students are less likely to tell their entire support system that they are dating, whereas college students are more open about this part of their lives.
“It’s hard to tell your parents ‘I’m dating someone, and it’s abusive,’ when you haven’t even told them you are dating, and you might not be allowed to,” Escobar claims.
Institutions of higher learning also have their fair share of challenges, especially in complying with Title IX, which often come into play with dating abuse situations.
“Colleges have a different issue when the [victim] has broken up,” says Escobar. “The college often doesn’t inform the student that they have the right to call the police. They end up in a system inside the university that maybe is not as responsive as the legal system.”
Relationship Abuse Escalates Slowly
Before students ever even consider outside help for the violence they are experiencing, there usually is a certain amount of time at the beginning of the relationship when the partner is not abusive.
“The cycle of violence typically starts pretty low, maybe calling someone a name and then apologizing, so the victim might think, ‘Wow, that hurt, but he apologized; said he won’t do it again; he’s being nicer,’ so they get more involved,” says Munch. “The next thing may be screaming at the victim and then shoving them for being late to a date, but now she is more invested.”
The offender might get jealous when his girlfriend talks to a male friend in the hallway. She tries to make him understand that she is not cheating on him, and that is part of how victims get hooked into the relationship.
“She’s more and more invested because love is a strong motivator, but also, she thinks she can bring him around to see the truth,” Munch adds. “The tricky part of this is that both the victim and offender minimize this conduct, so many victims just characterize abuse as ‘We just had an argument,’ or ‘He’s probably just having a bad day.’”
The first people to recognize abuse usually are the victim’s friends and roommates. They might see changes, such as the offender attempting to isolate her by not wanting her to go out with her friends. Perhaps she is losing weight or her grades are falling. The offender might incessantly contact the victim via text, chat, phone calls and E-mails. Offenders, particularly younger ones, often insist on the victim sharing her social media passwords with him.
“A healthy relationship should make your world stay the same or grow larger; hopefully grow larger,” says Escobar. “An abusive relationship is going to make your friend’s world get smaller. Anything that is restricting them from growing and being who they are is going to be a warning sign.”
Unfortunately, although bystanders often notice these signs, they too are usually involved in the minimization of the problems, so they might not say anything. According to Jim Henderson, who is a technical assistance provider for the Battered Women’s Justice Project, at other times, the abuser might be popular on campus, and the bystanders might side with him.