April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As part of SAAM, Born This Way Foundation is posting a series of guest blogs from sexual assault survivors and awareness and prevention advocates. We want to ignite the conversation around sexual assault and end it. Today’s guest blog comes from the One Love Foundation. One Love was established by the Love family, after the loss of their daughter to relationship abuse. Find out more about the One Love Foundation on Relationship Abuse and join the movement to end relationship abuse because #ThatsNotLove.
Trigger Warning: This post contains descriptions of sexual assault. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. Please call 800-656-4673 if you would like to speak with the National Sexual Assault Hotline or connect with their online hotline here.
There’s no better feeling than when you’re starting a new relationship. In the beginning, everything about that person and the relationship seem great – you soak up every small encounter, whether that be a walk to class or a giggle over an inside joke. You’re excited to be wanted so much and you crave to be with that person every minute of every day. When you’re apart, songs remind you of that person, and you can’t wait to be back together. It’s all just so good.
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and get swept away with how wonderful it feels. But then you begin to realize that things are not as perfect as they originally seemed. It starts to feel like you need to work harder at your relationship, and your partner increasingly gets angry or jealous. Next thing you know you’re being told what to do, who to talk to, or what to wear. You’re criticized for little things and you’re constantly switching between feeling mistreated and feeling crazy. Still, you push these feelings under the rug since they are usually quickly followed with apologies of “It’s just because I love you so much” or “I’m sorry, it will never happen again.” You tell yourself that the person needs you – they confide in you and rationalize their behavior with personal secrets. Apologies lead you to get over it, minimize the hurt, and believe that these were one time problems, issues that all couples experience. After all, your partner loves you so much and you have so much fun together – well, most of the time.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that all of these signs characterize an emotionally unhealthy relationship. But in the moment, it’s hard to see that these behaviors are unhealthy and can ultimately be very dangerous. Unhealthy and destructive relationships don’t start out with abuse, they start the same way any good relationship does. The truth is that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be in some form of a violent relationship in their lifetime. What’s worse is that young women between the ages of 16 to 24 experience the highest rate of relationship abuse. You might read this and think, “Well, they never actually hit me.” But physically abusive relationships normally start out with emotional abuse, and that’s why it’s so important to educate yourself about the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. Whether it’s mental or physical, abuse is real and it’s a big problem in our society.
Such is the story of Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old student athlete at the University of Virginia. Popular, smart, funny, and confident are the words used to describe Yeardley. Everyone who knew her loved her, and Yeardley was the last person you’d think could be in an abusive relationship. What her friends and family (and likely Yeardley herself) didn’t know is that Yeardley was in an unhealthy and dangerous relationship with her on-again off-again boyfriend, George Huguely. Just three weeks before their graduation, on May 3, 2010, George broke down the door to her room and beat Yeardley to death.
After her death, Yeardley’s family and friends learned about relationship abuse and realized that there were red flags that they should have seen in Yeardley and her relationship. They ultimately believed that her death could have been avoided if they were better informed about the warning signs and the risks of an unhealthy relationship. That’s why the One Love Foundation, an organization started by Yeardley’s mom, Sharon Love, has made it their mission to educate young people on the subject of relationship violence and empower them to stop it in their communities. At One Love, we focus on teaching young people about the unhealthy behaviors that can become dangerous and abusive. We hope to raise awareness so that the earliest signs are recognizable and actionable. One Love firmly believe that with more awareness, lives will be saved.
How we do it: The Escalation Workshop and Team One Love
Today, One Love has a team of students and young people who run Escalation Workshops in campus communities across the country. Escalation is a film about two college-aged young people embarking on a new relationship which quickly moves from exciting to abusive. After viewing the film, students split into small groups to discuss scenes in the film and how the story could have played out differently if the main characters, or their friends, had better understood the signs they were seeing. To date, Escalation has been brought to over 550 school campuses and counting, with over 35,000 students participating in just 15 months. On many of these campuses, students create a Team One Love club that works to continue spreading the word about the signs of relationship abuse and its prevalence. If you want to know if there’s a Team One Love at your school, go to www.joinonelove.org/movement OR bring it to your school by dropping us a line on our contact form.
Young people are also using #ThatsNotLove to educate those around them about the warning signs of abusive relationships. #ThatsNotLove is a campaign created by One Love to help people understand the difference between what’s healthy and what isn’t in a relationship. It consists of mini videos that you can share on social media with the #ThatsNotLove hashtag to get people thinking about what unhealthy relationship behaviors look like. One chapter of #ThatsNotLove is “Because I Love You,” which you can watch below:
The difference between love and control can sometimes be a little fuzzy, but the signs are much clearer once you know them. #ThatsNotLove aims to help everyone better understand what abuse is and the different forms it can take. Whether it’s an overly controlling girlfriend, or a super jealous boyfriend who gets angry when you talk to other guys – abuse doesn’t always come with bruises and that’s when it’s harder to spot.
So what should I do?
If you or someone you know is in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, you need to seek help right away. JoinOneLove.org has resources to help you figure out if you are in an abusive relationship and where you can get the support you need. Sometimes it’s hard to understand that your relationship might not be healthy, but there is a community of people who are always here to help.
The sad truth is that we’ve all seen forms of relationship abuse, we just might not have known it at the time. But that’s why it’s so important to educate yourself and spread the message. Relationship abuse is preventable if you know the signs, and with a little help from the Born This Way Foundation and One Love, we can all work to end relationship abuse together.