Recognizing Abuse

College provides an environment for many students to explore intimate relationships with casual partners or serious relationships. In the confines of these relationships, however, inexperienced partners may not have the tools and experience needed to identify troubling behaviors. The earliest expressions of abuse aren’t always physical. Controlling habits can begin with manipulative comments or angry outbursts either in-person or over phone, text or social media.

Healthy relationships are based on the following to create a nurturing and loving environment:

Mutual Respect

Listening non-judgmentally

Valuing each other's opinions

Separate Identities

Having friends outside the relationship

Exploring your individual identities

Trust and Support

Respecting each other's personal space and time

Overcoming issues of jealousy and resentment

Good Communication

Being honest with your feelings to yourself and your partner

Communicating openly and truthfully


Accepting responsibility for yourself


Forgiving past mistakes

Admitting your own mistakes and apologizing

Fairness and Equality

Being willing to compromise Seeking goals that satisfy both partners

Fighting Fair

Listening to each other

Not assuming things

Not criticizing each other

Unhealthy or abusive relationships often use the following to gain power and control:


Controlling where you go and who you see

Making you believe they are the only one who cares about you

Limiting activities outside the relationship


Making threats to hurt you, family, friends, belongings, or pets

Threatening to leave or commit suicide


Making you afraid to use certain looks, actions or gestures

Destroying property, abusing pets, displaying weapons

Forcible Sex

Manipulating or making threats in order to get sex Getting you drunk or drugging you to get sex

Physical and/or Emotional Abuse

Hitting, pushing, slapping or kicking you

Putting you down

Playing mind games

Making you feel guilty

Minimizing and Denying

Being unwilling to take responsibility for the abuse Making light of the abuse Blaming the abuse on you

Tables adapted from Teen Relationship Equality Wheel and Teen Power and Control Wheel from the Centralized Training Institute, Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, 2009. *Source: Schwartz, Jonathan P., Linda D. Griffin, Melani M. Russell, and Sarannette Frontaura-Duck. (2006). Prevention of Dating Violence on College Campuses: An Innovative Program. Journal of College Counseling (pp. 90-96)

It is extremely important for young adults to be able to recognize warning signs of a problematic relationship, before an abusive situation escalates. The most common indicators of high-risk emotional or physical abuse are below:

Emotional Abuse

  • Tone: Seemingly harmless statements can transform into threats or insults if your partner uses a disparaging or aggressive tone.
  • Language choice: A partner blames you for things or uses coarse language, such as swear words, while speaking to you.
  • Jealousy: Your partner seems suspicious of your interactions with other people. Your partner attempts to control your interactions, isolate you, or monitor your communications with others.
  • Controlling statements: Your partner issues commands or often says you “must” or “have to” do something.
  • Pejorative language: Your partner addresses or describes you with insulting names or adjectives, such as “stupid” or “idiotic.”
  • Threats: Your partner attempts to control you with “or else” statements or negative consequences if you don’t comply with their wishes. Your partner might threaten you with physical, emotional, or verbal abuse.

 Physical Abuse

  • Violence: Your partner uses unwanted and forceful contact. This can include anything from wrist grabs to strikes against your body.
  • Threatening body language: Your partner uses forceful movements, such as lunging toward you, glaring at your, or aggressively invading your personal space.
  • Damaging property: Your partner has lost their temper and damaged items around the house, such as smashing dishes.
  • Violence during sex: Your partner is extremely forceful or even violent during sex.

Getting Help for Abusive Relationships

If you’ve identified that your partner exhibits the controlling or aggressive behaviors listed above and you are too afraid to bring these issues up safely within your relationship, it’s time to get help. Victims often realize the dangers of their situation after it’s too late; the dynamic between the abuser and abused is strategically created to discourage the victims to acknowledge or address the problem.

Intimate partner abuse and violence is never okay. It is more common than you may think and it is wholly within your power and your rights to get out safely.

