Recognizing relationship violence and getting support

Kiandra Benson and Maya Gordon

Content Warning: Discussions of domestic and sexual violence 

Intimate partner violence is more common than most people think. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Recognizing unhealthy behaviors early on in a relationship can be life changing. For example, a partner asking for the passwords to your social media or making you feel guilty for studying or spending time with friends could be signs of an unhealthy relationship. Here at UT, October is Relationship Violence Prevention Month, also recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Relationship violence, dating violence and intimate partner violence are often used interchangeably and refer to violence perpetrated toward intimate partners in current or former dating relationships. Domestic violence and family violence often refers to violence perpetrated between family members, including partners and cohabitation relationships. Violence can be physical, verbal, emotional, mental and/or sexual.

Some of the ways that relationships are shown in movies, TV and fiction include behaviors that may be dramatic, but are not healthy in real life. Some examples include jealousy, relentless pursuit and not taking no for an answer. In reality, these behaviors can be about power and control rather than passion and affection. There are a variety of unhealthy behaviors that could forecast toxic or dangerous situations. Some common unhealthy emotional behaviors seen in college relationships include insults, name calling or preventing a partner from studying or getting sleep.

Isolating behaviors, coercion and controlling partner behavior with technology are types of unhealthy emotional behavior. Some examples of isolating behaviors include making it difficult to spend time with family or friends or to join a student organization and using jealousy to justify one’s actions. Threatening to leave or commit suicide or pushing alcohol or drug use are all examples of coercion. Additionally, it is never okay for a partner to pressure or guilt you into sexual activity. Everyone has the right to say no at any point and to have that decision respected. Controlling behavior using technology can look like constantly checking in over text or tracking and monitoring your actions or location. Becoming more aware and acknowledging that these types of situations can happen to anyone helps us advocate for ourselves and support the people in our lives should a harmful situation arise.

Eight percent of students in a relationship while at UT have experienced psychological violence, while ten percent experienced physical violence, according to a UT report. Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner. However, intimate partner violence is not limited to heterosexual couples; stigma can cause people to assume that abuse can’t have a male victim or exist in a same-sex relationship. This is not the case: anyone can be a victim of abuse, and their experience is valid no matter their identity. 

There is more than one way to get help at UT. If you or someone you know has experienced relationship violence or is wondering if their relationship is healthy, one option is the Confidential Advocates program available through Student Emergency Services. We are a confidential resource that offers support, information, tools and resources free of cost and judgement. Email the Confidential Advocate if you feel comfortable starting a conversation. For additional types of support visit Campus Title IX Resources.

Gordon is a Masters Candidate in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work and the Confidential Advocate Graduate Assistant with Student Emergency Services from Whitefish, Montana.

Benson is a Confidential Advocate and Peer Advocacy Coordinator with Student Emergency Services in the Office of the Dean of Students.