Lucy Berrington & Chamonix Adams Porter

When young people experience intimate partner violence (IPV), they’re most likely to disclose it to their friends. Therefore, it’s critical that we give students the tools to support a friend who may be experiencing IPV. These four strategies can help.

1. Focus on strategies for intervening

Focus on ways students can help each other. Overemphasizing the warning signs of abuse risks sending the message to students that they must determine definitively whether they’re witnessing an abusive interaction as a prerequisite to helping. That said, it’s important that students have some familiarity with the signs of relationship abuse.

2. Train students to intervene early, subtly, and frequently

We want students to intervene when they witness obvious abuse and violence—but we don’t want them to hold off until they see that. We also want them to intervene much sooner and in much less severe situations: when they witness or experience casual disrespect, sexual pressure, or disregard for personal boundaries. Here’s why this works:

  • Intervening subtly and frequently feels more doable than larger, one-time interventions. It’s what students already do as good friends: checking in, listening, showing support.
  • Students are more likely to witness disrespectful behavior, like a belittling comment or low-level pressure, than they are to witness unmistakable abuse, like a sexual assault or physical battery.

3. Keep your examples diverse

Relationship abuse is difficult to address in part because of common misunderstandings about why and how abuse happens, and who it happens to. In workshops and other educational messaging, use stories featuring people of diverse genders, sexualities, races, and socioeconomic classes. If you use gender-neutral examples, be alert to whether students are “filling in” the missing information according to gender stereotypes.

4. Be prepared for students to disclose to you

When students disclose assault and abuse, it’s typically to friends. That said, students, or friends of students, experiencing intimate partner violence may turn to a faculty member, administrator, or trusted mentor for help accessing resources. The strategies in our article provide guidance for that conversation. In addition, familiarize yourself with the intimate partner violence resources on your campus and in your local community. Students aren’t always comfortable using campus-based resources, so it helps to have backups. Know your reporting obligations under Title IX to ensure that you and your students are aware of the limits of confidentiality.