Physical violence isn't the only sign of an abusive relationship, but it's the one the world tends to focus on. For good reason, of course. But it means other behaviours are being left out of the conversation, allowing young women in particular to overlook worrying signs. Domestic abuse charity Women's Aid has launched the #LoveRespect site: a one-stop resource for recognising relationship abuse and seeking advice.
Just over a year ago, the charity partnered with Cosmopolitan to survey more than 122,000 people. A third of young women admitted to being in an abusive relationship. But almost 64 percent of the remaining two thirds revealed that they had experienced abusive behaviour. The problem was they didn't recognise it.
Controlling behaviours like turning up unannounced can easily be mistaken as romantic. But a repeat pattern should be viewed as a form of abuse, especially when coupled with acts like attempting to stop a partner socialising, checking their phone without permission, making them feel bad about themselves, and pressuring them sexually.
"Not only is public understanding of coercive control still lacking, but our research also shows that phrases like ‘domestic abuse’ don’t resonate with teenage girls — they see it as something that happens to women with husbands and children, and involves physical abuse," Adina Claire, acting co-chief executive of Women's Aid, said in a statement.
She highlighted the nation's normality of relationship control, adding: "For too long, society has reinforced the message that men should have power in relationships, which has made the sorts of abusive behaviours young women and girls are facing appear normal. Gaslighting, excessive jealously, having their appearance scrutinised, sexual pressure — these are the things that teenage girls are putting up with."
Recent research by criminology expert Dr. Jane Monckton Smith revealed that a relationship dominated by coercive control is one of the eight steps that can lead men to kill their partners. As the BBC reports, this timeline could be used by police to keep tabs on potential perpetrators and, crucially, to prevent deaths.
The #LoveRespect site was borne from the realisation that young women are more likely to use an online resource than a helpline. The site has myriad features, including questions that allow you to assess the health of your relationship, stories from survivors, useful advice, and an email support service. An online chat service will also be introduced.
YA author and feminist activist Holly Bourne has been named the #LoveRespect ambassador. "We are never more vulnerable than when we are in love, and this is particularly true when we fall in love for the first time with no other relationships to compare it to," she said in a statement.
"Having a bad boyfriend shouldn't be an acceptable rite of teen passage. The damage they cause is often long-lasting. I'm so proud to be working with Women's Aid to raise awareness of the warning signs and support the incredible work they do supporting and empowering girls.”
Not only is the site a vital hub for your own relationship, it's also an important tool for recognising problematic behaviours in the relationships of friends and relatives. With education and adequate support, victimhood becomes a less likely fate.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, contact the 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or email Women's Aid via firstname.lastname@example.org.