One out of three or four women in the U.S. is in an abusive relationship. It can be difficult to realize one of your friends is being abused and know how to react to the situation.
Girl Talk: How to Talk to a Friend About Relationship Violence was a discussion for Northwestern students held Monday at the Women’s Center as the start to Sexual Assault Activism Week at Northwestern.
Women’s Center Counselor Sara Walz and Women’s Center intern Kristin Holmes Clifford offered advice to a small group about the warning signals that a friend is in an abusive relationship and how to handle the situation.
As close as you know you are with your best friends, it can be very difficult for a woman to tell anyone about her situation.
“We don’t have the words to say ‘oh, I’m being abused,’” said Clifford. “I always say the red flags are in your stomach.”
Besides the gut feeling, any significant changes in a friend’s behavior can be an indicator of relationship abuse.
Red flags to look for include:
- The friend isolating herself
- Missing classes
- Changes in appearance
- Grades dropping
- Constantly having to check in with the person a friend is in a relationship with,
- Being concerned about needing to do things for the person
- Changing plans with friends
- Getting many text messages from the person your friend is in a relationship with
- Stepping out of responsibilities.
- Being unusually high-strung
- Changes in eating habits
- Not sleeping
- Avoiding friends and family
- A very up and down relationship
Many women in an abusive relationship don’t want to leave their partner. It takes between seven and fifteen instances of abuse for a woman to leave her abuser. As a friend, it can be really frustrating to know what’s going on and not be able to have your friend listen to you, and in the end it is really up to the friend to know when she has had enough.
When talking to a friend about her abusive relationship, you should come up with a safety plan said Clifford. This includes having emergency numbers in her phone, keeping clothes in the car if she lives with her abuser, and making sure to tell the right people about what is going on. There are 24 hour hotlines that can be contacted said Clifford. The national domestic abuse hotline is 1−800−799−SAFE(7233).
There is also legal action that can be taken. Illinois offers orders of protection, also known as restraining orders, for anyone 12 and up.
Walz said there are many places to go on campus to talk about relationship violence, including the women’s center.
Clifford has seen a lot of relationship violence on college campuses start with jealousy. A lot of times the abuser will also make up rules and change them that the person has to follow and then get angry when their partner doesn’t realize the rules have changed.
It is also important to know that not all abuse is physical. It can be anything from physical violence to mental manipulation said Clifford. Our bodies treat emotional, physical and mental abuse in the same way with elevated stress levels. Non-physical abuse can have just as many health consequences as physical abuse.
When it comes to other people’s relationships and even your own, “it’s easy to be in self-doubt” about the situation said Walz.