Dating Violence

What is abuse?

Emotional abuse
This type of abuse is also referred to as psychological abuse. It is often the form of abuse that is most difficult for people who have never been abused to understand. When taken out of context, emotional abuse may look "normal." For example, joking about a mistake someone has made can be a normal part of a relationship. However, when it is part of ongoing insults, criticism and put-downs, it reinforces a victim's feelings of worthlessness and it is abusive. Other examples of emotional abuse include:

  • isolating the victim
  • tracking everything the victim does
  • threatening to "out" the victim
  • threatening to turn friends against the victim
  • threatening suicide
  • withholding emotion
  • blaming the victim for everything
  • keeping someone from studying or doing things they enjoy

People who have been abused consistently say that emotional abuse is the most difficult form of abuse to recover from. Bruises and broken bones can heal, but recovering from feeling worthless is a much harder process.

Economic abuse
Money is a difficult thing to negotiate in a healthy relationship. When someone is abusive, money becomes a way to control the victim. At Brown, students may feel pressure to spend money that they don't have in order to fit in, and an abuser may manipulate that pressure. Economic abuse can include:

  • using the victim's credit cards or meal plan
  • ruining someone's credit
  • paying for things the victim needs and using that to manipulate the victim
  • making someone feel guilty about their financial status
  • stealing money
  • not paying bills

Sexual abuse
The most obvious form of sexual abuse involves forcing someone to have sex. More subtle forms include:

  • pressuring someone to have sex or to engage in sexual activities
  • manipulating someone into having sex, through false promises, emotional pleas or alcohol and other drugs
  • not allowing the victim to use birth control or protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections
  • forcing a woman to have an abortion -- or not allowing her to have an abortion
  • forcing someone to watch pornography
  • forcing someone to act out pornography

Sexual abuse in an intimate relationship can be very confusing. Because the victim has consented to be with this person sexually, they may feel that they have to agree to everything their partner wants. In a healthy relationship, a person's sexual boundaries are always respected.

Physical abuse
Physical abuse can include:

  • hitting or slapping
  • pushing, grabbing or choking
  • restraining the victim
  • burning the victim
  • hurting pets
  • damaging the victim's property
  • using weapons

In many abusive relationships, physical abuse is not very frequent. However, once someone has been physically abusive, the threat of it happening again can be a powerful way to control the victim.

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What is the legal definition of domestic violence?

The legal definition of domestic violence is more limited than the definition above. All types of abuse are very real; however, some forms, such as emotional abuse, can be very difficult to prosecute in a court of law. The legal definition is provided so that you can understand the parameters of the criminal justice system as it relates to dating violence.

Rhode Island General Statutes define domestic violence as any of the following crimes when committed by one family member or household member against another or by people who are in a substantive dating relationship.

  • physical assault
  • sexual assault
  • trespass
  • kidnapping
  • vandalism
  • stalking
  • violation of a protective order
  • homicide

For more information on RI laws, click here.  

What are warning signs of an abusive person?

This is a list of behaviors that are seen in people who abuse their partners. The first 4 behaviors (past abuse, threats of violence, breaking objects and any force during an argument) are almost always seen in an abusive person. If someone exhibits more than 3 of any of these warning signs, there is a strong potential for abuse in the relationship. An abuser may exhibit only a few of these behaviors, but they may be quite exaggerated.

Past Abuse
An abuser may say, "I hit someone in the past, but she made me do it." An abusive person who minimizes what happened with a previous partner is likely to be violent with their current partner. Abusive behavior does not just go away; long-term counseling and a sincere desire to change are necessary.

Threats of Violence or Abuse
Threats can involve anything that is meant to control the victim. For example, "I'll tell your parents about your drug use if you don't do what I want." Healthy relationships do not involve threats, but an abusive person will try to excuse this behavior by saying that "everybody talks like that."

Breaking Objects
An abuser may break things, beat on tables or walls or throw objects around or near the victim. This behavior terrorizes the victim and can send the message that physical abuse is the next step.

Any Force During an Argument
An abuser may use force during arguments, including holding the victim down, physically restraining the victim from leaving the room, and pushing and shoving. For example, an abuser may hold a victim against the wall and say, "You're going to listen to me."

Jealousy
An abuser will say that jealousy is a sign of love. In reality, jealousy has nothing to do with love. It is a sign of insecurity and possessiveness. An abuser may question the victim about who they talk to or be jealous of time spent with other people. As the jealousy progresses, the abuser will call the victim frequently, stop by unexpectedly or monitor the victim's activities.

Controlling Behavior
An abuser will claim that controlling behavior is out of concern for the victim's welfare. They will be angry if the victim is late and will frequently interrogate the victim. As this behavior gets worse, the abuser will control the victim's appearance and activities.

Quick Involvement
An abuser will often pressure someone to make a commitment after a very short amount of time. The abuser comes on quickly, claiming "love at first sight," and will tell the victim flattering things such as "You're the only person I could ever love."

