Dates & Nuts

Safety first: When dating takes a dangerous turn
Datesandnutsdomesticviolence Nestingdolls
Lissa Mathis

One does not have to be married to encounter domestic violence or an abusive partner. Dangerous dating relationships do occur and affect people of all ages, races, beliefs, income levels, gender identities, and sexual orientations. According to Willow Domestic Violence Center’s annual report released last October, 4,709 incidences of domestic violence were reported in Monroe County in 2014. Additionally, domestic violence can happen in any neighborhood—this was the first time the percentage of suburban reports exceeded urban. 

Pamela Graham, prevention education and training coordinator at Willow Center, has been working with survivors for twenty-five years. She explains that there are three kinds of relationships: healthy, unhealthy, and dangerous. A healthy relationship is safe and offers equality, love, communication, and occasionally, conflict. While not ideal, an unhealthy relationship is also safe. “This is where people lie like a rug and cheat like a card player,” says Graham. Examples include one-sided commitment, one-sided support, lack of communication, and lack of trust. Unhealthy relationships are still considered safe because they allow couples to break up with dignity, learn from the experience, and move on with their lives. 

However, in a dangerous relationship, people do not break up—they escape—and every relationship has a different level of danger. Graham provides this shocking statistic: “A breakup increases their chances of being murdered by their abusers by 75 percent.” She then explains how abusers successfully manipulate their partners, “An abuser chooses this behavior. They are typically charming and have a strategy where they weave in love and goodness with abuse. It rarely happens at the start of the relationship because they need time to build commitment before exhibiting dangerous behavior.” The abuse manifests in many forms: physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and financial. Abusers will sometimes start this process by making negative comments about their partner’s body.

Considering that one out of three women (and one out of four men) will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, our society can be pretty critical. Easily influenced by traditional and social media, people tend to dole out advice instead of providing options, or question why these people continue to stay with their abusers. Graham believes we need to stop judging survivors, proceed with caution, and empower them through support and a safety plan. “The one expert—and the only expert—in this situation is the person surviving their dangerous relationship,” she says. 

So, how do we empower society to shift blame off survivors and improve our relationships? We can establish trust, listen, and believe what survivors are telling us. We can be more supportive during a breakup. We can check in with our committed friends, ask how their relationships are going, and offer support as needed. We can resist judging those who don’t want to date, and we can resist judging those who do. We can refrain from trivializing the relationships of younger people because of age and trust that they are the subject matter experts. Most importantly, we can help survivors restore a life without violence by allowing them to assert what they want for themselves and not what we want for them.

We can also offer up our phone as part of a safety plan. Technology has become problematic when abusers have access to their partners’ phones. “Electronic leashing is a real issue, so just consider your phone a billboard,” says Graham, “Willow Center offers Hope Phones if you don’t feel you’re safe.” One thing that has changed over the course of Graham’s career is the access to dating through technology.“People used to meet by chance or through school, work, or friends. Now they are online and actively looking to date.” She continues, “I’ve had people tell me that their friends don’t even know the name of the person they’re dating.” For singles looking to date safely, Graham recommends the following: 

• Your friends should know the full, real names of the people you are dating.

• You should be seeing your friends as much as you were before your relationship.

• Check in/be in touch more often in person instead of texting. 

Good, continued communication with your support system is imperative. “Without it, we aren’t going to know when the abuse is starting,” says Graham.  


Stacey Rowe is a freelance writer based in Rochester.

Categories: Current Issue – Dates & Nuts, Health, Stacy Rowe