People don’t think that domestic violence happens to students but it does, and lad culture is making it worse, writes a student blogger
When you think of domestic violence, what image springs to mind? I bet you don’t picture a seemingly sociable student in a university hall of residence.
It took me a long time to work out if I really wanted to write this article. Partly due to a fear of what people would think. Would they pity me? Think I was stupid? Think I was lying? But also because it took a long time for me to recognise what happened to me as domestic abuse and violence.
Even when I’d admitted it to myself I felt unnerved and isolated by the lack of conversation on the subject. Few people think of it as an issue faced by students, and it’s still something of a taboo subject. But domestic violence in student life is more common than people think and if we don’t start talking about it soon, how can we expect it to be stopped?
In 2010 the National Union of Students (NUS) conducted a national survey which said one in seven females surveyed had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. And 35% of seriously violent incidents against female students were carried out by someone they knew intimately.
These figures make it hard to deny the prominence of domestic violence in university life. Yet, almost four years later, the silence surrounding sufferers is still leaving those who have experienced domestic violence to suffer.
In my first year of university I experienced domestic abuse for the first time. A violent two years later, I’ve finally managed to escape the situation. Although I’ve become much happier, it still worries me why, in a caring student community full of intelligent young people, it took so long for me to find help.
For victims it can be hard to seek support or to confide in someone. You find yourself reducing what happened and deciding it isn’t so bad, it doesn’t really matter. The phrase “I’m fine” rolls from the tongue before you even consider telling friends about it, never mind hunting down support from guidance tutors. It makes it even harder when people don’t believe you or refuse to get involved.
The out-dated view that what happens behind closed doors should stay there was something I encountered a lot once people knew what was happening to me. Shared friendship groups made it a difficult subject to discuss and the “he-said, she-said” mindset was rife.
Preconceptions of domestic violence are so deeply-rooted that people think it doesn’t happen in student relationships. It also means that people generally have no idea how to handle the situation. I can now forgive friends who didn’t know where to stand at the time, but educating students is vital if we wish to fully support sufferers.
Sandra Horley, chief executive for the national domestic violence charity Refuge, says: “The truth is that domestic violence knows no boundaries of age, race or class – it can happen to any woman.”
Recognising and publicising domestic violence as a possible problem for students would make it far easier for women to reach out for support. In turn, this would at least be a small step towards reducing the effect of social stigma. Removing the social stigma of domestic violence, by recognising it to be a possibility in student life, would make it far easier for women to reach out for support and in turn.
I’m worried, though, that these problems are getting worse instead of better. The appropriation of “lad-culture” was, at least for me, part of the problem.
The increasing amount of misogyny and sexism in student life has been much talked about in the past year, and on the whole universities and societies have done a lot to combat it.
Yet we must acknowledge that some damaging attitudes have already been internalised, and consider what dangerous consequences this may have. We need to accept that domestic violence does happen among students, and be prepared to change our attitudes in order to make a change.
Horley says: “We will never change the harrowing statistics on domestic violence until we change the social attitudes that allow it to continue.”