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Dating violence awareness needed on campus

by Ashley Fahey,

The Elon community was saddened this summer by the death of Lauren Astley, an incoming freshman. Astley was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Nathaniel Fujita. And while cases like this don't emerge in the news very frequently, it raises the question of how common dating violence is in America and what can be done to prevent it.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five female high school students report being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. Additionally, females between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence of any age group.

But one of the scariest facts is that many victims of dating violence think the abusive behavior is normal.

Social standards have constructed gender roles so that men who are dominant and aggressive are praised while the docile, submissive stereotype is associated with females. This construct is not only highly inaccurate and unfair to both genders, it also has massive repercussions.

Young men who feel pressured to live up to "macho" stereotypes may feel that physically abusing their girlfriends is the "masculine" thing to do to assert their positions as the so-called dominant figure in the relationship. Female victims may either be too scared to fight back or to tell another person or may even believe the abuse is normal in a relationship.

But, a skewed idea of what is believed to be normal is not the only cause of dating violence. The lack of awareness about this topic and the concrete facts and statistics associated is a major contributor to the disturbing number of people who have been involved.

At Elon, a session about date rape during orientation and the annual Take Back the Night event bring awareness to campus about how serious dating violence really is. These events give students an idea what to do in situations where intimate partner abuse could become a problem, which is good, but is it enough? What more can we do in order to make people realize how serious a problem dating violence really is, and what we cand do in order to prevent it from happening?

Although Elon provides a counseling center that any student can turn to in times of need, many students may be too scared to confess the realities of their situation or don't consciously recognize their situation as abusive. Sadly, many victims of relationship violence may silently accept their situation and don't seek to change it.

Anonymous hotlines such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help, but what is most important is being in tune to those who are close to you and watching out for sure-fire signs of an abusive relationship in close friends or family members. There are red flags that indicate a potentially abusive relationship. Victims could wear unusually long sleeves in the midst of a heat wave. They could brush off prodding questions about their relationship dynamic, painting it to seem "just fine" or even "great." Or they might constantly make up excuses for their partner's less admirable qualities, common ones including jealousy, aggression and anger.

These signs cannot, and should not, be ignored. Hosting an intervention with a potentially abused friend could help in more ways than one might realize, and while Elon and other college campuses are raising awareness about this issue, more emphasis needs to be placed on the scared or the naïve—the voiceless victims of an abusive relationship. We have some awareness, yes, but having even more awareness raised through open forums, fundraisers and events that focus on the issue would be ideal, as college students are frequently victims of abusive relationships.

In remembering Astley, the Elon community should also remember her story is not completely out of the ordinary and dating violence is everywhere. In her memory, and for the annual 3-6 million victims of relationship abuse per year, we should all be aware and do our part to prevent those close to us from becoming another victim.