October is Domestic Violence and Relationship Violence Awareness Month. 1 in 4 women will experience physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, and women ages 18-24 are most at risk, with 29% of college women reporting that they have experienced an abusive relationship or dating situation. This means that you or one of your Sisters could need help.
This month, we sat down with Dr. Kirsten Rambo (Gamma Pi 1991/Lycoming) to discuss how to address and prevent domestic and relationship violence in our communities. She currently serves as the Executive Director of ASISTA Immigration Assistance, where she advocates for immigrants who have experienced gender-based violence and discrimination.
Before this, she was the Executive Director of Stand Strong, a non-profit addressing partner violence and child abuse, and worked for the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “From engaging young men to creating bystander intervention training, we [at the CDC] worked to create a culture that doesn’t tolerate hate or harm,” Dr. Rambo said.
Ultimately, “there is still too much stigma around these issues. Sororities are in a great position to help push back against that,” she said. Let’s start together by recognizing warning signs, learning the truth about some myths, and finding out where we can look for help:
While there are many ways to tell someone is in an unsafe situation, Dr. Rambo said there are two significant signs for which you should always be on the lookout, whether in your relationship or a Sister’s.
- You have to be available at all times to your partner.
This can be a huge warning sign, from demanding texts to constant Facetimes to memorizing your phone password. “The constant need to reach you will also generally be accompanied by a punishment or consequence if you don’t reply quickly enough,” explained Dr. Rambo. “It will probably start as something small, such as withdrawing emotionally, before escalating.”
Sexual Assault Prevention, the course offered to all Alpha Sigma Tau collegians, has an extensive section on the warning signs of digital abuse, which falls under this category. The need for constant contact can also be considered stalking, especially if your partner keeps tabs on you 24/7 through various apps.
- You describe this relationship as “the best ever.”
“This may seem counterintuitive because we all want the best relationship, and many healthy relationships are described this way. But if your partner is never in a bad mood or if they only have pros, especially at the beginning of a relationship, that could be a bad sign,” said Dr. Rambo.
Love-bombing is a hot topic on social media. While it may be somewhat exaggerated on TikTok, keeping your head on straight when in a new relationship is crucial. You should be able to have complex conversations, display a full range of emotions, and mess up in front of your partner – and they should be able to do the same with you. If your partner seems to have no faults or praises you for not having any, this is a point of concern.
Domestic Violence Myths
Dr. Rambo encourages everyone to get educated and involved with domestic violence prevention. She said, “People often don’t help because they don’t feel equipped to do so. But there are so many resources, and everyone starts somewhere. You don’t have to be perfect – just ask what others need and be welcoming.” Let’s bust some myths regarding domestic and relationship violence:
Myth: Someone who won’t leave an abusive relationship just doesn’t want to.
Dr. Rambo explained that there are many reasons why people get stuck in abusive relationships. It’s always important to consider power imbalances such as race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and who controls finances and property. In her line of work, she also sees immigration status as a significant barrier to leaving an unhealthy situation. “People will control their significant other’s visas and immigration paperwork or bargain with their children, who may be citizens,” she said.
Additionally, “people remember the good times,” she pointed out. Particularly if you feel that this is your best relationship, as described in the warning signs above, you may have difficulty leaving behind your partner – and all those good times before things turned sour.
Myth: People who experience mental health issues are more likely to end up in abusive relationships.
“We don’t see any evidence of that,” said Dr. Rambo. “Of course, any mental health issues or illness can complicate a relationship, but there are perfectly mentally healthy people who end up in abusive or domestic violence situations. What we do know is that people who experience domestic violence have their mental health affected during and afterward, often with depression and anxiety.”
Myth: Experiencing domestic violence means you did something wrong in your relationship.
Dr. Rambo emphatically stated that “just because this happens to you does not mean anything about you.” And for those close to domestic violence survivors, she urges people to keep an open mind. “People in these domestic violence situations just need to be believed and supported, even when their choices may seem odd to you,” she said.
For those experiencing domestic or relationship violence, Dr. Rambo recommended the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233), which can be more private than texting hotlines. “If your partner has access to your phone and goes through it frequently, which often happens in these situations, a phone call leaves less evidence than texting,” she said.
She also advised reaching out to campus or community programs. Having worked at several women’s shelters since she was a graduate student, she wants people to have no fear when calling a hotline or a local shelter since they provide free and confidential support.
Dr. Rambo explained, “Call in for whatever help you need – legal help, counseling. You won’t be talked into anything, like living at the shelter or breaking up with your partner. These volunteers are aware of the complexities of a relationship and are not here to judge.”
You can visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence to get help or learn more. Additional national resources for those experiencing domestic violence or for those looking to help domestic violence survivors can be found in Sexual Assault Prevention.