What is Relationship and Dating Violence?

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Content warning: This page contains information about relationship and sexual violence.

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Dating and relationship violence is a pattern of coercive and abusive tactics employed by one person in a relationship to gain power and control over  another person. It can take many forms, including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual or economic abuse.

Abusive relationships may include sexual violence, which is a form of physical violence. Loving someone does not mean that you can never say “no” to sex. No matter what kind of relationship you have, if you are forced to have sex, it is rape. If you are humiliated or forced to be sexual in any way, that is sexual abuse.

Relationship violence is a set of behaviors that are commonly misunderstood in our society. You may have heard people say things like, “Why would she/he/they stay with him/her/them if they are abusing them?” or “Why doesn’t she/he/they leave?” These comments and questions can be hurtful and blaming of the person who is experiencing the violence. They suggest that the survivor is doing something wrong, rather than that the perpetrator of the violence is at fault. In reality, there are a myriad of reasons why it is difficult to leave abusive relationships,  and the person being abused is the expert of their own situation.


Definitions under the Campus SaVE/Clery Act/VAWA regulations, 34 C.F.R. Section 668.46

Dating Violence

Violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim.

  • The existence of such a relationship shall be determined based on the reporting party’s statement and with consideration of the length of the relationship, the type of relationship, and the frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.
  • For the purposes of this definition:
    • Dating violence includes, but is not limited to, sexual or physical abuse or the threat of such abuse.
    • Dating violence does not include acts covered under the definition of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence

A felony or misdemeanor crime of violence committed:

  • By a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim;
  • By a person with whom the victim shares a child in common;
  • By a person who is cohabitating with, or has cohabitated with, the victim as a spouse or intimate partner;
  • By a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction in which the crime of violence occurred, or
  • By any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction in which the crime of violence occurred.

Abusive Behaviors

  • Destructive criticism and verbal attack: Name calling, mocking, accusing, swearing, making humiliating remarks or gestures, ridiculing your most valued beliefs.
  • Pressure tactics or threats: Rushing you to make decisions using guilt, fear or intimidation; regularly threatening to leave or telling you to leave; making and/or carrying out threats to hurt you or others; threatening you with a weapon, etc.; locking you in or out of the house; taking the children; threatening suicide; reporting you to the Department of Social Services; putting your job or other things that are important to you at risk.
  • Emotional abuse: Manipulating you with lies or contradictions (playing “mind games”); making you feel stupid/crazy (usually this is specific to whatever makes you feel the worst); not following through on agreements; manipulating shared children; abandoning you in a dangerous place; refusing to take care of you or get help when you are sick or hurt; destroying your possessions.
  • Stalking: Following, harassing or threatening you repeatedly; telephoning and text messaging constantly; waiting on you outside or inside places; watching you from afar, or sending
  • Unwanted letters or emails.
  • Sexual violence: Degrading treatment; forcing you to have sex; using threats or coercion to obtain sex or perform sexual acts; coercing sex during or after a violent incident.
  • Minimizing, denying and blaming: Making light of behavior; insisting it’s not serious; denying the abuse happened; shifting responsibility for abusive behavior (“It’s your fault, you made me do it.”)
  • Physical violence: Being violent to you, others or household pets; slapping; punching; grabbing; kicking; choking; pushing; biting; holding you to prevent your leaving.
  • Harassment: Making uninvited visits; following you; embarrassing you in public; refusing to leave when asked; accusing you of seeing someone else (being overly jealous); obsessive web communication, such as e-mails, instant messages, Facebook and cell phone calls and text messages.
  • Economic control: Interfering with your work or not letting you work; threatening to withhold money; refusing to give you money or taking your money; taking your car keys or otherwise preventing you from using the car; ruining your credit; forcing you to do illegal acts for money.
  • Isolation: Preventing or making it difficult for you to see friends or relatives; making family and friends so uncomfortable they do not want to visit; monitoring phone calls; telling you where you can and cannot go; moving to a place where you have no support; not letting you have a phone or access to the car.
  • Intimidation: Using looks, actions or gestures to make you scared to do something differently; making angry or threatening gestures; acting “crazy” or out of control; subjecting you to reckless driving; using physical size to intimidate (such as standing in the doorway during arguments); out-shouting you.