Unrealistic Expectations
The abuser is dependent on the victim for everything and expects perfection. The victim is expected to take care of everything for the abuser, particularly all emotional support. The abuser will say things like, "You're the only person I need in my life."

Isolation
The abuser will attempt to diminish and destroy the victim's support system. If a female victim has male friends, she is accused of being a "whore." If she has female friends, she is accused of being a "lesbian." If she is close to her family, she is accused of being "tied to the apron strings." The abuser will accuse people who are close to the victim of "causing trouble."

Blames Others for Problems
Abusers will rarely admit to the part they play in causing a problem. S/he will blame the victim for almost anything that goes wrong.

Blames Others for Their Feelings
An abuser will tell the victim, "I hurt you because you made me mad, " or "You're hurting me when you don't do what I ask." Blaming the victim is a way of manipulating them and avoiding any responsibility.

Hypersensitivity
An abuser can be easily insulted. The slightest setbacks are seen as personal attacks. An abuser will rage about the everyday difficulties of life as if they are injustices -- such as getting a traffic ticket or not doing well on an exam.

Cruelty to Animals or Children
An abuser may brutally punish animals or be insensitive to their pain or suffering. Pets can be used to control the victim or to emotionally abuse them.

"Playful" Use of Force During Sex
The abuser may like to hold the victim down during sex. They may want to act out sexual fantasies in which the victim is helpless. An abuser may show little concern about whether the victim wants to have sex and use sulking or anger to manipulate the victim into compliance. They may demand sex or start having sex with the victim when they are sleeping or very intoxicated.

Rigid Sex Roles
Male abusers often expect women to serve and obey them. They view women as inferior to men and believe that a woman is not a whole person without a relationship with a man.

Jekyll-and-Hyde Personality
Explosiveness and mood swings are typical of abusers, and these behaviors are related to other traits such as hypersensitivity. This is not always a sign of mental health problems but may be a way of controlling the victim by being unpredictable.

Adapted from Wilson, K.J. When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse. Alameda, CA: Hunter House Publishers, 1997.

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What should I do if I'm being abused?

It's important to know that violence/abuse is not likely to stop on its own -- episodes of violence usually become more frequent and more severe.

  • Talk to someone you trust. It is important to break the silence.
  • If you decide to leave the relationship, develop a safety plan. A safety plan can include asking a trusted friend for help, choosing a safe place to stay, and collecting money, emergency phone numbers and a bag of clothes so you can leave quickly.
  • Seek help from one of the resources at the end of this page.

What can someone do if they are being abusive?

  • Stop using abuse of any form (physical, sexual, economic or emotional), including threats and intimidation.
  • Accept responsibility for your behavior. Remember that the use of violence is a choice and you can choose to change that behavior.
  • Do not make excuses for your violence or blame your partner for your abusive behavior.
  • Seek professional help from a qualified counselor who is knowledgeable about partner abuse.
  • Alcohol, drug use or mental health problems may make abusive situations worse but they are not excuses for abusive behavior.

Click here for help with alcohol or drug problems and here for information on Counseling and Psychological Services for Brown students.

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How do I help a friend who's in an abusive relationship?

  • If you see someone being physically abused, call 911 immediately.
  • In many cases, the first step to safety is the knowledge that the victim is not alone and that they are not crazy. It may help your friend to know that many people experience abuse and that there are resources to get help.
  • Be supportive and respectful. Make clear statements about your friend's value and rights as a person, such as "No one deserves to be abused."
  • Don't criticize the abuser. A victim often has conflicting feelings about the abusive partner. If you're critical of the abuser, the victim may become defensive or may shut down. Instead, you can talk about behaviors that are negative by saying something like, "I'm really concerned about how your partner treats you. Nobody has the right to put someone else down."
  • Find out about the resources that are available.
  • Learn as much as you can about dating abuse.
  • Encourage your friend to make a safety plan if they have decided to leave the relationship. Your part in a safety plan can include walking home together, checking in at certain times of the day, and having a code word your friend can use if they need immediate help.
  • Do not confront the abuser. This can result in an escalation of violence against the victim.
  • Do not slip a hotline card or any other information about abuse into someone's bag or under a door. This can also escalate the violence against the victim.
  • Do not send a voicemail message or an email message about the abuse to your friend. You do not know if the abuser is monitoring the phone or the computer.
  • Be careful for yourself. Let your friend know what you are comfortable doing and what your boundaries are. You can also get support for yourself from the resources below.

Dating Violence Resources

Counseling and Psychological Services 401.863-3476
Clinicians provide confidential crisis support, follow-up appointments, and 24-hour on-call services for any Brown student dealing with violence in a relationship. The on-call counselor is also available to accompany a victim to the hospital.

Office of Student Life/Dean-on-Call 401.863-3800
Provides a crisis response system which includes deans-on-call.

