RED ZONE: Signs of an abusive relationship

As October ends, domestic violence awareness month also comes to a close. This month is all about targeting domestic violence, and there are several obvious warning signs that signal an abusive relationship.

According to Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, AWAIC, there are several key questions to ask that address warning signs. Questions like, does your partner make threats of any kind, prevent you from working, or control what you do? Bridget Dooley is the Title IX Coordinator at UAA and she works with AWAIC when dealing with abusive relationship situations.

“Control is a big part of domestic violence,” Dooley said. “Do you have access to your money, or does someone else have control of your money? Does your partner have to be with you all the time? Are you allowed to leave without your partner? Those are warning signs of domestic violence.”

Dooley has seen domestic violence cases come in many forms, and last year alone there were 89 different Title IX reports about sex discrimination, which includes sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and domestic violence.

“It could be humiliation, it could be threats, threatening to kill you or someone you love or your pet. Those are all ways of controlling your behavior, and domestic violence to a large degree is all about control. There are many ways in which an individual can be controlled in a domestic violence relationship. Often there are people involved if you have children.”

A monopoly of control by one partner is the biggest sign of an abusive relationship, according to Dooley, and if the abused partner decides to leave the relationship they are at the greatest risk during that time.

“For instance, a student may be in a domestic violence relationship. They may live in the community and be in a domestic violence relationship and they may be now ready to leave,” Dooley said. “One of the dynamics of domestic violence is control, and once somebody decides to leave, that is a big step. That is also the time when they are at greatest risk of harm; when they leave the relationship.”

Dooley’s job is to present people who come to her for help with support and the resources they need, whether that be counseling or help with school. In the past, Dooley has worked with students who were struggling with an abusive relationship, and she worked with them to provide the services they needed.

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

“The student was halfway through the semester when they decided to leave their relationship, and they had a relationship with AWAIC,” Dooley said. “AWAIC knew we had services here that we could provide supports for them…I worked with the student to determine what they needed in order to continue in school or not, and in one case the individual decided they just could not focus on school. They tried, and they could not just focus on school. So we were able to withdraw them with no penalty from that semester, so it didn’t impact their academic progress.”

Dooley is not the only one at UAA capable of supporting and even potentially intervening in an abusive relationship. Kate Fitzgerald, Health Promotions Specialist at UAA Student Health and Counseling Center, and Betty Bang, family nurse practitioner, both work on bystander intervention at UAA.

“’Bringing in the Bystander’ is what it’s called,” Fitzgerald said. “Betty [Bang] got a grant from the state, the money is from the CDC, and then the state distributes it. It’s for rape prevention education. We’ve been doing it for over a year now. Last year was our first year of doing presentations.”

In just a year and a half, Bang and Fitzgerald have conducted 433 presentations with 183 participants to teach them how to recognize and intervene in violent situations.

“We all have the power to intervene,” Bang said. “It could be as simple as calling 911. I think the biggest thing is recognizing there is a problem. Research has shown that people are more likely to respond by helping if someone asks them for help or if they’ve seen someone else do a positive bystander intervention. And that’s why we do this class.”

In their class, Bang, Fitzgerald and peer health educators teach students the three D’s of how to intervene in an abusive situation.

“We teach people the three D’s: direct action, delegation, and distraction,” Fitzgerald said. “Direct action is, you hear something happening, you directly go in, as long as you feel safe and comfortable doing so. Directly intervening, talking to the people like, ‘Hey what’s going on here? Is there any way I can help?’ Delegation is like calling the police…Then distraction is kind of like a funny one, but it still works. It’s just like whatever you can think of to diffuse the situation. So if you hear something happening next door, like a domestic dispute, ringing the doorbell and running away, or something like that.”

October may be coming to a close, but the societal problem with domestic abuse still has a long way to go before its own sunset.

“Alaska itself has the highest rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in the country,” Fitzgerald said. “Like, 1 in 2 women will experience sexual assault or domestic violence or both in their lifetime in Alaska. Pretty crazy statistics. It’s not just a UAA problem, it’s a world problem, and Alaska, in general, is pretty bad.”

Domestic violence may be prevalent, but there are multiple ways to combat it. Watching for signs of an abusive relationship, being an active bystander and practicing the three D’s are ways to target and stop abusive relationships.