Chloe Thomas* still remembers the nights she spent with her ex-boyfriend, James.
She recalls the embraces they shared and the evenings they spent watching movies. Approximately four months into their relationship, things took a turn for the worse. Romantic dates, once inclusive of meals cooked with love, became a thing of the past. The lips she once kissed became a verbal weapon, the gentle hands she held proved to be anything but. Combined, they became the recipe for an abusive relationship.
“I noticed that [James] had changed. He became a terrible person I didn’t like,” Thomas, a student at Centura College, recounted of his violent behavior. “It was like a demon was inside of him and that demon was coming after me.”
“Intimate Partner Violence,” a form of domestic abuse, is a pattern of behaviors used to maintain power or control over one’s significant other. While every relationship is unique, the National Domestic Violence Hotline describes a common cycle most abusive ones follow: it begins with a tension phase in which arguing is frequent, followed by verbal, physical and/or sexual assault by the abuser. Next, there is a “honeymoon” phase, where the abuser will profusely apologize, give gifts and make promises that it won’t happen again. Eventually, tension builds back up and the cycle repeats.
Unfortunately, Thomas is but one of the thousands of college students nationwide who have experienced domestic violence. According to the Bureau of National Statistics, 18 to 24 year olds make up the largest portion (42%) of Americans who have reported relationship abuse.
“We are so rushed by society to fall in love,” says Lynn Richards, a City College of San Francisco student, who suffered from abuse. Richards describes being blind-sided by her boyfriend’s initial kindness, and regrets looking past his threats and need for control – two signs that the Hotline associates with abuse – that eventually led to bruise-forming instances of physical abuse.
“When we feel rushed, we tend to not pay attention to a lot of what red flags are there,” she says.
Research reveals that the majority of abuse victims (if not silent) turn only to friends for advice. This prompts the concern that they are not receiving the professional guidance they may need. Julianne Koch, a Victim and Witness Assistant at the Charlottesville Commonwealth Attorney's office, believes this issue could be improved if schools “make an effort to provide students with education on these issues,” emphasizing the importance of domestic violence awareness.
“Even a student who doesn’t know a lot about legal options, safety planning, or intimate partner violence can still be supportive by believing, listening and not blaming the person experiencing abuse,” she explains. She also suggests that friends remind them that leaving an abusive relationship carries a high risk for assault and should not be rushed, as doing so could place the victim in greater danger.
Many victims attempt to hide their situations, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored, Koch says, noting the sensitivity and patience required in assisting the abused. Richards shares that discussing her relationship with her friends often made her uncomfortable and that she preferred prevention programs and support groups.
For victims seeking anonymity, hotlines are a reliable option.
“There are resources out there that care, and there is a [person] who loves you,” Richards adds.
Both Richards and Thomas provide the same pieces of advice: don’t ignore warning signs, know when to leave and remember that it’s never the victim’s fault.
* Note: Some names have been changed for privacy reasons.