Relationship Abuse

The Columbus Dispatch – September 26, 2006

Ohio State University students worry more about crime, the environment, the job market, terrorism and AIDS than abusive relationships, according to an online survey.

But 73 percent of the nearly 7,000 male and female students who responded to the survey said they know someone who has been emotionally, physically or sexually assaulted.

“For many years, we have been concerned but have focused our attentions on rape,” said Richard Hollingsworth, interim vice president of student affairs.

The survey will be released today as part of a campaign to address domestic violence. One in three students reported having been humiliated, pressured into having sex or hit by a loved one, mirroring concerns at campuses nationwide.

“Women ages 16 to 24 experience the highest per-capita rates of intimate violence, 16 out of every 1,000 women, but no one talks about it,” said Karen Days, president of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, which commissioned the survey with OSU.

The two groups will launch a campaign today called “It’s Abuse” in an effort to end violent relationships at OSU and its four branch campuses.

The survey, conducted by Saperstein Associates, asked students whether they or someone they knew ever had experienced abusive behavior while in a relationship. The abuse didn’t have to happen at OSU or while the student was in college.

“Through peer-to-peer communication, students will learn to recognize how to build healthy relationships as well as what constitutes an abusive relationship, where to get help and how to intervene, when appropriate,” Ohio State President Karen A. Holbrook said.

The campaign begins Monday and will feature a referral line (614-223-1111), an interactive Web site (, street theater performances and a traveling video blog booth.

The university also will host a student rally Oct. 11 and a concert at the end of October to spread the word.

“We hope to use OSU as a laboratory,” said Abigail Wexner, the coalition’s founder and board chairwoman. “There’s a Big Ten conference for athletics. What a powerful message we could send if we created a similar Big Ten conference to tackle relationship abuse.”

The survey was e-mailed to more than 45,000 OSU students in May, with nearly 7,000 responding. Those who completed it could choose to be entered in a drawing that would add $100 to the OSU accounts of each of 10 winners.

Lisa Griffin, president of Griffin Communications, which is working on the campaign, called the response amazing.

Martin Saperstein, president of Saperstein Associates, agreed, saying the company placed the margin of error at plus or minus 1 percentage point.

At times, polls taken via email have been criticized for not covering a broad base of the population. But Saperstein said that attempting to get a cross-section of the OSU population via the computer when “that population is entirely wired” allowed the survey to “almost exactly mirror” the campus population.

Of the students who responded, 33 percent said they have experienced an obsessive, jealous partner; 32 percent have been routinely ignored; 15 percent have been pressured into sex; and 14 percent have been stalked or harassed. About 13 percent reported having been pushed or shoved; 11 percent choked, hit or kicked; and 8 percent threatened with violence.

More women worry about violence in intimate relationships than men. Lesbians and bisexual students, divorced and separated students and students at the four branch campuses reported being victims of violence more often than other students.

International students expressed a higher concern about abusive relationships but reported experiencing it less than others.

Black and Latino students said they experienced higher incidents of abuse than whites. Asian students reported the lowest figures. Eighty percent of the survey respondents were white.

“Relationship abuse is a hidden issue among college students, partly because young people are optimistic, experimenting with their independence and have a different sense of what is acceptable behavior,” said Louise Douce, director of counseling and consultation service at Ohio State.

“It’s important to teach them that violence is about power and control.”

Students at the regional campuses might have reported higher incidences of abuse because they are older, Douce said.

She also said that people in same-sex relationships might be more likely to take out their aggressions on partners because they feel discriminated against by society.

The university created a “dating American-style” workshop to help international students deal with cultural differences and expectations about relationships.

Students surveyed said victims remain in violent relationships because of a fear of leaving, low self-esteem and emotional dependence.

And two out of three students surveyed said emotional dependence renders women vulnerable to violence. However, half said economic dependence leads to the same vulnerability.