Psych Gumbo: Scandal drives domestic abuse into spotlight

Holly Peek, Contributing Columnist

The following is an opinion article and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

The infamous elevator video of Ray Rice punching his current wife unconscious exploded in the media last week. Though many are aware that domestic violence exists, the harsh realities of this unpleasant topic are often avoided until some occurrence gains national attention, which forces us to have a conversation about reality.

Realizing that someone you know may be a victim of domestic or dating violence or even be a perpetrator can be difficult, particularly in a young and vibrant campus community such as Tulane. In reality, however, abuse occurs in one in five college dating relationships.

Abuse takes many forms. Physical abuse is defined as the use of physical force with the intent to cause fear or injury. Emotional or verbal abuse consists of threats, insults, constant monitoring or “checking in,” humiliation, intimidation, or isolation from friends or family. Digital abuse is a type of emotional abuse through the use of technology, including sending excessive or unwanted texts or sexts, intrusive monitoring of personal texts or emails, or using social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate. Sexual abuse includes restricting access to birth control or condoms, ignoring refusal to perform sexual activities and using emotional, verbal or physical pressure for sex.

An abusive relationship can be complicated by a cyclical pattern. First, there is the honeymoon stage, where a partner is kind, loving and thoughtful. Then, the tension-building stage where abusers will begin to engage in smaller abuse tactics, such as name calling or dictating with whom their partner is allowed to spend time. Finally, the explosion stage occurs when an abusive partner reacts in a way that is physically or emotionally violent. The abuser will frequently apologize, promise to never behave this way again, and the relationship will return to the honeymoon stage.

In abusive relationships, abusers try to assume power or control their partners. Abuse is a learned behavior, and abusers often have been abused themselves or have witnessed domestic violence in their own homes.

Abusers will often blame drugs or alcohol for their behavior, giving excuses such as, “I didn’t mean what I said, I was drunk” or “I would never hit you sober.” Remember that actions taken while under the influence of substances still reflect a person’s personality. Abusive behavior is never justified and is always a choice abusers make, regardless of their past or circumstances. 

People stay in abusive relationships for many reasons, which is also complicated by the cyclical nature of an abusive relationship. Reasons include fear for physical safety, believing abuse is normal because he or she may have grown up in an environment where abuse was common, low self esteem, embarrassment and still being in love.

If you have friends or family members who are in abusive relationships, the most important thing you can do is be supportive, listen and never judge. Leaving a dating relationship is never easy, and abuse makes it even more complicated. 

Abusive relationships in college are unique in that the abuser might live in the same residence hall, be involved in the same activities or be in the same classes as the victim.

Leaving an abusive relationship can be tough and it is important to build support systems. Tulane offers several resources for help, including Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline & Education, a 24/7 peer-operated hotline at 504-654-9543; The Office of Violence Prevention and Support Services; and Counseling and Psychological Services at 504-314-2277. 

Holly Peek, MD/MPH, is a third year psychiatry resident at Tulane University School of Medicine. She can be contacted through her website at www.psychgumbo.com or [email protected]