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Violence is not rare in students' relationships
Domestic violence is not limited to those with a marriage license

 Constantly checking up on someone is an example of controlling behavior.
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Date published: 7/4/2010


Young women in their teens and early 20s are more likely than anyone else to be abused by an intimate partner, suffering abuse at a rate that is almost triple the national average, the U.S. Department of Justice says.

Yet young adults involved in violent dating relationships hit a roadblock if they seek legal protection from their abusers in Virginia.

The state doesn't categorize dating violence as domestic abuse. So those who aren't married or living with their partners generally can't get the classic protective order, even when they fear for their safety.

Dating violence has been in the spotlight since the May death of Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia student whose college boyfriend stands accused of killing her.

Abusive relationships are not rare among young adults. One in four teens reports being physically, sexually or verbally abused by a partner each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. One in five teens reports being hit, slapped or pushed, says a survey by Teenage Research Unlimited.

While legal protection for daters is tougher to come by in Virginia than in many other states, there are resources available to those trying to stay safe. And there are efforts under way to change state law.


The term "domestic violence" is applied in Virginia only to people who are living together or married or who have a child together.

That definition matters, said Eric Olsen, deputy commonwealth's attorney of Stafford County.

Olsen said that if a police officer has probable cause for domestic assault, he must make an arrest. But there's no mandatory arrest requirement for suspected dating assault

Additionally, people cannot own firearms after being convicted of domestic assault, but the same rule does not apply to those convicted of non-domestic assault.

As for protective orders, Virginia is one of eight states that do not allow people in a dating relationship to file for such protection.

But George Barker, a state senator from Arlington, introduced a bill in January to broaden the definition of domestic violence to include dating relationships. His was one of a few similar bills routed to the State Crime Commission, which will discuss the legislation this summer and then make recommendations to the General Assembly.

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Abusive relationships can start out as ones that seem "too good to be true," said Kathy Anderson of the RCDV. Here are some signs that a relationship is unhealthy:

Controlling behavior

This can include a partner who checks up constantly on you and wants to know whom you're hanging out with. At first, the abuser may not like you hanging out with members of the opposite sex. Later, he or she may distance you from your same-sex friends, activities or family.

"Once you start to feel uncomfortable, abuse is already happening to a great extent," Anderson said. "You've been cut off [from] social support."


It's not a good sign if a boyfriend or girlfriend is incapable of handling intense emotions respectfully. Unpredictable, explosive reactions can create fear in a victim.

justifying behavior

It's problematic when an abuser justifies his or her actions with jealousy, or says he or she does it out of love for you. These are not justifications for abuse.


Anderson said a manipulative tactic employed by some abusers involves threatening suicide if the victim leaves. The victim should know not to hold himself or herself responsible for an abuser's actions.

--Sara Mitchell

Rappahannock Council on Domestic Violence: Offers temporary shelter (up to two months), transitional housing (up to six months), legal referrals, support groups, batterer intervention programs and 24/7 hot line: 540/373-9373.

Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault hot line: 800/838-8238

Students and other young adults in potentially violent relationships should:

Keep handy the contact information of local resources, such as a shelter and the police.

Ask campus police for an escort to your car.

Devise a safety signal you can use with friends to indicate you're in a bad situation and need help.

Eat and study in public areas and walk to classes with friends.

Avoid posting your whereabouts on Twitter or Facebook.

--Sara Mitchell