College-aged individuals experience the highest per capita rate of intimate partner violence, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“I will say that of all the sexual misconduct issues that I deal with, this one is the hardest,” said Jill Moffitt, Title IX administrator and associate vice chancellor for student affairs.
Chief of Police, Eric Boyce, said these unhealthy or violent relationships often go unreported to law enforcement.
“It’s challenging for us to address it when we’re really trying to honor the students wishes, but balancing those wishes out with safety,” Moffitt said.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, warning signs of abuse include extreme jealousy, possessiveness, controlling behavior and verbal or physical violence.
“I knew from the second I walked in the door, I felt like I had to do everything right or she would blow up at me,” said 20-year-old Derek Boskovich about his former relationship. “On really bad nights it would get to the point where she would be hitting me and screaming at me and she used to threaten to call the cops and say that I hit her when I didn’t.”
Although physical abuse does happen at UNCA, emotional abuse and control prevail, Moffitt said.
“It’s in this very gray area where we know there’s some type of unhealthy pattern between the couple, but nothing physical is happening,” Moffitt said.
Students who engage in unhealthy relationships often don’t realize it. Moffitt said this makes the issue harder to tackle.
“These are hard cases because most of the time people don’t recognize that they’re in that cycle, but you don’t want to push because you don’t want them to feel like they can’t come forward if they need something,” Moffitt said.
According to UNCA officials, abuse affects academic performance.
“It can have a stifling effect on student life and academics,” Boyce said. “If you feel unsafe, you can’t matriculate through college in a healthy way.”
Moffitt said not turning in assignments signals abuse affecting academics.
“I couldn’t just put a pause on fighting and being screamed at to go do my humanities essay,” Boskovich said. “That’s not really a good excuse to use when you email your professor about why you didn’t do your homework.”
About one-fourth of the reports that came through Title IX last year were related to dating violence or some level of an unhealthy attachment, Moffitt said.
“We’re handling more of those types of issues through my office, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re just now happening,” Moffitt said.
The increase in reports, according to Boyce, may be due to a change in reporting requirements to include dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.
Moffitt said the increase may also be due to students being more educated on unhealthy relationships through bystander intervention, for example.
“I never have a problem with students trying to help other students out,” Moffitt said. “Peers are important in that way.”
Reporting relationship violence and showing support benefits victims in these cases, Boyce said.
“When you are in those situations, always seek help,” Boyce said. “If you’re not in those situations, but you’re a friend of that person, start by believing.”
Unhealthy or violent relationships often begin with a partner not allowing their significant other to be with their friends and checking up on their significant other excessively throughout the day, Boyce said.
“It’s sort of an insatiable and arguably insane need to have that person with them at all times, controlling their every move, where they go, which friends they’re hanging out with, who they’re talking to,” Moffitt said. “It can really escalate like that. It’s what we see most commonly.”
Reports of relationship violence to Title IX can be anonymous if they include the names of those involved, Moffitt said.
“You’re going to have to live with the decisions that you make in a few years and the person that you’re with now isn’t going to have to,” Boskovich said. “Don’t sacrifice your life for a relationship that you know is unhealthy.”