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Invisible Bruises

by Nicole Bush
UGAzine (University of Georgia)

More than two and half years had passed, and I still didn?t know what was happening to me. I didn?t know that the constant yelling, belittling, degrading and criticizing weren?t part of a normal relationship.

My friends asked me if he was crossing a line when he called me a ?whore,? a ?skank? and a ?slut,? humiliating me in front of others, but I just said ?no.? I simply told them that I had said something wrong, and it made him mad.

I told him I would never do it again. But I did do it again, because I didn?t know what I was doing wrong. It seemed like everything that came out of my mouth wasn?t right; everything I did was correctable. ?You?re worthless!? he screamed as tears streamed down my face. ?Nobody will ever love you! I am the only one who puts up with you!?

I was scared the day I broke up with him, but I just couldn?t take it anymore. He didn?t make me feel good?he didn?t make me feel loved, as those who truly loved me did. It was only after I severed that tie that I finally saw our relationship for what it really was.

Emotional abuse.

Most victims of abuse don?t even know that they are in an abusive relationship or understand the seriousness of their situation, especially when the abuse isn?t physical. Without the visible bruises or injuries, it?s hard to recognize who is affected and who needs help.

One in five University of Georgia students has experienced emotional abuse, according to the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention program (RSVP) conducted through the Health Promotion Department of the University Health Center.

Relationships are a normal part of life, crucial to developing an identity. But to the thousands of students on UGA?s campus who feel trapped inside relationships that bring nothing but pain and disappointment, it?s one part of life with which they would rather not deal.

It?s time to get serious about abuse and find out what you can do to help those around you. Students need to be educated on the dangers that could be affecting their closest friends because women ages 16 to 24 are the most common victims of abuse.

Melody Slashinski, the RSVP coordinator at the UHC, specializes in abuse prevention. She conducts workshops for student organizations, including Greek life and residence halls, in order to ?facilitate institutional prevention of and response to relationship and sexual violence? on UGA?s campus.

?I love working with college kids,? Slashinski says. ?I believe that education at this stage equips students with the tools and information needed to make serious decisions. They can apply it now or later in life.?

In order to recognize who might be a victim, it is important to understand all that abuse entails. Most people think of abuse as something purely physical: hitting, kicking or punching. But abuse is so much more. It?s a part of something bigger: a concept known as Intimate Partner Violence.

The RSVP program defines IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) as physical, sexual, physiological, emotional and verbal abuse perpetrated by a current or former dating, cohabitating or life partner. The abuser uses any of these forms of violence, alone or in combination, to terrify and control their partner.

Slashinski says it?s vital to know that abuse is relative and subjective. It can vary from victim to victim, and no one should limit abuse to a technical definition.

Because abuse can take many forms, it?s difficult to say that one type is worse than the other; they?re all horrific. But with physical abuse, people outside of the relationship may be able to see what?s happening. The injuries are visible and often recognizable. Injury and damage that come from emotional, psychological and verbal abuse cannot be seen.

Libby Coyne and Judy Purdy, authors of the article ?BLACK and BLUE: Psychological Weapons in the Intimate War,? say that psychological, or emotional, abuse is widespread and underestimated when compared to physical abuse. Emotional abuse is more common and rampant. According to RSVP, 18.3 percent of UGA students report being in emotionally abusive relationships, compared to only 2.1 percent in physically abusive relationships. Yet women who suffer from emotional abuse usually don?t consider themselves victims.

?[Victims of psychological abuse] are being ignored because of the bias toward looking at physical abuse,? say Coyne and Libby.

Victims of all forms of abuse need help.

If you can recognize an abuser, you can recognize a victim, and RSVP provides
10 warning signs that someone may be or may become an abuser:

1. Unrealistic Expectations : Abusers often want control of their victims early on. Slashinski says they may pressure for a serious commitment and express extreme attachment and devotion only days into the relationship. Heather Macpherson, a support group leader for domestic violence victims at Project Safe, tells her support groups that such expectations should be a big red flag.

