By Kimberly Harris ‘15
It is believed that a frog will jump out of a pot of boiling water, but if you place him in a pot and turn it up a little at a time, and he will stay until he is boiled to death. In the same way, abusive relationships don’t usually start out with knockout blows and hospital visits. After the initial “lovey-dovey” phase, subtle hints of controlling behavior begin to creep in. After this, outbursts of anger usually follow with apologizing to placate (eg/ “It will never happen again”). If the relationship is allowed to fester, then classic abusive behavior can be observed. This is a continuous cycle of destruction that can only end if the injured individual chooses to make it stop.
“People fail to see the signs at the beginning because they are not as prominent as hitting and direct insults,” said Nisha Liams ’15. “If people recognized the signs, this wouldn’t be as big a problem as it is now.”
The easiest signs to spot are usually from physical abuse. Some examples include bruising, personality changes, changes in someone’s abilities to function, uncharacteristic clumsiness, a normally confident person putting themselves down, limited access to cell/email/communication because of their significant other, displaying any level of fear, and being quick to make excuses for their significant other’s behavior, often saying, “It was my fault”. It is important to note that these signs can stem from different causes, so don’t jump to conclusions if your friend shows up to school with a black eye because maybe they actually did walk into a door or fall. On the other hand, do be aware that if they continuously show up with different bruises, this might be a clearer indication of ongoing abuse.
Emotional and mental abuse are usually hardest to detect because there often aren’t tangible or glaringly clear signs to look for. Ms. Gluck best puts it, “It’s a harder wound to see so it’s a harder wound to fix.” Also, these categories of abuse involve the abused person internalizing and rationalizing the trauma, as in putting the blame on themselves for the problems in the relationship (eg/”It’s all my fault” or “Maybe I am actually stupid/fat/ugly”). This increases the odds of someone developing “battered women’s syndrome” or “battered men’s syndrome”, defined as “a pattern of signs and symptoms, such as fear and a perceived inability to escape, appearing in persons who are physically and mentally abused over an extended period” by medical-dictionary.com.
In addition to these is sexual abuse. This doesn’t have to be full-on rape, but it does include any form of unwanted sexual contact, from unwelcomed touching, kissing, or hugging to forced oral sex and more. In a healthy relationship, you shouldn’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, even if you fear that not doing so will cause the relationship to be terminated. As Ms. Gluck puts it, “Just because your dating someone doesn’t mean they’re entitled to anything.”
Males are not exempt from any of this. They are less willing to come forward because of the fear of being seen as weak. In addition, it’s usually harder for males because the police or authority figure involved find it hard to believe that a “man” could be degraded. This has added to the misconception that dating abuse only affects females. Both males and females can be victims, and it’s up to us end the stigma.
In these relationships, there are two sides of a coin to be observed. The abuser was most likely made that way by being exposed to violence or seeing an unhealthy relationship in the home environment and taking that to be normal or acceptable. As for the person being abused, they often choose to tolerate it due to low self-esteem. They give in to the abuser telling them things such as “Nobody’s going to love you the way I do,” and “If you didn’t act that way I wouldn’t hurt you.” Another reason may be due to their exposure to such behavior at an earlier age and accepting it as normal.
According to http://www.dosomething.org, roughly 1.5 million high school boys AND girls in the U.S. admit to being intentionally hit or physically harmed in the last year by someone they are romantically involved with, and around 33 percent of adolescents in America are victim to sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional dating abuse. Also, 25 percent of high school girls have been abused physically or sexually. Imagine walking down the hallway. Chances are one in every four girls you see has been physically or sexually abused. This, in addition to the fact that teen girls who are abused this way are 6 times more likely to become pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI), paints a frightening picture of the world we live in and encourages us to make a difference.
It may sound like a cliché, but the first step to healing actually is acceptance. Many people stay in unhealthy relationships because they refuse to realize that they are in fact in one. If your significant other hits, shoves, belittles, humiliates, or tells you that you’re worthless, it is NOT an isolated incident or a “one time thing”. Once these behaviors are tolerated, it only escalates.
In a student survey conducted at our school, participants were asked to circle any of the following behaviors that they saw as part of an abusive relationship: yelling, withholding money, unwanted sexual intercourse, being unfaithful, lying, threatening suicide if the relationship is ended, constant apologizing, name calling, constantly calling to check where you are, withholding information, demanding to see Facebook/text/email correspondence, dictating what you wear, and calling/texting you at all hours of the day. In truth, all of these behaviors are part of an abusive relationship, but only a small number of people circled all or nearly all of them. This may point to a larger problem: teens are vaguely aware of varied unhealthy conduct in a relationship.
Teens who suffer this kind of abuse often face long-term consequences like alcoholism, eating disorders, substance abuse, promiscuity, thoughts of suicide, and violent behavior – which is why it’s important to reach out and get proper help to overcome this.
Individuals in abusive relationships are encouraged to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). Males, in particular, can reach out to the Domestic Abuse Helpline at 1-888-7HELPLINE (1-888-743-5754).
http://www.helpguide.org is a reputable site that gives support and advice to people dealing with issues such as unhealthy relationships.
Getting out of the relationship depends of the level of abuse. It can be as simple as saying, “I’m breaking up with you,” or you might need to get other people involved (eg/ pressing charges or getting a restraining order). As SPARK Counselor Mr. Troy Sealey puts it, “Getting out is not easy. You can quote that.” He advised anyone who is being abused to make up in their mind to get help. They should speak to parents, a trusted adult, guidance counselor, dean, school safety, or to him as part of SPARK. He added, “Once you make a decision, never go back.” Ms. Gluck encouraged abused persons to tell a guidance counsellor especially in the case of your abuser attending your school. For example, special action can be taken to schedule classes in a way that limits contact or complies with a possible restraining order. Everyone has the right to safety.
After getting out, it’s just as important to seek professional help or counseling to discuss how you’re feeling about not just current relationships, but future ones as well. Find a way to turn this negativity into a positive learning experience for yourself and others. This prevents the cycle of abuse from continuing in your life and in the lives of others. Healing will take time, but it’s totally worth it.