Domestic Violence: Trending Now in High Schools & College Campuses
By Kimberlee Ratliff, Ed.D., NCC, NCSC
Program Director, School Counseling at American Public University
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, leading to a heightened discussion on the impact of intimate partner violence in the community and the family. It is clear that millions of children experience domestic violence in their own families and this may have lasting impacts on their relationships as they enter adolescence. As I started digging through statistics, I discovered a surprising prevalence of intimate partner violence among teenagers and college students.
Intimate partner violence can be controlling behavior, coercion, isolation, and manipulation, and may include physical and sexual assault. In recent years, there has been an effort to educate teenagers about the warning signs of abusive relationships. There is an online quiz that allows anyone to see if a relationship fits the definition of a healthy relationship or not.
Research has revealed that adolescents believe jealousy and possessiveness is a sign of love. These characteristics may be viewed as part of a normal relationship, rather than a potential warning sign of an emerging abusive relationship.
Helping teenagers recognize the warning signs is essential as statistics indicate that almost 1 in 3 college women report having been in an abusive relationship and 57 percent of college students report having been involved in an abusive dating relationship while in college (Liz Claiborne, Inc., 2011).
If we want to focus on prevention, it makes sense to teach our middle and high school students how to recognize and avoid unhealthy relationships and how to seek help. We must provide life skills related to dating and developing healthy relationships.
Culturally, we have to battle the blame-the-victim mentality and communicate that psychological, physical, and sexual violence in relationships is not normal. Comments such as “She shouldn’t have made him jealous” or “look at what she was wearing” perpetuate that it is somehow the victim’s fault when incidents of intimate partner violence or sexual assault occur. Another problem is the tendency of people not getting involved, rather than addressing a concern with a friend or loved one.
These attitudes and beliefs create a culture of normalcy when it comes to intimate partner violence and sexual assault. We need a cultural shift where caring communities view protecting those who might find themselves in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation as the new normal.
There is an innovative use of technology created to develop this caring culture of support. The Circle of 6 app, which is available on iPhone and Android, allows for pre-programming of six close friends and, with just two taps, they can send a request for help that fits the situation. For example, if a young college student is on a first date and feels uncomfortable, there is an option to notify friends in the circle and have them interrupt the date. Additionally, there is an emergency hotline included for more urgent situations.
Although I’m thrilled there is a safety tool to help in the moment when support is needed, I am still concerned about the attitudes and beliefs that still exist in our society that perpetuate the cycle of intimate partner violence. Perhaps this will change with continued education of our youth.
I found some great resources that are attempting to stop the cycle. This is not an exhaustive list, but a sample of helpful sites and programs to support those efforts.
About the Author
Dr. Kimberlee Ratliff holds an Ed.D. in Counseling Psychology, M.Ed. in School Counseling, and B.S. in Psychology. She has been with APUS since September 2010, and is an associate professor and program director of School Counseling. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), K-12 Certified School Counselor (VA), and Trauma and Loss School Specialist with 12 years of experience as an elementary and middle school counselor.