LGBTQIA Relationship Violence

While many aspects of relationship violence against Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Trans or Queer individuals are similar to those experienced by heterosexual victims, it is not in all ways identical. Perpetrators often attempt highly specific forms of abuse based on identity and community dynamics, including:

  • Outing or threatening to out a partner’s sexual orientation or gender identity to family, employers, police, religious institutions, communities, in child custody disputes or in other situations where this may pose a threat.
  • Reinforcing fears that no one will help the victim because s/he/they is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or that for this reason, the partner deserves the abuse.
  • Alternatively, justifying abuse with the notion that a partner is not really lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (i.e. the victim may once have had, or may still have relationships, or express a gender identity, inconsistent with the abuser’s definitions of these terms). This can be used both as a tool in verbal and emotional abuse as well as to further the isolation of a victim from community.
  • Using the victim’s fluid orientation against them- this can be in the form of telling bisexual men or women that they are not “really” queer or that their orientation is a betrayal of the same-sex partner.  It can also be used against bisexual and queer people in different-sex relationships, through threats of outing, or questioning the abused partner’s commitment to the relationship because of their sexual orientation of gender identity.
 ​According to the CDC, 44% of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, 26% of gay men, and 37% of bisexual men report being the victim of rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner.

But I’m a college student… I don’t have to worry about relationship abuse, right?

Unfortunately, dating and domestic abuse is a problem for college students and is often a risk factor of abuse in subsequent relationships and marriages. Below is a list of warning signs of abusive behaviors. If these behaviors appear in your or a friend’s relationship, it’s important to remember that they are not the fault of the victim–the perpetrator is solely responsible for his/her/their actions.  It is also important to remember that while these behaviors may indicate an abusive relationship, not all of them need to be present for a relationship to be abusive.  Everyone in a relationship has the right to set their own boundaries with their partner in a way that feels safe and supportive for them.

Warning Signs of Abusive Behaviors

  • Exhibits jealousy when you talk to others. May say that his/her jealousy is a sign of love.
  • Consistently accuses a partner of flirting or cheating, or treats other important relationships in a partner’s life with suspicion.
  • Tries to control where you go, whom you go with, what you wear, say, do, etc.
  • Attempts to isolate you from loved ones. May try to cut you off from  resources, friends and family.
  • Uses force, coercion or manipulation in sexual activity.
  • Degrades or puts you down. Dismisses accomplishments that you achieve.
  • Displays frequent mood or behavior swings. May be kind one minute and exploding the next; charming in public and cruel in private.​​
  • Threatens to use physical force. Breaks or strikes objects to intimidate you.
  • Physically restrains you from leaving the room, pushes, shoves you, etc.
  • Has hit other partners in the past but assures you that the violence was provoked.
  • May exhibit economic control by not allowing you to go to work, have access or control of your money or paycheck, or access to your car.

Why They Don’t Leave

There is a pervasive myth that a person who is in an abusive relationship doesn’t leave because they enjoy the abuse. This is false.​​ People who are abused by their dating or domestic partner do not stay in the relationship because they enjoy the maltreatment. The victim may stay for practical or emotional reasons including feelings of love and attachment, social isolation or shame, economic factors, or a fear of retaliation for leaving, through physical violence or homicide.

Another pervasive myth is that  emotional abuse is not serious or “real abuse.”  However, emotional abuse not only impacts the victim’s self-esteem, it can cause long- term psychological trauma. For many victims it is the most damaging aspect of abusive relationships.

Remember, when someone hits or degrades their partner, that behavior is not provoked. While anger can be provoked during an argument, abuse is a choice the perpetrator makes to establish control. It is an intentional act or set of acts designed to force the abused partner to submit to the will of the abuser.

How You Can Take Care of Yourself

  • Don’t blame yourself and don’t excuse your partner’s behavior.
  • Think about your safety and create a plan. Seek help from friends, family or your healthcare provider.
  • Consider what you need to be safe- what are the risks you are facing and how can they be mitigated, even temporarily?
  • Consider who may be able to help support you (friends, family, staff members, etc.) and how you might reach out to them.
  • If you want to leave the relationship, consider what you may need to be able to successfully do that.
  • If you are experiencing sexual violence or reproductive abuse, consider strategies for protecting your sexual health.
  • Call a crisis helpline like S.A.R.A.H. 314-935-8080 or Uncle Joe’s 314-935-5099, or a women’s shelter, for advice. These are available during the academic year.

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