Abusive Relationships & College Women: Dangerously in Love

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Yeardley Love had everything going for her: She was a good student, a phenomenal athlete, and had a great family and circle of friends. The 22-year-old senior at the University of Virginia had a promising life ahead of her until a violent relationship with fellow classmate George Huguely tragically ended her life.
 

While it’s easy to write off terrifying stories like this one with a simple, “That would never happen to me,” the sad truth is that violent relationships are more common than we think. Relationships that appear to be perfect on the outside could be seriously dangerous behind closed doors. These abusive relationships can happen to anyone, from ordinary college women to celebrities like Rihanna.
 
While violent relationships are frightening and sometimes can be extremely hard to get out of, being educated on these types of dangerous men and the warning signs that come along with the abuse could be what saves your life.
 
Why College Women?

Abuse can happen to anyone in any age group, but college women are often the people who find themselves in these types of situations. Susan Shapiro Barash, a gender studies professor at Marymount Manhattan College and author of the book Toxic Friends, attributes the presence of abusive relationships on campus to the environment. “Really it’s a stranger you’re meeting, it’s not like high school where people know each other,” she says. “It’s an unprotected environment and you’re young and you’re trusting of who you meet.” The campus is a new place with all types of different people, and while some may have shown signs of abuse in the past, there’s no way for a student to know that.
 
A sophomore at Arizona State University was completely blindsided by her boyfriend’s abusive tendencies when she came to college because she was used to all the guys from her hometown. “I come from a really small town where everybody knows everybody, so I was so trusting when I first came to school…I assumed everybody had the best intentions. I started dating this guy freshman year and I figured he was just a normal guy because he seemed really nice. I guess I was just naive because I didn’t even think that anybody could be abusive. Turns out, I was wrong.”
 
Why Are Women Attracted to Them in the First Place?

Violent men are obviously not attractive, but most have qualities that will draw you in and get you hooked. “Many men who end up being violent are actually very charming men,” Barash says. “They’re seductive and they have a pattern—they’ve done this with women before you and they’ll do it again.” Some women actually are so drawn to an abusive man’s looks, style and popularity that they don’t and won’t face the fact that he could be dangerous.
 
While some women who are lured in to an abusive man are oblivious to the potential danger, other women gravitate toward these types of people. Often, women who come from a history of abuse, whether it’s from a father, uncle or brother, date abusive men because they want to try to remedy the situation. “These women think that even though they couldn’t make their abusive relative stop, they can make this man change,” Barash says.
 
When Does the Danger Strike?

Abusive relationships rarely start out violent. “The relationships start on a high note most likely, you feel great being with him, and it’s very exciting having a relationship with someone on campus,” Barash says. Once you’re into the relationship, however, things start to go downhill, sometimes gradually. “The dark side kicks in – he might be physically violent, he might squeeze your arm one time, he might physically hit you,” Barash says, adding that women are often in disbelief once the relationship starts to turn for the worst. Still, despite the physical danger, many women stay in the relationship.
 
A recent graduate of the University of Vermont says that she was in complete shock the first time she saw her ex-boyfriend be violent. “Our relationship started out perfectly, he was so sweet and affectionate and caring. As stupid as it sounds now, I actually thought that he could be the guy I ended up marrying. I remember we were out one night and he saw me talking to another guy, and he actually flipped over a table at the bar because he was so pissed. I was shocked and scared and really upset about it. Since I was so into him, I thought that maybe it was just a one time thing, but after talking to my friends about it, I knew he was too good to be true.”
 
Why Do Women Stay in it?

After starting the relationship on such a perfect note, women often make excuses for the man’s display of violence in an attempt to rationalize the abuse. Instead of chalking it up to his abusive nature, women will tell themselves that the man was violent because he was drinking or because he had a bad day. “It’s so unfamiliar to you that you’re not sure what do to and you don’t want to admit that this has happened,” Barash says.
 
As the abuse continues into a pattern, women will start to believe that they can fix the problem. “You think the love will make this better and that you can change him,” Barash says. “And sometimes it’s about your own low self-esteem – instead of taking a look at yourself and getting out, you try to fix it.”
 
Other times, and more commonly, women stay in the relationship because of fear. Women are scared that the man will become more violent once she leaves.

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About The Author

Nancy Mucciarone is a senior at Syracuse University, majoring in magazine journalism and minoring in psychology. Along with writing for HerCampus, she is the fashion and beauty editor of Equal Time magazine, a freelance writer for Studio One Networks, as well as the public relations vice president for Alpha Xi Delta. She is the former web editor for College magazine, and this past summer, she was loving life in New York City as she participated in the Condé Nast Summer Intern Program as an editorial intern at Footwear News. When she's not making detailed to-do lists or perfecting the grilled cheese sandwich, you can usually find her watching Animal Planet or trying to curb her Milk Dud addiction. She aspires to one day be the bachelorette.