  • Contact a support line: If you’re unsure how to get away from an abusive partner, contact a support hotline for assistance. Love Is Respect and the National Domestic Abuse Hotline both provide 24/7 phone assistance.
  • Contact a support line: If you’re unsure how to get away from an abusive partner, contact a support hotline for assistance. Love Is Respect and the National Domestic Abuse Hotline both provide 24/7 phone assistance.
  • Try not to blame yourself: Self-blame is extremely common in abusive relationships. It can be easy to feel trapped in your situation. However, your partner’s abusive actions are absolutely not your fault or a sign of weakness on your part. Keep this in mind as you seek help.
  • List safe places: Know where you can go in case you need to get away from an abusive partner. This might include a campus counseling center, a trusted friends’ dorm room, a survivors’ shelter, or a residence hall staff office.
  • Document hostile communications: It can be emotionally painful to save threatening messages that your partner sends. However, voice messages, emails, IMs, and other hostile communications can be immensely useful to demonstrate a history of assault when you speak with counselors or authorities.
  • Get counseling: Virtually all college campuses have on-site counselors who are trained to help with relationship assault and domestic violence. If you can’t find a way to contact a campus counselor directly, ask a residence advisor, professor, or academic advisor to help you explore these resources.
  • Call the police: If you are being threatened with assault, attempt to reach a safe place and call the police immediately.

Risk Reduction of Sexual Assault

While you can never completely protect yourself from someone who may wish to do you harm, here are a few tips, so that you can better protect yourself or someone that you care about. There are a number of ways to both reduce your chances of becoming a victim. For instance, a report by the National Institute of Justice reveals that self-protection actions such as weaponless attacking, running, hiding, getting help, or struggling seem to decrease the risk of rape completion by 80%. Many colleges offer personal development courses in basic self-defense. If you can’t find one on campus, explore your local Y, nearby gyms, and dedicated martial arts studios to learn about their training options.

  • Know your alcohol limits: Over half of sexual assaults committed against college students involve alcohol, according to researchers at Wayne State University. Intoxication can make you significantly more vulnerable to assaults by impairing your judgment or inhibiting your physical ability to fight off an attacker. Binge drinkers are at a particularly high-risk of suffering incapacitation, blackout or unconsciousness.
  • Watch your drinks: Take your drink to the restroom with you. Never drink a beverage that has been given to you by someone else or taken from a communal alcohol source (like a punch bowl).
  • Trust your gut: How many times do you wish you would’ve listened to your first mind? If you get a bad feeling about a location or a person, leave immediately. We often subconsciously process body language and other danger indicators without realizing it. If something feels very wrong or you feel pursued, head in the direction of the nearest crowd, lighted area or building. Start talking loudly on your phone. Many attackers are unwilling to pursue victims who are aggressive or loud, which draws attention to the crime.
  • Stick with your friends: Attend social gatherings with a group of friends that you trust. Look out for each other and help each other arrive home safely. If you do go out alone, always tell someone where you are going and avoid walking in unlit or untrafficked parts of town or campus.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. If you have a cell phone or an Ipod, try to avoid having both earphones in your ears. If you don’t know where you are going, walk with confidence anyway, and avoid walking and texting.
  • Go to social gatherings with a friend. If you arrive with your friend, don’t leave without your friend. Stay loyal to the friends you went to a party with. If your friend gets too intoxicated to stay at the party, take them home. Leave no one behind.
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended. An old school trick to keep your drink safe, was to place a napkin over your cup, to help alert you if someone is trying to place something in your drink. If you walk away from your drink for any reason, just get a new one.
  • Think before sending/posting that risque picture. It may seem like a good idea at the time, but if you have a sexy picture to show someone, unless you trust them completely, just offer to show them in person instead of sending it or posting it online.
  • Don’t be careless about your location on the internet. Using the ‘check in’ option on applications such as Facebook, to let others know where you are, can also give someone vital information about your home. Not only is it saying that your residence might be free to invade, but an attacker could be waiting for you to make your grand re-entrance back home. Feel free to post your whereabouts after the event is already over.
  • Let someone know that you’re coming or going. Give a quick call ahead to let someone know that you’re on the way or to let them you know that you arrived safely at your destination. 

During/Bystander Intervention

Active bystander intervention discourages attitudes and behaviors that support sexual assault and other harmful behavior. When you witness a potential sexual assault or other behavior that promotes a culture of violence, don’t assume someone else will help or that it’s none of your business; speak up, step in and seek help. 

The most important element in bystander intervention is getting involved. Never assume that just because other people saw or heard what was happening that someone else intervened to help. In crowds, diffusion of responsibility, in other words assuming someone else will do something, usually means that no one does anything. If you don't do something, maybe no one will. 

