The topic of abuse within relationships is one usually left to the realm of older married couples. Those of us who are ignorant to the realities of domestic violence create generalisations usually taken from the media; husbands punching their wives behind closed doors on soaps, women lying unconvincingly about suspicious bruises in films and adverts where metaphors are used to devastating effect to relate the suffering of the victim at the hands of someone who claims to love them.
So far, so very little relating to the young lovers who make up the student population. And yet, with recent ad campaigns focusing on deciphering clues of domestic abuse in teenage couples, and the revelation in The Guardian of rape being used as an accepted rite of passage in young British gangs, we are now forced to acknowledge the presence of abuse within young couples.
A study by the Council of Europe in 2002 showed that 1 in 4 women experienced domestic abuse over their lifetimes, whilst another study from 2007 made public by the national domestic violence charity, Women’s Aid, stated that non-sexual partner abuse was the most commonly suffered form of intimate violence amongst both sexes; 28% of women and 17% of men reported having experienced this kind of abuse.
The latter study suggested that a sizeable percentage of the female population and a substantial percentage of the male population will at one point or another experience some form of abuse, be it physical, psychological or both. How do young people protect themselves from becoming part of those statistics in an environment where questionable behaviour can be brushed off as “banter” (sic) or apparently as a heroic middle finger pointed toward political correctness?
According to psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos, the findings of the 2010 NSPCC report on abusive relationships in 13-18 year olds (the first UK study of domestic violence in this age group) are in some way a consequence of a “learned helplessness” and a belief that, when it comes to domestic violence targeted at young women, “it’s going to happen anyway, boys will be boys”.
Despite the fact that this report focused specifically on teenagers, the findings should raise just as much concern amongst young adults. If this attitude of acceptance is found in the younger generations – people who should have a more idealistic and less jaded approach to life – how distant will those a couple of years their senior be to the same approach?
While it may be easy to criticise the situation from the outside, Dr Papadopoulos’ other observation, that the attitude that “he cares enough to be jealous” is used in defence of the abusive situation, reflects just how complex a subject this truly is. The government defines domestic violence as, “Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.”
The confusion between knowing what constitutes an abusive relationship and the factors that make up a merely passionate one seems to be an ingredient in the distortion of one’s own situation. Essentially, the difficulty lies in distinguishing between a heated relationship, in which intimidation and subjugation plays no part, and the kind of relationship where you live in constant fear of your partner’s reaction.
The fact that physical and/or mental abuse in intimate relationships is, to this day, one of the main social taboos means that it is impossible to gauge exactly how many victims are out there. However, what is known is that it can happen to anybody, at any point in their relationship.
The recent public acknowledgement that this problem can be found outside the stereotypical marriage scenario has raised awareness not only of the experiences of the younger generation but also of the worrying beliefs that accompany the violence. The attitude that excuses abuse within a couple, and the sentiment of acceptance expressed by some young females and males, only serves to compound apprehensions.
Domestic violence is never acceptable, and it is worrying that such a destructive act is trickling down through the generations. Clearly, awareness needs to be raised about the issue, not only to discipline the abusers but also to educate the victims on how to seek help.
Aisha Brown Colpani