By Ashley Inge—
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is observed in October and it’s important to be knowledgeable and educated about domestic violence and know what you, as a student, can do if you ever find yourself, or someone you know, in that type of situation.
Domestic violence is defined as being a “violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner.”
The Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention Coordinator, Caris Thetford, explains that domestic violence doesn’t always mean physical violence.
“Domestic violence includes things like financial abuse, [where] one partner [is] intentionally ruining the other partner’s credit so that they create financial dependence; one partner working and having income and insisting that the other partner not work so that it creates dependence; one partner controlling all of the finances; [and] belittling, telling a person that they’re worthless and that can happen in a thousand different ways. Belittling and demeaning a person, isolating a person, that’s a classic element of domestic violence is gradually wearing away a person’s relationship so they really become dependent on the abuser and they’re disconnected from other people who might support them from leaving that relationship,” Thetford said.
Thetford said that these behaviors often start in very small and subtle ways that can be hard to recognize.
“An example might be one partner—the abusive partner in a relationship—may start expressing concern to their partner about some of their friends. And that can seem like the person who is actually being controlling and manipulative [is] really concerned like, ‘Oh I don’t think this person is good for you. They’re distracting you from our relationship and from going to school.’ How are you supposed to know that’s abusive? That might just be someone being generally concerned about the health of another relationship. It might be wanting to spend lots of time together, and again, that might feel flattering early in a relationship. ‘He/she/they really love me and want to be together.’ All of this attention can feel really flattering and it can be hard to see that for what it is,” said Thetford.
Thetford also said that especially in the early stages of a relationship, most individuals don’t notice these small ways where their partner is starting to become abusive. In the beginning stages of a relationship, we see this person that we are attracted to in the best possible light. We overlook their flaws and are not objective when looking at our own relationships.
The two main warning signs of domestic violence are jealousy and isolation.
“Any kind of controlling behaviors, that may not seem that way right at first [can be a sign of domestic violence.],” Thetford said. “It may seem like they’re being caring or kind of taking charge in the relationship. Anything where they’re gradually taking more and more control, making decisions for the other person, kind of taking control of the finances in the relationship, gradually starting to demand to know more about where the other person is and sort of controlling where they go and who they can be with and starting to be more and more vocal and more and more upset if another person challenges that, those are some of the big [warning signs].”
Although it is important to know the warning signs of domestic violence as a victim’s point of view, it is also important to know what to do if you are the bystander and see signs of domestic violence. There are three D’s that are important to remember: direct, delegate and distract.
When you’re being direct, you can go up to the victim and talk to them about what you just saw.
“When it comes to domestic violence, the way that you respond to that as a bystander is really going to depend on the situation. One option is connecting with the person you’re worried about, so the victim of the behavior, finding even just a few moments alone to just check in with them so that would be a direct intervention,” Thetford said. “You don’t have to go to the abuser and be confrontational with them. You can go to the victim and say, ‘Hey, listen, I’ve noticed this, I’ve noticed that. I just want to check on you. Is everything okay?’ Even if that person isn’t ready to talk about it or maybe doesn’t see that there’s a problem, that’s okay. At least somebody has reached out and let them know that they’re concerned and that they want to be helpful if they ever need it.”
The second option is delegating, which means getting another person involved.
“If they’re noticing some problematic things that they don’t feel like they can do anything directly, maybe they get somebody else involved. And that’s going to depend a lot on the situations. If it’s somebody who’s living on campus in a residence hall, maybe they alert the RL, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed these things with this person and I think somebody should maybe check in with them.’ Or if it’s somebody they know, but maybe they’re not particularly close to, but they know some of that person’s friends, they might tell them like, ‘Hey I’m noticing these things. Have y’all noticed that? Maybe y’all should have a conversation with this friend,’” Thetford said.
The third option is to distract. If you see a couple arguing and it seems like things are escalating, just distract them. Walk up to them and act like you need directions on how to get somewhere. It will disrupt the dynamics of the situation enough so that at least in that moment, things de-escalate.
“Certainly no one of those things by itself is going to solve the root problem, but the more that we, as a society, are willing to notice and disrupt things when we see concerning things, the less likely that a potential abuser has of really ever escalating and the less opportunity they have to engage in those abusive behaviors and the more it sends a message to the person we’re worried about,” said Thetford.
Thetford advises students to be kind to themselves and start thinking about what they need.
“If you recognize that you are in a situation, reach out for help to someone. Don’t stay isolated. Tell someone and get help,” Thetford said.
Thetford also wants students to know that there is danger when dealing with domestic violence cases.
“Often by the time a person realizes just how bad the situation is, by that time, things have escalated often to a high level of physical violence, and at that point, that victim knows just how dangerous her batterer is and the most dangerous time period in an abusive relationship is when things have reached that level of physical violence,” said Thetford. “If that victim tries to leave, that two-week period when he or she leaves is the most lethal. That is when they are most likely to be killed by their intimate partner. The danger is very real.”
There is even evidence of domestic violence on Tarleton State University’s campus in Stephenville. According to Tarleton’s Clery Report, seven domestic violence cases were reported in 2015, three were reported for 2016 and four were reported for 2017.
Thetford advises students who would like to be a part of a solution to domestic violence to take a hard look at themselves.
“Everyone is capable of abusive behavior toward a partner and many of us have at least kind of flirted with that line between abusive and not abusive behavior. Most of us at some point have said something really hurtful to another person with the intention being to hurt them and that doesn’t automatically make us batterers of course but, kind of the difference here is: do we recognize that we did something we shouldn’t have and we make a commitment to do better and we make amends and we do better moving forward or do we let that be the first step down a really slippery slope?” Thetford said.
“We have an obligation in our relationships to treat another person at all times with the respect that they deserve because they are a human being and to be conscientious about how we are acting and reacting. I also want to challenge our community to be part of the solution by taking a hard look at themselves and making a commitment toward being healthy, and being respectful and being loving at all times even when it is the hardest to do,” Thetford said.
For more information about domestic violence and how you, as a student, can be a part of the solution, contact the Student Counseling Services at 254-968-9044 or email SAVP@tarleton.edu.