In less than two months, I will be a Yale College alumna. My biggest regret? Not having the time left to make the changes I most want to see on this campus: broader education as to what constitutes intimate partner violence (IPV), more effective prosecution of its perpetrators and the creation of safer spaces on campus for victims and survivors.
Violence is not always physical. In cases of IPV, there are often no scars, no questionable bruises. A relationship need not involve physical or sexual assault for it to be abusive. Coercion and manipulation have many more insidious forms. A partner may refuse to let you leave following a fight. They may make you believe that any unhappiness they feel is entirely your fault, or refuse to let you leave the relationship because you “owe” them, or because they do not want to break up. None of this requires any physical force; all of it can be achieved with words, and all of it is abusive behavior. Many emotionally abusive relationships also carry elements of sexual or physical abuse. But those elements that are most straightforward to pinpoint as abusive are not always the most damaging ones, and do not need to be present for a relationship to be violent.
As a campus, we’ve spent the last several years reevaluating and attempting to change our collective sexual climate. There have been successes and failures, changes and stagnancies. While dialogue has expanded over the course of my four years here, one of the most consistently underexamined issues has been IPV. There is a detailed list of warning signs available on the SHARE website, but it’s the type of information that you will only come across if you’re looking for it. There is not, to my knowledge, comprehensive education at any point in a student’s Yale College career as to what may constitute IPV. This is a grave oversight, as IPV is poorly discussed and understood in broader society, and its signs and symptoms must be explicitly taught to students so that they understand its full scope.
The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct has made important strides in inclusivity and fair punishment over the last several years. Nonetheless, it is important for both the Committee and fellow students to remember that victims of IPV often have nothing but stories on their side. No matter how terrifying or true, these stories do not necessarily make for a straightforward trial, nor do they weave tales easy for bystanders to understand. Regardless, they are still extremely important in cases of IPV — and, often enough, they serve as the only form of evidence against perpetrators. Victims and survivors of IPV should not be incidentally discouraged, whether by peers or systems bigger than themselves, from reporting their abuse on account of the difficulty of establishing hard evidence.
If we are to truly change our campus’ sexual culture, we cannot limit our focus to cases of physical violence and sexual assault. We must broaden our horizons to include violence in all of its forms. When we teach freshmen about consent, we need to educate them on the symptoms and warning signs of IPV as well. When we teach sophomores and student body leaders the principles of bystander intervention, we must show them what to look for and how to intervene when they suspect someone they know may be involved in an abusive relationship.
IPV is difficult to recognize and combat effectively, but that does not mean it should be left by the wayside. If anything, this adds to the urgency of addressing it as deeply as possible, as soon as possible. No bad behavior will ever be stamped out completely — but we can do much, much more than we are doing to make sure that violence is minimized on campus, and that the victims and survivors of IPV are able to feel safe and secure here at Yale.
Monica Ague is a senior in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.