Often times the fear of embarrassment, of making someone angry, or of losing a friend may cause you to hesitate. By taking action you are supporting a culture of respect and responsibility. Most people who have found themselves in the role of an active bystander are glad they stepped in to prevent violence. The person you watch out for today may be the person who watches out for you tomorrow. 

So, if you witness these behaviors, there are certain ways you can intervene and prevent a risky situation from getting worse:   In order to intervene, first someone has to:

  1. Notice the incident
    Bystanders first must notice the incident taking place. It's important to become attune to what situations may be risky; i.e., if you're at a party, and you see someone stumbling as they're being led into a different room, this is a risky situation.
  2. Interpret the incident as emergency
    By “emergency,” we mean a situation wherein there is risk of sexual or domestic violence occurring in the near future.
  3. Assume responsibility for intervening
    It has been found that often, people believe that someone else will help in a situation where there are many people around. However, it is important to realize that others may also be thinking the same thing. If you're unsure if you should do something, ask a friend what they think -- it might be the case that they've been thinking the same thing.
  4. Have the bystander intervention skills to help
    There are a number of different techniques that someone can use to intervene in a risky situation, some of which we've listed the following Bystander Intervention Techniques (the 4 Ds) below:

    Assess the situation and make your safety and the well-being of others a priority. When a situation that threatens physical harm to yourself or another student, ask someone for help or contact your campus police department. However, if after you have assessed the situation, you recognize a problem, and feel that you can intervene without putting yourself in danger, you should step in to prevent the harassment or violence from occurring. The goal of intervening is to prevent violence without causing further threat or harm. Contact the police if the situation escalates or if anyone is in imminent danger. 
    • Direct: Step in and address the situation directly. If you hear degrading or abusive language, say that the behavior is unacceptable and disrespectful. If you hear degrading or abusive language, say that the behavior is unacceptable and disrespectful. If you hear someone planning to take sexual advantage of another person, tell them the behavior is illegal. This might look like saying, "That's not cool. Please stop.” or “Hey, leave them alone.” If you hear someone planning to take sexual advantage of another person, tell them the behavior is illegal. This technique tends to work better when the person that you're trying to stop is someone that knows and trusts you. It does not work well when drugs or alcohol are being used because someone’s ability to have a conversation with you about what is going on may be impaired, and they are more likely to become defensive. If you hear derogatory jokes, don’t laugh, and say that the language is wrong and offensive. Also, you could directly intervene by checking in on a person you see being harassed to let them know they’re not alone. Ask “are you ok?” or “do you need help?”
    • Distract: Distract either person in the situation to intervene. This technique is especially useful when drugs or alcohol are being used because people under the influence are more easily distracted then those that are sober.
    • If you decide to distract the potential perpetrator to safely remove the other individual from the situation, you could:
      • Interrupt and change the topic of conversation. This might look like saying:
      • “Hey, aren't you in my Spanish class?”
      • “Who wants to go get pizza?”
      • “What time is it?”
      • “How do you back to campus from here?”
    • Lie if you have to:
      • “Someone is looking for you outside.”
      • “I lost my phone, can I borrow yours?”
      • If a friend is being targeted, call their cell phone to give them an out. This might look like saying, “Hey, aren't you in my Spanish class?” or “Who wants to go get pizza?”
    • Delegate: Find others who can help you to intervene in the situation. This might look like asking a friend to distract one person in the situation while you distract the other (“splitting” or “defensive split”), asking someone to go sit with them and talk, or going and starting a dance party right in the middle of their conversation. If you didn't know either person in the situation, you could also ask around to see if someone else does and check in with them. See if they can go talk to their friend, text their friend to check in, or intervene. If you can’t help, tell someone who can, such as another friend or an RA. Contact the police if the situation escalates or if anyone is in imminent danger.
    • Delay: For many reasons, you may not be able to do something right in the moment. For example, if you're feeling unsafe or if you're unsure whether or not someone in the situation is feeling unsafe, you may just want to check in with the person. In this case, you can combine a distraction technique by asking the person to use the bathroom with you or go get a drink with you to separate them from the person that they are talking with. Then, this might look like asking them, "Are you okay?" or "How can I help you get out of this situation?" This could also look like texting the person, either in the situation or after you see them leave and asking, "Are you okay?" or "Do you need help?" 