2. Extreme Jealousy: Abusers have very little trust in their partners. They need to have so much control in the relationship, which forces them to equate jealousy with love. There is a serious problem when a partner is not allowed to hang out with friends, family or anyone other than the controller.

3. Possessiveness: Abusers often view their victims as objects that they own. Macpherson says an abuser usually enforces ?strict gender roles? by which the woman must abide, such as cooking and cleaning on a demanding schedule. The partners are not equal, and the victim often links intimacy with sex.

4. Unpredictable Mood Swings: Dramatic changes in behavior and temperament often result in abuse. Slashinski and Macpherson both highlight the ?Jekyll and Hyde? phenomenon. The abuser can be loving and charming one minute and filled with uncontrollable rage the next.

5. Isolation: Taking victims away from friends and family is a huge advantage for abusers. It endangers victims and makes them feel as if they have no support system. ?This is how victims become controlled,? Macpherson says. ?The people that love them can?t point out what?s happening to them, because they can?t see it.? Slashinski adds that there often is a severe difference in the public and private behaviors of an abuser. Isolation allows the abuse to happen.

6. Control: IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) is based on the abuser trying to exert control over the victim by limiting the victims? actions and choices. ?This is the core of the problem,? Macpherson says. ?It?s what IPV is.? Abusers force their partners to retreat from activities they love and withdraw from the people that know them best.

7. Blame: When something goes wrong in the relationship, the abuser convinces the victim that it is the victim?s fault. Abusers often force victims to feel as if they never do anything right, which results in a feeling of worthlessness.

8. Previous Abuse Patterns: Abusers hold constant control patterns, and they don?t usually change. If a history of violence exists in the abuser?s past relationships, abuse likely will occur again.

9. Substance Abuse: Excessive use of drugs or alcohol often can make the behavior and attitudes of an abuser worse. ?Substance abuse isn?t directly linked to relationship abuse,? Slashinski says. ?If you drink and you get violent, you?ve got two problems.?

10. Defensiveness/Excessive Excuses: Victims frequently become so controlled by their abusers that they start to defend their abusers? actions. If outsiders start to recognize any wrongful behavior, victims constantly make excuses for their partners and become extremely defensive.

Slashinski emphasizes the importance of knowing what a healthy relationship looks like, as it can help identify an abusive one.

The RSVP program recognizes four main components of healthy relationships: respect, honesty, trust and communication. Partners are equal and use these components in ways that work best for both of them. The relationship is built on romance and friendship, and each partner maintains a certain amount of independence.

Knowing the warning signs and understanding a healthy relationship can help you identify a friend who might be dealing with abuse. If you think that a friend might be a victim, talk about it, be available and listen. Slashinski stresses the importance of not blaming the friend for any part of the abuse. Just be an advocate for your friend and show your unfailing support.

?Respect her feelings and the position she might be in,? Slashinski says. ?Support her no matter what she says and how she feels, because a support system is the one thing that you know she needs.?

Jennifer, a fourth-year UGA student majoring in child and family development, expresses how she felt when she was in an emotionally abusive relationship.

?My friends would constantly ask me why I didn?t just get out of the relationship if it was as bad as I made it out to be,? she says. ?I just wanted to hear that it wasn?t my fault and know that they were going to listen and support me no matter what.?

Asking why a victim doesn?t leave the relationship focuses attention on the victim?s behavior, when the actual problem is the abuser?s behavior. Blaming victims for the abuse only furthers the damage. It continues to make them feel worthless, belittled and shameful. Listen to your friends, and hear what they have to say. Be considerate of their feelings and the serious trauma they have experienced.

One in five UGA students has experienced relationship violence, so there is a significant chance that one of your friends could become a statistic. I was a victim and didn?t even know it; my friends didn?t know it either.

You can help. You just have to know what to look for.
 

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