Dating violence: when ‘toxic’ goes too far

By Maggie Kleiner

It seems like almost everyone these days has a juicy story about a “toxic” ex. We throw the word around to describe any unhealthy behavior, from ignoring texts to name-calling, but I believe that our normalization of “toxic” behavior hides a very real and very dangerous threat: dating violence. 

Marisa Leib, a counselor at the Rider Counseling Center, defines dating violence as “physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a romantic or sexual partner.” The term may sound outlandish to some, especially since we rarely discuss dating violence alongside other forms of violence. However, Leib believes that we constantly see dating violence in the media and everyday life. We just don’t know it.

“What happens especially with the media is that there is a lot of normalization and even romanticizing toxic and abusive behaviors,” Leib said. “This results in people really accepting these behaviors, trying to rationalize them or even providing excuses for acts of violence.”

Every time we come across a video flaunting a “toxic” relationship, what we are really watching is an example of dating violence. The more that we make these behaviors normal, the less likely we are to speak out against them, creating a dangerous habit.

Watch out for red flags

When we hear the word “violence,” we might automatically think of physical violence. However, dating violence can take many forms. 

To make the behavior easier to distinguish, Leib pointed out some warning signs to watch out for: acting overly jealous toward their partner, being controlling, putting them down, blaming them for the abuse, refusing to take responsibility, having a quick temper and not allowing them to end the relationship.

 Leib also explained digital abuse, which persists as a form of violence in our digital world.

“In the realm of digital abuse, this can look like repeated unwanted calls or texts, harassment on social media, pressure to send nude or private pictures, using text or social media to check up on you, insult you, or control who you can be friends with, as well as demanding your passwords to social media.”

Across both the social and digital sphere, these are red flags that should not go unnoticed.

“None of these behaviors are okay,” Leib said. “Even if [just] a few of them are happening, it’s still abuse.” 

‘You’re not alone’

As a person who has experienced dating violence myself, I know how confusing and painful it can be to admit that your partner is the person hurting you. We might assume that violence does not occur in relationships, but this is often wrong. Anyone is capable of committing violence regardless of race, gender, sexuality or identity, and we need to recognize that.

Leib said, “The first step is awareness. I think the other piece of it is knowing you’re not alone. There are people that can help you and support you.”

Leib outlined the numerous resources that Rider students can access for support. In the event of immediate physical concern or a threat to safety, Leib suggested calling 911 or Public Safety. Other forms of support are the Rider Counseling Center, the center’s supportive space called “The Me in We” and Womanspace, an external resource for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. All of the contact information for these organizations, along with others, are listed on the back of many bathroom stall doors around campus.

It can feel difficult or even inappropriate to voice concerns about someone else’s relationship, but I believe that it is critical in the event of dating violence. The consequences of staying silent are too dire. 

Leib also believes that it is our responsibility to say something when we observe signs of dating violence. She advises that the best way to approach the conversation is with empathy and compassion.

“One of the things we are focusing on for prevention is this idea of ‘upstander’ training, so if you see something, say something,” Leib said. “Especially on a college campus there are definitely peers or other people noticing what’s happening, and being able to stand up and say something and bring that concern up is really important.”

Say goodbye to toxicity

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, maybe it’s time to take the word “toxic” out of our vocabulary. The more we use it, the more we normalize dating violence. Instead, we should bring attention to healthy relationship behaviors and point out any red flags we see. As college students, we have the responsibility to eliminate dating violence on Rider’s campus.

If you or someone you know has experienced dating violence, the following resources are available:

Counseling Center

(609) 896-5157

Mercer County Womanspace: Domestic violence & sexual assault hotline

(609) 394-9000

National Domestic Violence Hotline

(800) 799-7233

Text START to 88788

Related Articles

Back to top button