Immediately After

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you may find the following information helpful:

  • First, remember that what happened is not your fault. You did not cause the assault, and no matter what happened, you did not deserve it.
  • Get to a safe place. Get away from your assailant to a location where you can call for help. Ideally, find a secure place where you aren’t alone. This can include a campus health center, or the home of a nearby friend or family member.
  • Consider contacting the authorities. Call 911 to report the incident right away. Provide the dispatcher with the time, place, and description of your assailant. Wait for the police to arrive so that they can collect your statement. If you do decide to call the police, please consider the following:
  • Get medical attention. Even if you don't want to file a police report, consider receiving medical attention at a doctor’s office, urgent care clinic or a hospital as soon as possible. Doctors and/or a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner will help ensure that you are healthy, provide options to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, and collect valuable evidence that may be useful in the future, even if you are unsure about pursuing legal action now. Physical evidence can only be collected for a short period of time after an assault, but in many cases, a survivor has ten years to decide whether to pursue a criminal case (or ten years after one’s 18th birthday if the assault took place prior to the survivor turning 18).
  • Consider contacting the Title IX Coordinator for your campus. The Title IX coordinator can provide you with resources and various options that are available to you.
  • Try not to change anything at the location where the assault occurred.
  • Remember that eating or drinking, showering, brushing your teeth, going to the bathroom, and changing or altering your clothes could destroy physical evidence that may be helpful if you later decide to pursue legal action.


If you are a victim of abuse or sexual assault, you may find the following information regarding ongoing care helpful:

  • Make safe arrangements: If you live with an abusive partner, make arrangements with your dorm staff, a safe home, or friends to relocate to a new residence. To prevent future incidents, do not let your assailant know where you will be living.
  • Seek counseling: Contact your campus health service office and inform them you need a crisis counselor who specializes in sexual assault. You can also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE to speak with a counselor over the phone immediately.
  • File a civil protection order (CPO): If you know the identity of your assailant, you can pursue a protection order, also known as a restraining order. A court can order your attacker to stay away from you and not communicate with you. An assailant who violates a CPO can face criminal charges. The American Bar Association has put together a resource regarding Sexual Assault CPO procedures for all 50 states.

If you are a friend of a victim of sexual assault, you may find the following information regarding ongoing care helpful in your support of them

  • Many victims blame themselves for an attack. Inform the victim that the sexual assault was not their fault.
  • Be a supportive listener. Thank the victim for telling you about this. Avoid phrases that evoke powerlessness at first, including “I’m sorry.”
  • If you saw the attacker or witnessed any part of the assault, take detailed notes regarding the incident.
  • Accompany the victim to the hospital and ensure they meet with medical professionals who specialize in sexual assault trauma.
  • Follow up with the victim. Encourage participation in counseling sessions and support groups.
  • Watch the survivor’s emotional and physical status. According to The White House Council on Women and Girls, victims of sexual assault or rape are at higher risk for mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, eating disorders, or suicidal ideations. 

Reprinted and adapted from Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus - Best Colleges, 2014-10-07

Interim Measures

Where appropriate, UHS will implement interim measures on its own initiative or in response to a request from a complainant (the alleged victim of sexual misconduct) or respondent (the alleged perpetrator of sexual misconduct).

Interim measures for students may include, but are not limited to:

  • access to on-campus counseling services and assistance in setting up an initial appointment;
  • “no-contact directives” (also known as stay away orders or directives to desist) issued by the campus Title IX Coordinator;
  • rescheduling of exams and assignments;
  • providing alternative course completion options;
  • changing class schedules, including the ability to transfer course sections or withdraw from a course without penalty;
  • changing work schedules, job assignments, or job locations for University employment;
  • changing residence hall assignments;
  • providing an escort to ensure safe movement between classes and activities;
  • providing academic support services, such as tutoring;
  • limiting or barring an individual’s or organization’s access to certain UHS-owned facilities or activities;
  • interim residential expulsion of the respondent;
  • interim suspension of the respondent;
  • student-requested leaves of absence.

Interim measures for faculty and staff may include, but are not limited to:

  • access to on-campus counseling services and assistance in setting up an initial appointment;
  • changing work schedules, job assignments, or job locations;
  • limiting or barring an individual’s or organization’s access to certain UHS-owned facilities or activities;
  • providing an escort to ensure safe movement on campus;
  • administrative leave;
  • UHS-imposed leave or physical separation from individuals or locations

Find your title IX coordinator