Recognizing domestic violence
It is an issue that affects people of all ages. But people who might be in their first relationship may not know the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship.
Domestic violence is not discussed often enough and can be feared or even ignored. Abuse can manifest itself as physical violence, words that tear you down and even the threat of being hurt.
There are lots advertisements of people dealing with abuse, usually focusing on older women with children, and husbands who endure domestic violence. But there doesn’t seem to be a strong focus on university students.
But with 31.5 per cent of women and 17.2 per cent of men experiencing abuse in their relationships at Mount Royal University. These results according to a study by the National College Health Assessment, that randomly sampled 1,380 MRU students, with numbers like that perhaps the topic should get more focus on campus.
For many students college is the time they get to be on their own and they will often have their first serious relationship. That first real relationship can be great, but it can be hard to really know what is right and what isn’t for those involved simply because you haven’t experienced any of it before.
“When you’re starting to date you might not know yet what relationships are all about. This is something new to you,” says Christine Berry, the director of the family violence prevention initiative at Calgary Counseling Centre.
Berry says that many times we may not know what a good relationship should feel like.
“In a healthy relationship, you should feel good about yourself. It should lift you up. In un-healthy relationships, you feel bad about yourself,” she says.
It’s important to know what a good relationship should feel like, but it’s harder to realize it earlier in life and specifically in your first real relationship, you should feel excited to see the other person, and not feel anxious that they might criticize you according to Berry.
November is Family Violence Prevention Month in Alberta, and MRU recently held a violence symposium to showcase what can be done to prevent and support those who are dealing with abuse. The symposium featured an interactive play called Behind Closed Curtains and Stepping Up, a program that tries to reduce and educate people on dating violence in college.
Dr. Gaye Warthe, Chair of the Department of Social Work and Disability Studies and principal investigator for Stepping Up talked about how college students experience the most violence in Canada and this age group deals with the most serious forms of violence: higher risk undergoing abuse.
“The person who’s experiencing the abuse is more likely to feel that that they need to do more. They are the reason the relationship is not working out,” says Warthe, who started the peer facilitated Stepping Up program after she saw a lack of resources and information for college students.
Carrie McManus who is the project coordinator for Stepping Up at MRU and hopes the project gets a permanent home on campus to continue the conversation, “we don’t talk about it on campus at all, ever, and that needs to change because we need to create an environment where people are talking about it, where people know that they’re not alone, know that it’s wrong, know that it is abuse and that there are things that they can do to step in if they see it, or to get help if they need it.”
The point of the symposium was to get people on campus talking about violence, talking about good and bad relationships and realizing how that affects students.
It not only takes a toll physically but also emotionally, and people who are in abusive relationships often feel depression, which manifests in different ways. Some can’t go to classes, or go out with their friends anymore.
During the symposium, the facilitators did a segment with the audience, continuum, where they would asses abuse situations and rate how bad people see them. The event emphasized, “recognizing the continuum from a bad joke to the worst that could possibly happen. Because people might often associate it as getting beat up versus a verbal or emotional that you cant really see necessarily,” says Dani Gariepy, the student event organizer of the Agnes Cooke Project, responsible for the Behind the Curtains play that showed what often goes on behind closed doors and what isn’t talked about.
These projects showcased what violence does to its victims — and how we as students can be more educated on the topic, and how to help if you know a friend who might be going through abuse.
Violence doesn’t always show itself in bruises and visible marks, it can also be seen as withdrawal from your friends and family. It’s important to keep the discussion ongoing. It shouldn’t take a tragic event for people to pay attention to domestic violence.