Freedom is the ability to act, speak, or think without restraint. In my first year of college, my freedom was stripped away by a boy who thought his interests trumped mine, and no one said a word.
Paul was a tall, blue-eyed, blond baseball player. We studied together, ate meals together, and walked hand in hand to our classes. To our peers, Paul and I were perfect.
But Paul scheduled all of our study sessions and I had to complete not only my course assignments, but his as well. We ate when he was hungry, and when he starved himself to slim down for the sports season, I had to go hungry, too. Walking to his classes made me late for mine, but he said his were more important.
Why did I feel I had to do these things? Because if I didn’t do what he wanted, there were consequences.
If I wasn’t in bed by the 10 p.m. bedtime he set for me, or if I was late to meet him somewhere on campus, he would punch a wall and say he was pretending it was my face. If I wore makeup or a sundress, he would aggressively scrub the makeup off of my face and make me change into “less slutty” clothing. I was not allowed to play my music because my taste was “retarded.”
Those punched walls eventually translated to my stomach, arms, and thighs. My makeup collected dust in the corner of my room, and I forgot the words to my playlists while forgetting who I was entirely.
Domestic violence is rooted in a desire for power and control. The emotional abuse of name-calling and put-downs deeply bruises self-worth, while intimidation tactics instill fear and obedience. Isolation from friends and family is common and dictating schedules and routines is a sure-fire method of snuffing out a woman’s independence.
By these standards, Paul had domestic violence down to an art.
After a severe concussion, sprained wrist, and knife to my throat, a restraining order was granted to me by the state of North Carolina. Paul has not returned to my campus since his arrest for charges of kidnapping and assault four years ago. Many of his teammates and my hall mates were called to testify in the criminal case, each revealing different bits of abusive or violent behavior. After a five-month battle, Paul was sentenced to domestic-violence counseling and ordered to pay several monetary fines.
I survived, but I am a survivor for life. Every night, I wonder if he’s coming back to inflict more pain. Every day, I’m reminded of the freedoms I have now that I couldn’t take advantage of four years ago, and I’m mad at myself for relinquishing them in the first place. And every man I meet is subject to my hesitation to get close, out of fear of losing my freedom once again.
If you’re a college student who’s not in an abusive relationship, you might be wondering what this has to do with you. Let me paint you a picture:
It’s muffled, but through a dorm-room door you can hear a male yelling something about “flirting” and a woman crying regretful apologies interrupted by those hiccups one gets after sobbing for a long time. Objects and profanities are being thrown about the room. And then, you hear her squeal, “Baby, please stop, you’re hurting me!”
So, what do you do? Knock politely? Break the door down in a heroic manner? Call campus security? Or will you simply continue walking past the room and mind your own business?
Admittedly, it’s a tough call, but it’s a predicament many college students face at some point or another: how to cope with domestic violence.
My friends knew something wasn’t right, but they never once stepped in to help me come to the same realization.
Don’t be fooled by the hand-holding, cheek-pinching, arm-around-the-waisting pairs obstructing your campus pathways. Love is much deeper than the aesthetics; love is about respect. If a friend comes to class with an unusual bruise, ask her how she got it. If you have a girl friend whose boyfriend won’t let her go out dancing with you, tell her that’s controlling behavior and that it’s not OK. If you witness a guy yelling at his girlfriend or labeling her obscene names like “slut,” “bitch,” or “fat,” intervene and call him out. If you look beneath the superficial romance, do you see a healthy relationship between two equals or a potential pitfall worth pointing out to your entranced friend?
Luckily, I have regained my sense of self, but I wish I’d never lost it in the first place.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1−800−799−SAFE (7233).
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