College is an exciting time full of new people and new experiences, and forming intimate partnerships can be an important part of this. For many students, dating in college feels like a positive step toward adulthood.

Too often, however, dating involves displays of power and control that make one or more partner in a relationship feel uncomfortable and unsafe. When such displays of power and control within a relationship are ongoing, they constitute a pattern of abusive behavior called Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).

IPV can take many forms, including:

Physical Abuse: characterized by direct and harmful bodily contact, including pushing, kicking, punching, throwing, strangling, and obstructing movement. Sometimes physical violence involves the use of weapons, but in the majority of cases, it does not.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse: characterized by insults, name-calling, public and/or private humiliation, harassment, belittlement, deprivation, withholding of affection, and extreme jealousy. Often, emotional or psychological abuse also involves substantial control—over whom one can see, where one can go, how much money one can spend, and where one can work. This controlling behavior is often designed to isolate the abused partner from family and friends and make them completely dependent upon their abuser.

Sexual Abuse: characterized by forced or coerced sexual activity, including, but not limited to, forced or coerced penetration. Sexual abuse may involve unwanted sexual touching, sexual objectification through name-calling, sexual possessiveness, and sexual jealousy (including persistent accusations of infidelity).

Signs that a relationship might be abusive

One Partner:

  • Makes most of the decisions in the relationship
  • Controls the finances
  • Controls who their partner can see
  • Blames their partner for everything
  • Convinces their partner that physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse is either deserved or for their own good
  • Demonstrates extreme jealousy
  • Loses their temper easily and frequently
  • Treats their partner as a sexual possession
  • Justifies their behavior by saying it’s a sign of love

The Other Partner:

  • Hides the abuse that they are experiencing
  • Feels ashamed of their relationship
  • Feels like they have to walk on eggshells around their partner
  • Withdraws from activities that they previously found enjoyable
  • Cancels plans with friends and family
  • Has unexplained bruises, cuts, scrapes, black eyes, etc.
  • Accumulates excessive absences from school and/or work
  • Makes excuses for their partner’s behavior
  • Feels unable to leave their partner–for financial, emotional, or other reasons

Familiarizing yourself with these signs can help you to identify IPV in a friend’s or family member’s relationship, or in your own relationship. But, it is important to note that IPV often goes unnoticed by family, friends, co-workers, schoolmates, and other acquaintances. This is because abusive partners may carefully plan their abuse so that it is undetectable. They may inflict physical and sexual abuse in ways that won’t leave marks or on places of the body that won’t be seen. They may reserve emotional and psychological abuse for moments when no one is around, acting like a loving partner in front of others. They may isolate their partner to such an extent that friends and family don’t have a chance to see what is going on.

Getting Help

If you are experiencing IPV:

  • Know that what you are experiencing is not your fault–you did nothing to deserve it and your partner cannot justify their behavior.
  • Start identifying potential avenues of support in your life. Are there friends or family members you can talk to? If you are living with an abusive partner, are there people you might be able to stay with? Are there IPV (or Domestic Violence) shelters, crisis centers, and/or crisis lines in your city or county?
    • For more information about the support services available on campus, check here.
    • In Kennebec County, the Family Violence Project (1-877-890-7788) is available to help with issues related to IPV.
  • If you feel that you are in persistent danger, work with a trained professional to make a safety plan and/or exit strategy. Violent intimate partner relationships can be very dangerous, and even life-threatening. Often times, such relationships grow increasingly dangerous as the abused partner leaves or prepares to leave. Because of this, it is important to work with a trained professional to devise a plan to keep you safe as you consider leaving.

If you suspect that a friend is experiencing IPV:

  • Find a private time to talk and express your concern.
  • Understand that your friend might feel defensive about their relationship and hesitant to recognize or admit a problem.
  • Understand that leaving an abusive relationship can be complicated–particularly if the relationship involves cohabitation, shared finances, or children. Simply telling someone that they should leave their abusive partner does not make leaving easier.
  • Have a list of IPV resources ready to share with your friend. As already noted, IPV can be very dangerous and handling it requires professional expertise. You can make a positive impact by ensuring that your friend is aware of hotlines and shelters available in their area.