Abuse in relationships is something that’s widely reported on. Some of us may have even grown up around abusive relationships and we probably thought we wouldn’t see them again until much later in life. However, it turns out that people of all ages abuse each other in relationships – including university students.

LUSANDA FUTSHANE

They say you’re supposed to meet your soulmate at varsity. We’ve all heard that dating can get trickier once you’re a responsible adult with much more to worry about than getting your undergraduate degree. What they don’t tell us are the relationship horror stories – how the person you thought was your soulmate could steal from you, cheat on you or lie to you.

Abuse in relationships is something that’s widely reported on. Some of us may have even grown up around abusive relationships and we probably thought we wouldn’t see them again until much later in life. However, it turns out that people of all ages abuse each other in relationships – including university students.

According to Dr Madeleine Nolte, head of Student Support at Tuks, abuse in relationships is not just physical. “It can be verbal attacks, sexual harassment, creating constant fear in the victim’s life and economical harassment,” she says. Too often, when the abuse isn’t physical, people might not immediately notice that they’re being abused. Nonhle*, who left her emotionally abusive boyfriend after two years, says she didn’t know that her partner’s controlling and philandering ways were abusive at first. “He made me move in with him and forced me to distance myself from my family,” she remembers. “At the end of the relationship, I didn’t have any friends because he told me not to see them anymore and he made no effort to hide his affairs.” Nolte says that there are many women like Nonhle who accept the terms of abusive relationships because they fear being alone.

As much as the majority of abuse in relationships is directed at women, there is a significant incidence of male victims as well. It seems that only extreme cases are reported because of the stigma surrounding the abuse of men. People usually have no sympathy for men who have been physically abused by their partners because of society’s deeply entrenched gender stereotypes. But the psychological effects are the same: both male and female abuse victims are likely to stay with their partners and even after the relationships are over, their future relationships may still be affected.

Outsiders usually ask the same question: why do the victims stay? Nolte says that people who are being abused don’t feel empowered to handle the situation on their own, especially when they’re financially dependent on their abusive partner. “[The victims] think [abuse] is the norm in relationships, especially if they were exposed to this sort of situation in their own upbringing. Sometimes the victims do not have the physical, emotional and financial energy or strength to take a break from the relationship.” She adds that in most cases, the victims’ parents and friends are the ones who report the abuse to Security Services or Student Support.

Not all stories of abuse in relationships end badly, though. Amy* stayed with her boyfriend after years of abuse and currently attends regular couples therapy with him. “He bullied me out of my virginity and was living off me financially for years while he struggled with his alcohol addiction. I decided to forgive him because I love him and I wanted to fight for our relationship.” Amy is one example of how abuse is about the offender just as much it is about the victim. Once the abuse has been reported, both need to be counselled in order to prevent any occurrence of abuse in the offender’s future relationships and pave the way to healing for both parties.

We’re told to do almost anything to find love and that when we think we’ve found it, we should fight like hell to keep it. But the line between love and imprisonment blurs quickly when you’re in an abusive relationship. What price should we be willing to pay for love?

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, you can seek help in any of the following ways:

POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse)

Telephone: (011) 642 4345/6

Email: info@powa.co.za

Web address: www.powa.co.za

SAPS Brooklyn

Telephone: (012) 366 1700

University of Pretoria Student Support

Student Affairs building, room 1-20?

Telephone: (012) 420 4002

Tuks Security Services

Crisis service: 0800 006 28

*Names have been changed

Illustration: René Lombard

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