When Relationships Become Abusive
Learning how to navigate the waters of a successful relationship is a common challenge for most people, especially if the relationship is unhealthy and turns abusive. The warning signs of an abusive relationship are often difficult to identify, because relationships exist on a spectrum and even the healthiest of relationships can sometimes have bad days. Unlike healthy relationships, abusive relationships have a pattern of harmful behaviors that are used by one partner to exert power and control over the other partner.
Abusive relationships are usually characterized by social isolation, extreme jealousy, and coercion. Abusive relationships can also involve emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, but it’s important to note, that these don’t have to be present in order for a relationship to be abusive. Some warning signs or behaviors that you might notice are: your student’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive and may express that they don’t want your student to spend time with friends or that your student should only spend time with their partner, unexplained marks or bruises, your student’s partner emails or texts excessively, your student seems depressed or anxious or stops participating in activities they once enjoyed, or your student expresses concern over what would happen if they broke up with their partner (fear of the partner being angry or harming others or themself).
If you think your student may be in an abusive relationship, it’s important for you to know that there are resources at Georgia Tech and in the Atlanta community to support them. The VOICE initiative at Georgia Tech is one such resource. VOICE provides violence prevention education, as well as advocacy and support services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of intimate partner and dating violence. For more information about VOICE, visit www.voice.gatech.edu. Additionally, two off-campus and national resources are Love is Respect (www.loveisrespect.org) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.thehotline.org).
If your student is in an abusive relationship, your support could be vital to their safety and ability to leave the relationship. The most important thing you can do to support your student is to believe them and to not question them about why they have remained in the relationship. There are some barriers to getting out of an abusive relationship that may feel particularly relevant to college students, including feeling trapped or being worried about judgment from their peers because of the small campus community and feeling isolated from family and friend support, particularly if the student is living a long distance from home. Keep in mind that your student may be afraid to tell you what is happening to them because they could be concerned about your reaction, so try to remain calm and nonjudgmental about the decisions your student makes as they work to leave an abusive situation. In addition to believing their story you can provide support to your student by encouraging them to seek professional help on campus through the Georgia Tech Counseling Center or Women’s Resource Center. These resources can work your student to safety plan, discuss reporting options, and provide them with additional resources. If you are concerned about your student but aren’t sure how to start the conversation, we encourage you to reach out to the Women’s Resource Center Victim Advocate, Melanie DeMaeyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) to schedule a time to talk.
At Georgia Tech, we believe that every student has the right to live and learn free of violence or the threat of violence. We work to educate our campus community about healthy relationships, violence prevention, and bystander intervention through the VOICE initiative, a collaborative effort between the Women’s Resource Center and the Department of Health Promotion. From February 10-14, VOICE is hosting a week of training and programs dedicated to raising awareness about healthy relationships, and throughout the semester the initiative hosts trainings that teach students how to prevent violence and respond to a friend in need.