According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1 in 3 college students either have been or are in a relationship that involves dynamics of power and abuse.
ETSU OASIS (Outreach and Advocacy: Sexual information for Students) hosted their annual Red Flag Campaign on Oct. 1 to educate students on relationship ‘red flags’ that are characteristics of abusive relationships while also increasing bystander awareness to encourage students to speak up when they witness indicators of abuse in the relationships of their friends, family and even their own.
“An abuse or violent relationship is not necessarily just physical violence, but there’s often emotional and psychological factors that go with that,” said Kate Emmerich, OASIS Outreach Coordinator. “A lot of times it’s just such a shock to people when they realize they are in an abusive relationship because often times there’s this picture we paint that only certain types of people can be victimized in a relationship when in reality it can happen to anyone.”
According to information provided by OASIS from the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, indicators of an unhealthy relationship range from using intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, denying and blaming, economic abuse, coercion and threats, threatening children, or using male privilege. These are just a sample of common indicators of a relationship dominated by power and control that may also be physically and/or sexually violent as well.
“The more that we do the red flag campaign, the more people start to recognize it each year, and the idea is that when you write on one of the red flags, you write down an actual red flag you can think of in an abusive relationship or violent sexual encounter,” Emmerich said. “It’s supposed to get people thinking about relationship violence in those ways, that it’s all these emotional or psychological indicators that play a part in a larger picture of relationship violence.”
Another important component of the Red Flag Campaign is the Buccaneer Bystander Intervention Campaign that provides students with very specific, behavioral things they can actually do or say when they hear an inappropriate comment or are concerned for the well-being of someone they suspect may be in an abusive relationship.
“We are also teaching students to be active bystanders-what to say, how to intervene, when they hear things that indicate relationship violence or things that perpetuate rape culture, someone making a rape joke or cat calling someone, because it really happens all the time,” said Emmerich. “We brush these things off as being commonplace and ‘just the way things are’, when in reality it’s sexual harassment, which is absolutely illegal.”
One of the primary goals behind these events from OASIS and the Counseling Center is to provide students with the correct information and with the tools they need to make their own informed decisions.
Emmerich advises students who suspect a loved one is in an abusive relationship to remember that it is ultimately their decision to make in regards to what action they choose to take, if any.
In an abusive relationship, the victim’s ability to make their own informed decisions may be the only power they have left.
“The best thing you can do is to help educate them and give them the tools and support they need so that they can come to their own conclusions about the situation; say what it is that you are seeing, and let them know that you care about them,” Emmerich said. “Leave it to them to make decisions for themselves, just knowing that they have that friend that is there, if and when, they do decide to leave a relationship or that they need help, is often the most powerful thing you can give them.”