Relationship abuse reports on the rise

by Nancy Ngo

As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a brown bag discussion series held today at the Minnesota Women’s Center will address healthy relationships.
Relationship abuse is the use of violent and controlling behavior by one person in a relationship to create an environment of isolation, danger or intimidation for another.
Suzanna Short, assistant director at the Program Against Sexual Violence, said the term “domestic abuse” is problematic because it tends to imply that abuse can only happen with couples who live together. But the term applies to all people in abusive relationships, she said.
Although relationship abuse is on the rise in terms of reported incidents, sexual assault remains the most commonly reported incident at the Program Against Sexual Violence.
Freshmen are most vulnerable to sexual assaults because they are in a new environment where they do not know many people, Short said.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the first quarter of freshmen year is when students are most likely to be victims of sexual assault, said Jamie Tiedemann, director and counselor at the Program Against Sexual Violence.
Freshmen are often eager to meet new people, and can thus expose themselves to dangerous situations in which they are vulnerable to sexual assault, Tiedemann said.
Short said victims of sexual assault can often find access to services such as counseling and protection. Obtaining restraining orders in relationship abuse cases can be more difficult, she said. The program’s events this month are aimed at increasing awareness of relationship abuse and the resources available to victims.
The University has seen an increase in the number of reported relationship abuse cases this year. The rise in reported incidents does not necessarily mean that there is more domestic violence occurring at the University, but might be an indication that more people are comfortable with reporting incidents, Short said.
“What we are seeing more are some students who have been in abusive relationships since high school,” she said.
Short added that getting victims out of unhealthy relationships from high school can be especially difficult.
Tiedemann has found that victims of relationship abuse often experience low self-esteem. Perpetrators and victims of abuse alike have often learned from family or peers to accept violent relationships.
She added that the psychological dynamics of abuse vary, making generalizations difficult to apply to specific cases.
In some cases, victims are in their first relationship and have no basis of comparison to know that abuse is not part of a healthy relationship, said Short.
Michael McGrane, director of the Wilder Community Assistance Program in St. Paul, said relationship abuse was the most common type of sexual violence reported among high school students at the program.
The Wilder program provides counseling services for victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse.
The Program Against Sexual Violence will address issues of relationship and dating violence throughout the month and will include discussions of women’s health issues.