On Friday, Oct. 25, the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Program (SAVP) held a seminar entitled “How Healthy is Your Relationship?” The seminar focused on the signs of an unhealthy relationship and of dating abuse.
“October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this event is part of a series of events that we have had—and are continuing to have throughout the year—to raise awareness about and hopefully prevent dating and domestic violence,” said the Coordinator of the SAVP Program Elizabeth Schrock.
One of the fundamental tenants of the SAVP Program is addressing dating abuse and sexual assault. Their website tells students, “The Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Committee at Vassar College is dedicated to addressing and promoting a cultural shift in the norms associated with sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking on campus.”
Schrock gave the presentation, beginning with two surveys on relationships. The first questions asked were about different aspects of a relationship and how comfortable people felt with each aspect. This included safety, emotional security and support, commitment, compatible life goals and values, knowing and accepting each other, and sexual fulfillment and fidelity, among many others. Participants were asked to indicate how strongly their relationship fulfilled these important characteristics of a healthy relationship.
The next survey went on to discuss warning signs of abuse and participants were asked to indicate how many of these signs they had seen in their own relationship or a friend’s. These signs that a partner may show included: checking one’s cell phone or email without permission, constantly putting someone down, extreme jealousy or insecurity, explosive temper, isolating one from family or friends, physically hurting, threatening, or stalking someone.
After the seminar, Schrock said, “I hope that attendees were able to consider the many facets of a healthy relationship and think about their own or their peers’ relationships and how some might differ in strength in other areas.”
During the presentation, Schrock pointed out that 21 percent of US college students experience dating/domestic violence during their years at college, while 13 percent of female students are stalked at college. In order to try and combat these statistics, she urged the participants to help a friend in an abusive relationship, or may in the future.
According to the website loveisrespect.org, nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. Additionally, one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence. Relationship and dating abuse has become an increasingly relevant issue to the youth of the country and this is true of students at Vassar as well.
Additionally, the website details the consequences and implications of relationship abuse. As the website explains, “Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.”
Furthermore, it says, “Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI.”
According to Schrock, individuals in these situations might have a different point of view than a friend; they may be unwilling to confront or admit to the situation and believe that the relationship is “normal.” Individuals in these relationships are likely to have a negative self-view perpetuated by their partner. This negative self-esteem may lower their relationship expectations and self-esteem so much that they fear leaving the relationship. Schrock noted that the best thing to do for a friend experiencing this type of relationships is to listen and offer your support while trying to convince your friend that this kind of relationship or behavior is not normal.
Furthermore, the SAVP Program Coordinator said that if your friend is willing to confront the problem, it is key that they seek help from a campus counseling center and, if they break up with their abusive partner, for example, that you continue to be supportive of them after the relationship has ended. Lastly, it is crucial that you not contact their friend’s abuser directly or post things about them online. This will only worsen the situation and potentially cause more harm and danger to the friend and to yourself while furthering the negative feelings that exist between the abuser and the abused.
“I really enjoyed the discussions that we had around how to help a friend in an unhealthy relationship, and how that might be similar to or different from how to help a friend in an abusive relationship; these types of discussions indicate that students deeply care and want to help their friends that might be in a difficult or risky situations,” Schrock said. “Of course, I always wish I could engage more students in these types of discussions!”
Concerning what participants learned, Schrock said, “I also hope that they were able to consider some of the warning signs that may be present in a relationship that indicate that it is unhealthy, such as jealousy and not valuing the other partners independence, or moving towards abusive, such as one partner having all of the control in the relationship, isolating their partner from their support networks, or making threats of future harm to themselves or others if they don’t get their way.”
“I also hope that students were able to think about various ways to support their friends that might be in relationships that are unhealthy or abusive without shaming them,” Schrock noted. Future events sponsored by the SAVP for Domestic Violence Awareness Month include Bystander Intervention Training and “Violence from Margin to Center,” a panel discussing violence issues faced by oppressed groups.
“[The bystander intervention workshop] will focus more on how to intervene if you see someone in a risky situation, which could include dating and domestic violence,” explained Schrock.
She also called attention to the empty tables that are on display this month in the College Center and All Campus Dining Center. This is to commemorate victims of domestic abuse.
SAVP events occur throughout the school year; all their events and information are posted on savp.vassar.edu/calendar. Further tips and advice can be accessed at loveisrespect.org, a website that addresses abusive relationships in depth.