You’ve probably been hearing a lot about sexual assault recently: Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” audio tapes. Former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner’s short six month sentence for sexual assault. Actor Nate Parker’s rape charge acquittal. The list goes on. But what you probably haven’t heard about are cases of domestic violence (sometimes called intimate partner violence) – physical, sexual or psychological abuse that happens in close personal relationships, often behind closed doors. And it’s not just between husbands and wives. It can happen between couples who are dating and even close platonic friends.
The people most likely to be victims of domestic violence are college-aged women (18-24). In fact, nearly half of women in college have been abused by someone they dated. That’s 1 in 2 women! But you can help change that.
Here are three ways you can help stop domestic violence on your college campus.
1. Know the Warning Signs
It may not happen in every case, but there are often red flags that someone you’re in a relationship with may be abusive. They include:
- Isolating you from friends and family
- Threatening to kill him/herself when you try to break up with them
- Violent mood swings or an explosive temper
- Stalking (in person or with phone calls, texts or emails)
- Calling you derogatory names
- Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
- Demanding sex when you don’t want to
You should also look for signs that one of your friends or family members may be an abuse victim. Those signs include:
- Unexplained injuries
- Absence from school or work
- Checking in with their partner frequently to tell him or her what they are doing
- Going along with everything their partner does just to please him or her
- Talking about their partner being jealous or possessive
2. Speak Up
Once you’ve identified the signs, it’s time to speak up. We know this is one of the hardest steps, but it’s important to get the help you or your friends need. Speaking up doesn’t necessarily mean confronting the abuser. It can mean a quick call to campus security, talking to an authority figure, like a professor or administrator, or reaching out to a friend who can help.
If you are intervening on behalf of a friend and know the aggressor, you can intervene, but always remember your safety comes first. Bring another person, or a group of people. Or if you’re unsure, call the police.
3. Be Your Sister’s (or Brother’s) Keeper
If you notice signs that your friend may be in an abusive relationship, don’t confront or criticize her or him. Instead, offer your support without judgment and lend a compassionate ear. Check in regularly and try to be on standby for emergency texts or calls.
She or he may also need your help finding counseling, medical treatment, or a safe place to sleep. You don’t need to be an expert, you just have to be willing to help when it’s needed.
If an abuse victim reaches out to you, listen. She or he may be working up the courage to leave the relationship or ask for professional help. If the victim is a stranger, neighbor, or acquaintance, give them the same love and encouragement as you would a friend. It takes a lot to reach out for help and that effort should be acknowledged and supported.
To truly help stop domestic violence on college campuses, all students must work together to recognize the signs, speak up, and be their sisters’ (or brothers’) keepers. We must work together to make a difference!
We started an initiative called My Sister’s Keeper to empower college women to become each other’s strongest advocates and protect one another from domestic violence. To learn more about MSK and how to bring it to your campus, click here.