As part of the University of Saskatchewan’s Sex Week, the Peer Health Educator Group promoted healthy couplings and spread word of the warning signs of unhealthy relationships.
The campaign involved placing large red flags around campus, with each flag representing a warning sign of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. These red flags included Jealousy, Emotional Abuse & Victim Blaming, Coercion, Physical & Sexual Abuse, Isolation and Stalking.
Maryellen Gibson, sexual violence prevention educator at the PHEG, explained that just as the red flags are glaring at us on campus so too are the warning signs of unhealthy relationships.
A 2013 National College Health Assessment at the U of S reported students’ experiences between 2012-2013. The study indicated 4.7 per cent reported having been stalked at some point, 10.2 per cent experienced emotional abuse in an intimate relationship, 2.5 per cent experienced physical abuse in intimate relationships and 1.7 per cent experienced a sexually abusive intimate relationship. Gibson admits that due to underreporting, the rates of actual incidence are probably much higher.
Accompanying each flag around campus was a poster challenging students to “do something” if they see any of these “relationship red flags.” Gibson emphasized the importance of the bystander, explaining that many of us see our peers in unhealthy relationships and highlighting the opportunity we have to speak up if we are concerned for a friend. Her recommendations included creating open dialogue while being supportive and understanding.
We have a responsibility to look out for our peers if we see them in abusive or harmful relationships, but can we recognize the same in our own life?
Heather Pocock at the Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre highlighted the difficulty in recognizing an unhealthy relationship when we are subject to the abusive behavior.
“Relationships are complex and relational abuse is perhaps even more complex. A first response to abusive actions by a partner may be met with denial, confusion, helplessness, privacy, shame and embarrassment. Sometimes people will excuse and even justify the aggressor’s behavior,” Pocock said. “Sometimes abusive behaviors become a normal part of some relationships and the longer it is perpetuated, the more difficult to address the abuse and remove oneself.”
Pockock explained that it is often hard for a person to acknowledge they’re being abused.
“Many people we work with haven’t clearly identified that they are being abused, partly due to stereotypic images of violence — especially sexual violence — and abuse,” she said, noting further challenges in getting help are due to many individuals’ concerns about the attitudes of others, how they may be portrayed and if they will be believed.
Being assaulted by a stranger is something many of us fear but the PHEG and SSAIC make an important point: the majority of people are abused or attacked by someone they know.
“People ignore the red flags because they don’t want to believe that someone they care about would do this to them,” Pocock said.
Considering the risk and courage needed to address abuse, it is understandable why many people don’t speak up, but members of the PHEG and SSAIC hope to change that.
Perhaps concerns for a friend have been raised while reading this article. As the Relationship Red Flag campaign highlighted, it is important that you speak to that person in a supportive and caring manner.
If you suspect that a relationship you are in is unhealthy or abusive, speak with someone trained to help. The SSAIC has a 24-hour crisis line you can call at 306-244-2224 and you can access support on campus at the Student Health, Pride or Women’s Centres.