Relationship violence among college students is more common than you might realize

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Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

As we continue into October, designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the conversation of relationships and domestic violence could not be more important, especially within the college community.

Stephanie Hamilton-Rubio, a case manager at the Women’s and Children’s Alliance, defines relationship violence “as any type of emotional mental and physical abuse between partners.”

“The biggest part of domestic abuse is the idea of control and power. The person in power uses abuse to gain control of their partner,” Hamilton-Rubio said.

For many college students, this reality is more than just a definition. 

Domestic violence among college students

According to a study published in the Hein Online Law Journal, as many as 43% of women who are dating on university campuses are experiencing abusive behavior from their partner. Of that, 22% experience physical and sexual abuse or threats of violence. 

In Idaho, 42% of the most served crime victims are victims of domestic violence, as outlined in a 2020 report by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

College students are among a population very vulnerable to relationship violence for a number of reasons, but isolation from family is a leading assumption. 

“There is a lot of growth that happens in college,” said Hamilton-Rubio. “You might be leaving home for the first time, many students might be in relationships for the first time and all these factors contribute to college-age students being vulnerable, especially that isolation aspect and not being close to family.” 

Unfortunately, talk about domestic violence of college-age people or even on campus is not widely discussed.

“Domestic abuse can be neglected when we talk about college-age individuals,” Hamilton-Rubio said. “…We often hear about a lot of sexual assaults on campus but often they are one-time sexual assault stories at parties — which of course is just as incredibly relevant to the conversation, but I think we need to broaden the conversation that there is persistent domestic violence that occurs in college-age relationships as well.”

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

  • 1 in 6 college women (16%) has been sexually abused in a dating relationship.
  • Over half of all college students (57%) say it’s difficult to identify dating abuse.
  • 38% of college students say they don’t know how to get help for themselves if they experience dating abuse as a victim.
  • 58% of college students say they don’t know what to do to help someone who is a victim of dating abuse.
  • 57% of college students who report experiencing dating violence and abuse said it occurred in college.
  • 52% of college women report knowing a friend who’s experienced violent and abusive dating behaviors, including physical, sexual, digital, verbal, or other controlling abuse.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 college women (29%) say they’ve been in an abusive dating relationship.
  • Most female (69%) and male (53%) victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner had their first experience with intimate partner violence before the age of 25.

On-campus resources

In 2021 Idaho received a grant from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) for over $8 million, which was divided between different counties and at risk areas, as well as to organizations such as the Women’s and Children’s Alliance and the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Boise State University has also received a campus grant from OVW, and this grant has allowed the Gender Equity Center to expand its on-campus efforts to keep the campus safe. 

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[Photo of the Women’s and Children’s Alliance in Boise, Idaho.]
Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

The Gender Equity Center is among the wide variety of resources available for students on campus, including survivors of relationship violence. 

If a student would like to file a report, the Gender Equity Center can help them get in contact with Title IX. 

According to the center, Title IX is a federal law that protects both students and employees from being deprived of their educational program based on sex, gender, harassment or discrimination. 

The Gender Equity Center and University Health Services (counselors and medical staff) are confidential resources and are not required to report to Title IX. 

The Gender Equity Center communicated that if a student seeks support but does not wish to file a report, the same support will be available to them with confidentiality regardless. The choice will ultimately fall on the student for whether or not they want to report an act of violence and the student will still be entitled to the resources. 

Barriers to Support

Hamilton-Rubio shared that when looking at support options from either peers or the community it’s most important to never pressure survivors. Reporting can often be traumatizing and the role of the community, friends and services is to provide resources and hold space, not to convince someone out of their relationship. 

“It’s important to remember that if someone is in an abusive relationship, it can be easy to say ‘just leave your partner,’” Hamilton-Rubio said. “But a lot of people forget the dynamic of domestic abuse which is often manipulative, isolating and self-deprecating, and that can be very difficult for a survivor to get out of. It’s important to remember when offering support to not tell them what to do with their relationship but just hold space for them.”

According to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance, in 2020 there were 5,529 9-1-1 calls related to domestic violence, sexual assul, and abuse in Idaho. 1,066 of those calls were related to sexual violence. 

In Idaho, less than half of agencies that support crime victims, including domestic violence victims, provide transportation according to the study “Crime Victims in Idaho: An Assessment of Needs and Services.” This is a significant barrier for lower-income victims and those in rural areas where public transportation is difficult to access. 

Additionally, the same study expresses that only 40.04% of agencies can offer bilingual services. 

Conversations surrounding relationship violence are increasingly important, as COVID-19 increased the severity of many violent situations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Women’s and Children’s Alliance reported a 91% increase in domestic violence calls to their hotline. 

“It’s not fun to talk about violence or abuse but it is so prevalent in our community and knowing the signs of domestic violence is really important and knowing what steps and support is available,” Hamilton-Rubio said.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Excellent article. It addresses lots of essential facts.
    Surprisingly only talks about the abuse victim as female. No wonder if a male experiences any domestic abuse (emotional or in another form), he still blames himself for the suffering. Somehow all the articles give the vibe that if there is any domestic abuse, the male is the perpetrator, and the female is the victim, no matter what the truth is.

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