How UA and Tuscaloosa organizations combat relationship abuse

Madison Duboise, Contributing Writer

The most recent UA Campus Security and Fire Safety Report shows there were 60 reports of on-campus dating violence from 2018 to 2020.

Domestic violence and intimate relationship abuse are present in all relationships, not just romantic ones. Psychological and physical are the two main types, and many forms of abuse fall under each category. 

“Interpersonal violence is a huge deal. It can be physical, it can be sexual, it can be stalking, or it can be psychological. Most of the time, it’s a combination of those things. It starts out usually during the teenage years with teen dating violence, and it’s just rampant,” said Brenda Maddox, the director of the Tuscaloosa SAFE Center, a 24/7 crisis center that supports survivors of sexual assault. 

The center serves nine counties in West Alabama and strives to meet the emotional, medical and forensic needs of sexual assault survivors. 

At a college level the most common form of domestic violence is dating abuse, but students may also face familial abuse.

“It is really a given in our society. Kids learn it from their parents, and their parents learned it from their parents,” Maddox said. “It has gotten to the point where it’s a $3.6 trillion industry, thinking about the health care associated with all the damage that’s done through interpersonal violence. It costs $3.6 trillion to combat that.”

Relationship abuse can involve the pressuring or forcing of sexual activities, physical violence, gaslighting, isolation, intimidation and a number of other tactics abusers use to gain control.

This allows abusers to establish power over their partners. Victims often feel that they can’t leave intimate abusive relationships for fear of experiencing more violence or because reporting these actions could cause them to lose the stability they find in the relationship, including money, a place to live, and friends and family. 

Without education on the red flags of relationship abuse, many dismiss these actions as normal behaviors excused by trauma. College students especially are urged to learn about and watch for signs of abuse.

Warning signs of psychological abuse include abusers isolating victims from family or friends, acting jealous or possessive, monitoring and controlling aspects of the victim’s life, humiliating or insulting the victim, threatening the victim, and otherwise causing fear or intimidation. 

Warning signs of physical abuse can be abandonment, damaging property or items, touching the victim in any harmful manner, physical force in sexual situations, and anything physical that aims to cause pain for a victim. 

“I have been in relationships where I have seen these warning signs for abuse,” sophomore Hannah Grier said. “I am thankful that the University has a lot of resources for students that find themselves in these scary situations.”

Grier said she’s seen the way that abuse, especially psychological abuse, can be overlooked by victims, friends and family.

“There were times that I realized after I left a relationship, I finally saw a lot of red flags that I definitely should have addressed while I was still dating that person. I think we all overlook things about our partners because we love them, and we don’t want to think they have those bad intentions,” Grier said. 

Victims hesitate to report abuse for a number of reasons. Certain types of psychological abuse do not correspond to punishable offenses. Harassment and stalking are classified as emotional abuse and have legal consequences. However, in most states emotional abuse is not classified as criminal according to law enforcement.  

Victim blaming is used by abusers to make victims think it is their fault they are being abused.  

“Having a safe community at UA, getting rid of victim blaming and teaching people how to be supportive of victims is so important,” said Anna Russell, a peer education coordinator at The University of Alabama’s Women and Gender Resource Center. “Society can naturally victim blame; people don’t realize that these victims are real people. Victims are already going through a lot. We should be explaining to others how complex it really can be, removing that victim blaming.”

The Women and Gender Resource Center covers issues involving gender inequity and supports communities of all identities. The center offers counseling services involving emotional support and crisis counseling. 

2nd Chance, Inc. is a safe center for victims of domestic violence that serves multiple counties in North Alabama. It offers services including emergency shelter, forensic exam support, court and legal advocacy, and even assistance with pets for those in abusive situations to find help and get away from their abusers. 

“Ideally, we want to work to put ourselves out of business. Until that happens, we are providing safe shelter and supportive services to empower survivors,” said Susan Shipman, 2nd Chance’s executive director. “We want to help them find tools for their recovery with intervening in the crimes of domestic and sexual violence.”

In severe circumstances, abusers will lash out and punish victims if they reach out to others for help. Tactics like removing the victim from the abuser to talk, listening to a victim or possible victim, and supporting their decision even if that is not the one you want for them are necessary steps.

“A lot of people question, ‘Why do you stay?’ just because they haven’t been in their shoes and they don’t understand,” said Jessica Wilson, a University of Alabama Police Department investigator. “Just remember that, and regardless of whether you understand or agree with the situation, show some empathy and care and concern in that situation. It doesn’t matter whether you understand it or not, you are there as a support system for them at that moment.”

Education is key for these organizations’ efforts to help others recognize and address red flags when it comes to relationship abuse. 

“I think we’re at the age where implementing that and learning how to do those things will make a difference, which will make a difference in our world and continue to make a difference in our adult lives,” Russell said. “I feel if we can teach people what a healthy relationship is, as they enter them it could change the world for the better.”