Audrey Ellard Walsh
This year’s hustings for the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Equality Officer saw the topic of violence in youth relationships put back on the table. It has previously seemed to be a bit of a “cake” motion with USI Gender Equality Officer Tomás Conway listing it as one of his main campaign goals for the year without actually engaging in the issue. UCC Welfare Officer Pádraig Rice speaking to me on the issue said that it is certainly something that he has dealt with in the course of his casework. “Domestic abuse is something that isn’t discussed much in college. A nationwide campaign is really needed to address the issue”. It remains to be seen whether newly elected USI Equality Officer Gerard Gallagher, who has stated plans to work with COSC (the national agency for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence) in developing a campaign on the issue, will fulfil this promise.
A myth seems to exist around domestic violence that it is something that only exists in well established relationships and older couples. Unfortunately it is actually a very real and insidious issue amongst the student and youth population. A major problem is the glamorisation of it – particularly in the music industry. Eminem did it first with “Stan” and now again with Rihanna as “Love The Way You Lie” has become a massive dance hit in clubs. With abuse personified as a highly sexualised Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox arguing and making up, it is hardly surprising that it isn’t generally taken to be a serious issue amongst students.
According to Women’s Aid, who launched their 2in2u campaign this Valentine’s day, 1 in 5 women over the age of 18 experience physical, emotional and sexual abuse in Ireland with 60% of women who experienced severe abuse in intimate relationships reporting that this occurred for the first time under the age of 25. Further, frankly frightening, research conducted by Women’s Aid claims that 95% of young women and 84% of young men reported knowing someone who had experienced abuse at the hands of a partner and 1 in 4 young women know someone who has been forced to have sex.
It is often less obvious than physical abuse though. The campaign slogan “If it feels wrong, it probably is” seeks to highlight how controlling and manipulative behaviour can be just as damaging as physical abuse and to encourage women to rely on their gut feelings in these situations. Unfortunately, the excitement and passion in the early stages of a relationship can mask overbearing behaviour with emotional abuse mistaken for love and romance. Speaking at the launch, Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin said that “In dating relationships violence and abuse are already a feature but are often not recognised as such by the young woman herself, or her friends.”
Actress Charlene McKenna, star of RTÉ drama Raw, launched the campaign.
“I think it’s brilliant to bring awareness of dating abuse to young women as it’s not something you associate with our age group and yet it is as prevalent as it is with older people,” she said.
As well as the radio and print aspect of the campaign, women are encouraged to take a ‘relationship health check’ quiz at the website 2in2u.ie, which asks questions about boyfriend behaviour. Questions include “Does your boyfriend complain about your friends and say you spend too much time with them?” and “Does he pass comment on how you look or dress?” and if certain answers are given, the person is encouraged to notice unhealthy signs in a relationship and to contact Women’s Aid or look for help from friends and family if they feel uncomfortable in their situation. Dating abuse can range from constant texting or other contact and isolation from friends and family, to physical attacks and forcing a person to perform sexual acts.
The USI Equality Standing Conference, which will be held in April, will surely see further debate on this issue. Regardless, however, it is important to continue to raise awareness of it and to not ignore it as something utterly external and removed from college life.
Audrey Ellard Walsh is UCC Students’ Union’s Gender Equality officer, and was recently elected overall Equality Officer.