1 in 3 students at Mount Royal University involved in a violent relationship

violencePost-secondary is a time of great adventure and discovery, but with that comes all the dangers we so frequently hear about.

Alcohol, drugs and sexual health are just a few of the risks that post-secondary students are often reminded of. However, there is one risk that doesn’t always get the attention that it deserves – dating violence.

Mount Royal University professor, Gaye Warthe, from the department of social work and disability studies, recently completed her thesis on this very topic.

MRU students talk about their experience with dating violence

“Most people who are experiencing it actually don’t know,” said Warthe.

This may beg to question then, how can we measure it?

In both 2008 and 2010, Warthe, along with fellow researcher and mentor, Leslie Tutty from the University of Calgary, developed questions specifically targeted to measure dating violence for the National College Health Assessment.

Their findings showed that at MRU alone over one-third of students have experienced dating violence in one or more relationships and that number could be an underestimate.

“Most statistics about dating violence are underestimated because there is a stigma with saying, ‘Gosh, I’ve experienced abuse in a relationship,’ and it’s difficult to identify when you’re in an abusive relationship,” Warthe explained.

Rachel Kerr–Lapsley, a 20-year old MRU student, says she thinks that a lack of awareness could also be a factor.

“I think most girls that I know wouldn’t even know what falls under the category of dating violence.”

DatingViolenceStatistics suggest that one in three MRU students is involved in a violent relationship, according to Gaye Warthe, MRU professor department of social justice.

Illustration by: Rachel Kane of the reasons that dating violence can be hard to recognize is because it is often hard to distinguish what abuse really looks like.

The reality is that dating violence comes in several different forms, with the most common being verbal, emotional, physical and sexual.

“If you were to ask anybody on the streets of Mount Royal, ‘Have you ever yelled at a dating partner?’ they might actually admit that they have yelled on occasion and maybe they called their partner a name that was not ‘hey beautiful,’” Warthe said.

While this may not be an ideal or a healthy occurrence in a relationship, it does happen. But according to Warthe, it is when these unhealthy behaviours become a pattern that a relationship moves beyond unhealthy to abusive.

But despite knowing what is wrong and knowing what isn’t good for us, letting go isn’t always easy.

Is it abuse?

Some points to help you know what abuse looks and feels like

  1. Verbal abuse – the most common type of abuse, frequently seen in the forms of name calling and yelling
  2. Emotional/psychological abuse – often found as a more severe form of verbal abuse, emotional abuse is anything that impacts how we feel about ourselves; like stalking, intimidation, fear, put-downs/criticisms or threats
  3. Physical abuse – the first thing that comes to mind for most people when thinking about dating/domestic violence. It includes pushing, shoving, biting, hitting or choking –anything that physically harms another person.
  4. Sexual abuse – the most private form of abuse, classified as touching or contact of a sexual nature without consent. It is not consent if the person is drunk/stoned, unconscious, sleeping, participating out of fear or immobile/frozen because of fear.

Sidebar information courtesy of Gaye Warthe with the department of social work and the Stepping Up project.

Molly, who asked for her name to be changed for her own safety, is a 20-year-old student at MRU who first-handedly experienced a violent relationship and can truly identify with the phrase “love is blind.”

“I think they’re so good at being such a good person, sometimes when they do these things that are actually terrible things we look past it, we say, ‘whatever, you had that moment, you were drunk,’” said Molly. “We give excuses for them because we fall in love with the person.”

Knowing this, Warthe believes that the best thing MRU can do to help with this problem is to educate students and highlight the issue of dating violence.

That is why this November, MRU will be holding “Turn off the Violence” events around campus including an innovative take on the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” initiative, which is a fun way to get people to start talking about this issue.

Some other on-campus resources available to students who are suffering from dating violence or interested in learning more are:

  • The Stepping Up Project
  • The Wellness Centre
  •  And hopefully there’ll be another new addition soon – Warthe and her colleagues are currently working on developing a course on abuse through the lifespan.


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