Domestic violence is not limited to physical violence: it can come in many forms and affect any person. One in four women and one in seven men will be affected by domestic abuse in their lives. Many of these victims are women between the ages 16 to 24. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month which aims to provide information and resources to survivors and others who want to help.
According to Kira-Lynn Ferderber, who works as an educator at Safe Place And Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC), “violence is on a continum” and that something is violent if “it is limiting someone’s choices.” Name calling, financial abuse and isolation are all examples of violence, in addition to physical abuse.
Determining if a relationship is abusive can be difficult, but imposed isolation is an important red flag. If someone strives to keep their partner from seeing their friends or family, or keeps them from attending their job, class, or extracurricular, it is a sign that the relationship may be unhealthy.
“Trust your gut,” Susan Stahley, New College’s health educator, advised. “If you question if you are in an abusive, unhealthy relationship there may be something to that bad feeling. If your friends, family members etc. are sharing their concerns about your relationship, you should listen, (and) take them seriously.”
If someone is even questioning the health of their relationship, both Ferdeber and Stahley suggested telling someone, be it a family member, a friend, or reaching out to an organization like SPARCC. A strong network of contacts and other positive relationships is a “protective factor,” according to Ferderber.
Domestic abuse “comes down to power and control,” Ferderber explained. Partners should be equal in terms of power and each person should be completely in control of their own choices.
Tom Foley, another educator at SPARCC, said that what constitutes abuse depends on the boundaries established in the relationship and that “everything can be abusive” depending on the circumstance. SPARCC does not describe a perfect relationship, because relationships are so personal and reliant on the individuals in them, rather they describe patterns and red flags.
Ferderber and Foley suggested creating a safety plan for leaving an abusive relationship. Each plan is personal and advocates at SPARCC can help to create that plan. The hotline is anonymous and they do not call the police. Instead they “trust survivors (to leave) at their own time, when they’re ready,” Ferderber said.
SPARCC can also help to provide survivors with shelter, lawyers, medical attention, mental health help, and support groups. Stahley suggests giving friends a code word to let them know if they need immediate help or if they are planning to leave the abuser.
Some victims may fear leaving their abuser because of the abuser’s reliance on them. However, the safety of the abuser “is not the survivor’s responsibility,” Ferderber said. She reminded everyone that “no one person in the world needs any other person to live” and that “there is no reason to be an abuser.” Abuse is a choice, and while factors like alcohol and drug use can “exacerbate violence,” they are not a scapegoat.
When trying to help a friend who is in an abusive relationship, Stahley warned that it can be a difficult conversation to have. Telling a friend that their relationship is worrying can result in the survivor reacting badly. Stahley said to be ready to help no matter how the friend reacts and to remember “that it is their safety that is a priority, not always your friendship.” Be ready to provide them with resources and support whenever they need it. If a fellow New College student may be in danger, there is a student of concern form on myNCF that can be submitted anonymously.
On the other hand, if someone admits to being abused, Ferderber said that the most important thing is to “believe them and express that you believe them.” Studies show that if the first few people that a victim tells do not trust them, they are much less likely to reach out to organizations like STARCC for help.
There are resources both on and off campus to help survivors of domestic abuse and there is no shame in reaching out. Advocates are trained to help in all variety of situations, and can provide assistance no matter the circumstance. Ferderber, Foley, and Stahley all stressed the importance of a support system and telling others about abuse. As Ferderber said, “no survivor has to do it alone.”
- Health Educator, Susan Stahley, MSW. (941) 487-4254
- NCF’s Victim Advocate, Concetta Hollinger. (941) 504-8599
- Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Taylor Parker. (941) 487-4758
- NCF’s Counseling & Wellness Center. Students interested in individual Counseling at the CWC should call 941-487-4254 to schedule an initial assessment.
- SPARCC: Safe Space and Rape Crisis Center. 24-hour crisis hotline: (941) 365-1976
- National Domestic Violence Hotline:1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 24/7 online anonymous chat