Dating violence: Recognizing boundaries

Boundaries, the physical and emotional safety barriers in a relationship, often drop to the floor when it comes to dating in college.

“[Dating Violence] is, broadly, just harming an individual who you are in a romantic relationship with,” said Kimberly Anderson, WSU Title IX coordinator. “It’s conduct that’s significantly severe, pervasive, that could interfere with an individual’s ability to pursue their education.”

This kind of relationship can potentially become controlling or abusive for one or both partners as they step away from their safety net of parents, family and friends for the first time.

Emilie McLarnan, assistant director of Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse (ATVP), defines dating violence in terms of power and control.

The tactics abusers use are varied, McLarnan said. Dating violence and abuse can be physical abuse, threats of sexual violence or demands for sex, verbal abuse, manipulation or controlling and dominating behavior. Not all of those elements must be present for a relationship to be abusive.

“Threats, verbal abuse and emotional manipulation are all very effective ways to maintain control without leaving a mark,” McLarnan said.

Abusive relationships are also not dependent on gender. A 2011 poll of college students by Love is Respect found that 29 percent of women and 17 percent of men had reported being in an abusive relationship.

In the same study, researchers found that the No. 1 reason college students reported staying in an abusive relationship was because their partner threatened self-harm or suicide if they tried to leave the relationship.

“There is no one who is immune to this. We’ve seen cases involving every combination of partners, hetero and same-sex partners in abusive relationships,” Anderson said.

Dating abuse in the LGBTQ community is often under reported. Heidi Stanton Schnebly, director of the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center (GIESORC) at WSU, believes that many members of the LGBTQ community fear losing their support system and are afraid they will not be believed because of their sexual orientation or may fear being outed.

“LGBTQ communities are often small and tight knit. Both parties in the relationship may share the same circle of friends, and reporting violence may lead to retaliation or isolation from the community,” Schnebly said.

McLarnan said she wants people to understand that no one has the right to manipulate, use physical force against or demean anyone they are in a relationship with.

“Sometimes, students don’t realize that what is going on in their relationship is abuse,” McLarnan said. “When what is going on in your relationship is feeling unsafe, unhealthy or scary, we want you to know that help is available.”