Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Op-ed: Recognizing the red flags of unsafe relationships

Lisa Mays is a third-year law student enrolled in the GW Law School’s Domestic Violence Project.

Charlie Sheen, Chris Brown, Columbus Short, Christian Slater. Tragically, fame and names that begin with the third letter of the alphabet are not all these men have in common.

Like these men’s partners, more than one 1 in 4 young adults reportedly experience abuse in a relationship. Studies estimate that between 20 and 42 percent of college students experience relationship violence. Therefore, chances are that someone you know is involved in a relationship like this.

Most people think abuse in relationships is limited to physical violence, but it also includes emotional and psychological controlling behaviors, which may not be overtly violent but are still indicative of danger. Also, a single act of physical or sexual violence is often used to instill a threat of further violence and used to control a person.

Some examples of psychological or emotional acts include using threats to manipulate behavior, like someone questioning how much a partner loves him or her as a motivator to action. Other types include monitoring social media or where a partner travels, name-calling, blaming and isolation from friends and family.

Abusive physical acts could include shoving, pulling hair, kicking, choking, limiting food or sleep, forcing a partner to drink or take drugs, any unwanted sexual touch, and lack of respect for sexual boundaries and comfort.

Abuse in relationships occurs regardless of age, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background. Violence in relationships escalates in frequency and severity.

Relationship abuse will not always be obvious, but healthy relationships are: They are based on mutual respect, trust and honesty, where both people support each other’s goals, decisions and opinions, and feel comfortable and safe.

If you think a friend would ask for help if he or she really needed it, you are mistaken. He or she may want to protect his or her partner, or may feel ashamed or afraid of judgment. It is your responsibility to act. Don’t assume that the situation will work itself out or that someone else will decide to help. There are a variety of things you can do to help your friend.

Keep in mind that your approach is important. Your friend’s safety is a concern. Trust your instincts, and try to avoid judging someone’s choices because you are not in his or her shoes. Approach your friend in a private setting and say you’re concerned or worried. Say, “I’m here to listen.”

Allow your friend to tell you at his or her own pace. Then help your friend recognize that the behaviors are not normal. Say that even if he or she thinks it is his or her fault, these behaviors actually fit a pattern that is widely recognized as abusive across millions of relationships. Relationship violence is not a disorder, but rather a learned behavior stemming from our society’s acceptance of violence against women. It is not his or her fault. Express your support – not your judgment.

Offer specific help and options, like, “I can go with you to the GW relationship violence specialist.” Or guide your friend to community services like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can connect him or her to resources like counseling centers, shelters and legal service providers. The University Counseling Center provides brief individual counseling and referrals to longer-term services.

Finally, contact the police if there’s an immediate threat, or the University Police Department if on campus – as long as your friend agrees this is the right option.

Take the long-term view and respect your friend’s decisions with ongoing support. Keep checking in, and support your friend whether or not he or she ends the relationship. On average, it takes at least five attempts to leave an abusive relationship. Recognize that you can’t know the obstacles someone is facing and that danger increases at separation, so your friend needs support and strategic thinking before ending it.

Offer support no matter what decision he or she makes and don’t be discouraged – your expressions of concern and support may plant the seeds for future change.

Helping your friend may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Everyone deserves respectful, healthy, loving relationships.

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