When relationships turn violent

Violence can and does happen in relationships more often than one thinks

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. It’s a holiday for lovers. A day filled with passion, promise and presents. A special day when people express their love. But what happens when that “love” turns violent?

Unfortunately, sexual violence within a relationship is a real thing. One way to avoid it from happening to you is to educate yourself.

What is sexual violence?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall definition of sexual violence is defined as, “A sexual act that is committed or attempted by another person without freely given consent of the victim or against someone who is unable to consent or refuse.”

It includes:

  • forced or alcohol/drug facilitated penetration of a victim
  • forced or alcohol/drug facilitated incidents in which the victim was made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
  • nonphysical, pressured unwanted penetration
  • intentional sexual touching; or non-contact acts of a sexual nature

Sexual violence can also occur when a perpetrator forces or coerces a victim to engage in sexual acts with a third party.

Other examples of sexual violence could include the use of false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce sex acts. Nonconsensual electronic sharing of explicit images or exposure of genitals and surreptitious viewing of others naked or during sex are more examples.

The CDC’s data shows that more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. In terms of completed or attempted rape alone, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 38 men have experienced completed or attempted rape.

Sexual violence most often is perpetrated by someone a survivor knows, this includes intimate partner relationships, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

Experiences from a student within the NDSU community

“It starts with being aware of what is okay in a relationship and what isn’t,” said the anonymous student. “Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you should put up with things that you wouldn’t otherwise. Something I personally use to gauge this is to think to myself ‘If I wasn’t with this person, would I be okay with this?’”

The student says that sex education in their early years, especially in sexual abuse, wasn’t emphasized as much as it should’ve been. If their partner had been educated on what the forms of sexual violence were, there is a possibility they wouldn’t have had to experience the trauma that still lingers today.

“At the time, I didn’t understand that the things that were happening to me weren’t okay until after I was out of the abusive relationship and I was finally able to feel those feelings when I wasn’t in love with that person anymore,” the anonymous student said.

From their experience — insistent pressure, abusive comments and reputational threats from their partner — led to multiple occasions where they did not feel comfortable engaging in sexual activity, but did so anyway.

“For example, if you’re with your [significant other], and they want to engage in sexual activity and you say no, but they continue to badger you until you give in, that’s a form of sexual violence which can also constitute as sexual assault,” said the anonymous student. “They had to convince you to participate in the act, and in any situation, that is not okay.”

The student says that once a person is aware their partner is exhibiting this abusive behavior, they should seek assistance from a trusted source, or a program that deals with these specific incidents.

“If something like that happens to you when you’re in a relationship and you are aware that it wasn’t okay, you need to let your partner know that so that it doesn’t happen again,” said the anonymous student. “If the abuse continues to happen, it is important to talk about it to someone you trust and/or find help from a program like NDSU or a sexual violence hotline.”

Remember that no means no and saying no nine times before saying yes on the 10th try doesn’t make it full consent.

“There’s no excuse for someone to not register your consent before they proceed, whether they are aware of it at the time or not,” the anonymous student said.

How does the term relate to sexual assault and other types of abuse?

Since the term is an all-encompassing, nonlegal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse, it can be used to describe situations that may not be legally be considered sexual assault in various states. Although some acts of sexual violence may not be legally classified as sexual assault, they are still harmful and traumatic to one’s health.

The National Institute of Justice defines sexual assault as, “Any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.”

As for the state of North Dakota, sexual assault refers to, “A person who knowingly has sexual contact with another person, or who causes another person to have sexual contact with that person,” according to North Dakota Century Code t12.1c20.

Sexual violence in a relationship is rarely an isolated incident. It often occurs alongside other forms of abusive behavior, including physical and emotional abuse. For instance, most women who are physically assaulted by an intimate partner have been sexually assaulted by that same partner, according to RAINN.

There are many different terms to refer to sexual violence that occurs within intimate partnerships, including: intimate partner sexual violence, domestic violence, intimate partner rape, marital rape and spousal rape.

Often there can be warning signs of abuse from an intimate partner that can escalate to further emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Warning signs of abuse include a partner who:

  • attempts to cut you off from friends and family
  • is extremely jealous or upset if you spend time away from them
  • insults you, puts you down, says that you can never do anything right
  • tries to prevent you from attending work or school
  • tries to prevent you from making decisions for yourself
  • destroys your property, attempts to harm your pets
  • threatens to harm your children or take them away from you
  • tells you that you are worthless and that no one else could ever love you
  • controls your finances

Seek assistance through NDSU and other resources

NDSU’s Student Health Service offers a Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy program for members of the NDSU community.

“If you or someone you know have been impacted by sexual violence, dating/domestic violence, stalking or sexual harassment you are not alone. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to react to a traumatic event,” the program stated on their website.

For those seeking help and assistance, visit the Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy web page under ‘Get Help’. To report an assault, click on the ‘Report An Assault’ tab.

“Some survivors may wish to seek counseling immediately following an assault, while others may wait to seek help,” the program states on their website. “Only you can determine when you are ready. Going to counseling for the first time can be scary, but many survivors find it helpful.”

The site aims to help survivors understand both their rights as a student and provides resources available on and off campus.

NDSU and the Fargo/Moorhead area have many staff members and organizations who are committed to supporting survivors. People interested in helping support survivors or for more information, visit NDSU’s Student Health Service website.

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