Modern Media: Setting An Example For Today’s Relationships?

Jesse Case, Staff Correspondent

With 50 Shades of Grey out in theaters this Feb., abusive relationships have become a popular point of interest. So just how normalized is abuse in our modern day society?

Nearly every interaction in the book series has prominent signs of abuse: stalking, intimidation, and isolation, according to a study done by Ohio State University in 2013. The study concluded that, “Anastasia becomes disempowered and entrapped in the relationship as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian’s abuse.”

So what does it say when the first book of the trilogy ranks as the fastest-selling paperback of all time?

“Sadly, the way the series is widely celebrated and advertised as a great romance just further shows that as a society, we don’t understand what abuse is, how to identify it, or how to help victims of abuse by shaming the abuser,” junior Charlie Hoeing, a victim of emotional abuse, said. “It leaves the victim feeling isolated and shamed for speaking up, and means that the abuser is free to continue abusing.”

Hoeing went on to explain how a series affected her. “I realized that, having read it and empathized with the main character as a victim of abuse, it was very harmful and had caused me to relive some of the more traumatic memories of my abuser and our relationship before I escaped.”

Hoeing’s abusive relationship began while she lived in Germany as a freshman and dated a senior. She realized the relationship was harmful when her abuser started monitoring her actions and restricting who she could talk to or what classes she could join. Online, he would send violent and threatening messages and later demand she delete any proof of the conversations.

Hoeing also said the worst tactic he had was acting as if he needed support or compassion before returning to abuse. “I thought as his girlfriend I was supposed to fix his problems, like I was his caretaker.”

He would sometimes test Hoeing to see if she cared enough about him, trying to stress her out in fake emergency situations in order to test her reaction. “He was very manipulative. He would pretend to faint or act dead, then he would laugh at me for worrying.”

Hoeing got away from her abuser by switching schools and crossing the Atlantic to Albemarle, after his repeated attempts to manipulate her into a relationship.

Only 30 percent of teenage victims of abuse speak up about it, according to a 2005 study by Teenage Research Unlimited. The majority of abuse cases go unnoticed and the victims are left to recover on their own.

Student Assistance Program Specialist Mary Williams says it’s of the utmost importance to promote healthy relationships to teenagers. Teens are only starting to navigate relationships and don’t yet know how to recognize, avoid, or recover from abuse.

“If someone uses guilt to try to manipulate or control, that can be a sign of emotional abuse,” Williams said. “If they say stuff like, ‘You’re spending way too much time with your friends and not enough time with me.’ Any unwanted sexual advances, hitting, forcing, pushing, violating privacy, you know.”

During February, Williams and other school counselors got together with counseling intern Rachel Desmond and the Charlottesville Albemarle Coalition for Healthy Youth, (CACHY) to do a project based around spreading awareness for dating violence.

The product was posters hung up around the school with the handprints of different students beside the words, “These Hands Won’t Hurt.”

“We do something like this every year. I think this year was the first year we did it on as broad a scope as this…My hope is to bring awareness and to reduce the stigma, and to help people start the conversation not necessarily about abuse, but about healthy relationships,” Williams explained.

Hoeing wanted to spread this last message to readers: “In the end, I got away from my abuser. The best way to support women who did the same is by donating money to a battered women’s shelter, for women who managed to escape their Christian Grey.”