Brown Department of Public Safety 401.863-4111 (emergency response)
Emergency response available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You may also direct any complaints to Public Safety's administrative number, 863-3322.

DPS Special Victim’s Unit, Michelle Nuey, 401.863-2542 (non-emergency response)
This unit provides information and support concerning University and Providence Police reporting options.  Confidential services include safety planning, victim advocacy, court accompaniment and assistance with obtaining restraining orders.

Brown Emergency Medical Services (EMS) 401.863-4111
Emergency response available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Sexual Assault Response Line 401.863-6000
Available through Psychological Services' on-call system. Confidential crisis support and information is available for any Brown student dealing with sexual assault. The on-call counselor is also available to accompany a victim to the hospital.

Coordinator of Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy
Bita Shooshani, 401.863-2794, bita@brown.edu, 3rd floor of Health Services
Bita is available to help students affected by sexual violence and abuse in a relationship. Confidential services include support for a survivor or the friends of a survivor, help exploring options to address the incident (such as filing a complaint, if that is the student's choice) and educational programs for the student community. When you speak to Bita, you do not have to pursue any specific course of action and no action will be taken unless it’s something you choose.

Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-494-8100
If you or someone you know needs help because of a sexual assault or an abusive relationship, call this hotline 24 hours a day. Counselor-advocates provide confidential support and are available to accompany victims of sexual assault to the hospital and police station. Ongoing counseling and support groups are available. (This hotline is specific to Rhode Island. Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE if you need help in another state.)

Temporary Restraining Order Office 401-458-3372
At this office an advocate can inform you about and assist you with obtaining a temporary restraining order.

The Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project 1-800-832-1901
This grassroots, non-profit organization provides community education and direct services for clients. GMDVP offers shelter, guidance and resources to allow gay, bisexual and transgender men in crisis to leave violent situations and relationships. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Network/La Red
617-423-SAFE (Hotline in English and Spanish)
This program offers free services in English and Spanish for lesbians, bisexual women and transgender people who are victims of battering. These services include a hotline, emergency shelter and advocacy programs. Located in Boston, Massachusetts.

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) TTY: 1-800-787-3224
The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides anonymous crisis intervention, information about domestic violence and referrals to local services. The hotline advocates can answer calls in English and Spanish and have access to translators in 139 languages.

RI Gay & Lesbian Helpline 401.751-3322
Available Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7pm to 10 pm.

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Links you can use

Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence
This site has information on local domestic violence agencies, creating a safety plan, the dynamics of dating violence and local events and media campaigns.

Sojourner House
24-Hour Helpline 401.765-3232
A local advocacy and resource center for domestic violence victims in Providence founded by Brown University students. They provide services and education on issues related to domestic violence including teen violence, HIV/AIDS prevention, elder abuse, and LGBTQ partner abuse.

The Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project
This project is a grassroots, nonprofit organization providing community education and direct services for clients. GMDVP offers shelter, guidance, and resources to allow gay, bisexual, and transgender men in crisis to leave violent situations and relationships.

The Network/La Red
617-423-SAFE (Hotline in English and Spanish)
This program offers free services in English and Spanish for lesbians, bisexual women and transgender people who are victims of battering. These services include a hotline, emergency shelter and advocacy programs. Located in Boston, Massachusetts.

Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community
The Institute provides an interdisciplinary forum for research and dialogue on family violence in the African American community. The site includes a newsletter, bibliography, events and related links.

Men Stopping Violence
MSV is a social change organization dedicated to ending men's violence against women. This program offers trainings and resources that examine sexist belief systems, social structures, and institutional practices that oppress women and children and dehumanize men themselves. On this site you can find articles on why men batter, information on how to work towards ending violence against women, and information on MSV training dates and resource materials.

Futures Without Violence
Futures Without Violence is a national nonprofit organization that advocates for laws to help battered women, educates judges and provides training and support to employers and health care providers. The Get the Facts section has several different topics, including teen dating violence, immigration issues, the military and domestic violence and emerging issues.

Centro de justicia para mujeres/ Women's Justice Center
This bilingual website has a section called Help for Victims with advice on how to help a friend, how to leave an abusive relationship and information for immigrant women.

US Department of Justice
The Department of Justice publishes numerous research studies on domestic violence and sexual assault. This site also provides resources for victims of different kinds of crime, information on stalking and cyberstalking and resources for parents.

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Disclaimer: BWell Health Promiotion is part of Health Services at Brown University. Health Promotion maintains this site as a resource for Brown students. This site is not intended to replace consultation with your medical providers. No site can replace real conversation. Health Promotion offers no endorsement of and assumes no liability for the currency, accuracy, or availability of the information on the sites we link to or the care provided by the resources listed. Health Services staff are available to treat and give medical advice to Brown University students only. If you are not a Brown student, but are in need of medical assistance please call your own health care provider or in case of an emergency, dial 911. Please contact us if you have comments, questions or suggestions.