By Shannon McClain, Columnist

In 2007, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reported that 21 percent of college students had experienced dating violence from a current partner, while 32 percent reported dating violence from a past partner.

While anyone can be affected by intimate partner violence (IPV), including men and women in both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, those at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence are females aged 20-24, according to the NCADV.

Jennifer Warwick, a victim advocate for the Women’s Center and the Voices Against Violence project coordinator, said that in her experience it seems disempowerment tends to work more effectively than physical abuse.   Just like off campus, the most common form of violence on college campuses is emotional, mental and verbal violence, which can then escalate to physical violence. Two popular tactics are isolation and verbal abuse.

Isolation can be disguised as love and romance. The partner says things like, “I want to be with you all the time.” Just this statement alone doesn’t mean it is IPV, but if the victim doesn’t really want to spend all of her or his time with the other, then it becomes a form of isolation as the victim cannot see friends or family as often or at all.

The other common tactic is verbal abuse. This is name calling and other forms of shaming. It could even be shaming the victim’s friends by saying things like, “Why would you want to hang out with them?”  Warwick said electronics also play a role in IPV. Email, social media and particularly texting can be used by the abuser to monitor their partner. We are always accessible and can feel like we must always answer a text, while phone calls we could ignore.

Often the reason people stay in these unhealthy relationships is because they are unable to recognize that what they have is unusual. We learn a lot about relationships from our families and communities, but we also learn from the media, particularly television and movies. Sometimes the only models we are exposed to are not great relationship examples.

Warwick said that it can be a lot for young people to unpack. We need maturity and time to move past the scripts of “what should be” and be able to say that “what is” is not right.

It is more difficult for women to say they don’t want to be in a particular relationship anymore. Stereotypically, women are supposed to be the fixers and the nurturers, so they can feel like they have to try to make it work. However, Warwick said she does see more empowered college women each year.

As the victim advocate, Warwick sees a lot of people, even RAs, who are worried about  friends or residents who don’t hang out with anyone but their partner. These friends want to be supportive, but it is hard to begin that conversation, and they are afraid to judge others’ relationships. Warwick encourages them to broach the subject and say something about it. If the signs are there for others to see, that means it could be pretty bad.

Make sure the friend feels supported and let her or him know that you will be there to listen whenever she or he is ready to talk. The victim needs to be ready. It is a balance between the elements of fear and love — her or his safety has to be compromised enough for the victim to take action and get out.

When the victim is ready, Warwick advises she or he connect with an advocate like herself. Advocates can provide emotional support and empathy, and they are also confidential. It is victim-centered, so an advocate will not tell the victim what to do, but will just give the options.    To learn more about healthy relationships, Sexuality Awareness and Personal Empowerment Team (SAPET) coordinates healthy relationship workshops to help students explore what they want from a relationship and their partners and how to spot the signs of IPV.

Additionally, this month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Monday at 6 p.m. in the Chris Knutzen Hall there will be a workshop organized by SAPET on consent. It will include information on health and contraceptives, healthy communication in a relationship and models for healthy relationships.

Then, “Take Back the Night” will begin Thursday at 5 p.m. in Red Square. This event shows support for victims of all kinds of violence.    These are some ways students can get involved and learn more about these issues on campus. Education leads to awareness, which leads to more support for people in an unhealthy relationship or violent situation. ◼︎

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