Relationship Violence: What You Need to Know - Health and Wellness Center - Penn State Altoona

Counseling & Psychological Services


Relationship Violence: What You Need to Know

Relationship violence occurs all too frequently on college campuses across the country. It happens to women of all ages, religions, races, sexual orientations and socio-economic classes. The social, emotional, physical, and sexual consequences of relationship violence are severe and can be fatal. This brochure aims to educate people about the issues related to this very serious problem.

Definition of Relationship Violence

Relationship violence is defined as any hurtful or unwanted physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional act inflicted by a casual or intimate dating partner with the intention, either real or perceived, of causing pain or injury to another person.

Note: Given that in most relationship violence situations the abuser is male and the victim is female, throughout this pamphlet the abuser will be referred to with a male pronoun and the victim will be referred to with a female pronoun. This in no way negates the fact that men can be abused and women can be abusers or that both the abused and abuser can be of the same sex.

Abusive behavior can be...


  • Being sworn at, demeaned, and threatened.
  • Being told “no one else would want you” or “I don’t know why I waste my time with you.”
  • Being continually criticized, called names and yelled at for reasons ranging from not being where you are supposed to be, to talking to someone else.
  • Having your most valued beliefs, religion, race, heritage, or socio-economic class ridiculed or insulted.
  • Having your friends/family insulted and/or driven away.


  • Being given the silent treatment.
  • Having approval, appreciation, and affection withheld as punishment.
  • Being manipulated with lies, contradictions, and broken promises.
  • Being humiliated in public or private.
  • Having your feelings, and maybe even your presence, ignored.


  • Having objects thrown at you.
  • Being held or otherwise restrained from leaving.
  • Being hit, bitten, pushed, slapped, punched, and/or shoved.
  • Being abandoned in dangerous places.
  • Being subjected to reckless driving.
  • Being threatened with a weapon.


  • Being forced to engage in sexual activity, sadistic sexual acts, and/or any other unwanted sexual acts.
  • Being forced to strip.
  • Being called sexual names like “whore” and “frigid”.
  • Being witness to anti-woman jokes, demeaning remarks about women and treatment of women as sex objects.
  • Being subjected to jealous anger based on the assumption that you would have sex with anyone.

Relationship violence usually involves a combination of these different forms of abusive behaviors. As the violence progresses in severity the mixture of behaviors can become more complex.

Cycle of Violence

The key characteristic of relationship violence is the “cycle of violence”:

  • Mutual dependency between the abuser and the abused.
  • Unpleasant event (victim-to-be does something viewed as unacceptable to the abuser-to-be).
  • Abuser tries to stop the behavior by threats; the victim may argue back.
  • “Last straw” decision (abuser decides situation is intolerable).
  • Primitive rage assault (all inhibitions against hurting a loved one disappear).
  • Reinforcement for battering (the victim, in order to survive, submits).
  • Repentance (apologies, promises and “happy times”).
    This phase disappears from the cycle after several years of violence.

As the violence progresses over time, the cycle shortens and progresses more rapidly.

Relationship Rights

Everyone looks for different things in a relationship. We all have different desires that we would like fulfilled. No two relationships are exactly alike; we are all unique individuals, and our relationships are unique as well. In all relationships each individual has rights, and a healthy relationship allows you those rights. If you don’t feel that you have these in a relationship, it’s important to know you deserve them.

  • The right to be treated with respect.
  • The right to live without fear of abuse.
  • The right not to be perfect.
  • The right to constructively express your feelings and opinions.
  • The right to fulfill your own needs.
  • The right to reject stereotypes and set your own standards.
  • The right to participate in decision making and to change your mind.
  • The right to privacy and time alone.
  • The right to maintain old friendships and make new ones.
  • The right to say no or disagree.
  • The right to leave.

Extent of the Problem

  • Approximately 1 of 10 high school students has experienced physical violence in dating relationships (as cited in Lloyd, 1995).
  • 21% to 53% of college students have experienced at least one incident of dating violence (as cited in Worth, Matthews & Coleman, 1990).
  • Several research studies with college women found that one half to three quarters experienced some form of sexual aggression in dating relationships (Lloyd, 1995).
  • Women from 19 to 29 years old are more likely than women of other ages to be victimized by an intimate (Bachman & Saltzman, 1995).
  • Compared to men, women experience 10 times as many incidents of violence by an intimate (Zawitz, 1994).
  • An estimated six million women are assaulted by a male partner each year and of these, 1.8 million are severely assaulted (Straus & Gelles, 1990).
  • 22% to 35% of women who visited medical emergency rooms were there for injuries related to ongoing partner abuse (Adams, 1989).
  • Among all female murder victims in 1995, 26% were slain by husbands or boyfriends (FBI, 1996).
  • Everyday 3 to 4 women in the U.S. are killed by their partners (FBI, 1996).

Relationship violence always progresses in severity, intensity, and frequency over time. For instance, physical abuse is almost always preceded and accompanied by verbal abuse. Thus, it is important to identify abusive behavior.

Recognizing A Couple In Trouble

The following symptoms are found in many abusive relationships; however, their presence is not necessarily indicative of abuse:

  • Suspicious bruises or other injuries.
  • Arguing, insults.
  • Over dependency of the partners on one another.
  • Intense jealousy (usually the abuser).
  • Poor impulse control and limited tolerance for frustration by the abuser.
  • Poor social skills (even isolation) in one or both partners.
  • An intense relationship that separates the partners from their support system.

Helping A Friend Who is the Victim

The best time for intervention is just after the violence has occurred. You will need to be patient, because the victim may be embarrassed or guarded; it takes many relationship violence victims five to seven incidents before they leave the abuser for good. Remember: Everyone is different. There isn’t any one single solution.


  • Listen. Being there to help means supporting her choices.
  • Tell her the perpetrator is responsible for his behavior.
  • Help her see possible choices and alternatives.
  • Provide information about counseling and other resources both on and off campus.


  • Tell her to end the relationship.
  • Refuse continued support.
  • Blame her for the violence.

Helping a Friend Who is the Perpetrator


  • Make clear that violence is a violation of rights.
  • Try to compare violence with a stranger to violence with an intimate partner.
  • Point out the definition of assault.
  • Communicate that he is responsible for the violence, not the partner, situation, alcohol, or stress.
  • Insist that the partner’s name be used when referred to.
  • Suggest that he start by dealing with the violent behavior and provide counseling and other resource information.

Couples counseling is not recommended until the abuser has gained control of his behavior and there is no longer violence in the relationship.

Legal Options

Criminal Charges
Assault or harassment charges can be filed with the police and/or the District Magistrate. Such action results in possible arrest and trial.

Protection from Abuse Order (PFA)
The PFA is a special form of restraining order for victims of relationship/domestic violence. You are eligible if you have been assaulted or threatened with physical force by an intimate partner or family member. You are still eligible if you have been assaulted/threatened once or have only been on one date with the person. The PFA also has a clause for stalking situations. No arrest is made unless the order is violated. Contact the PFA office (693-0130) for more information.

Administrative Directive
University staff, faculty, and administrators can assign an administrative directive to ensure that a student will have no unsolicited contact with another student. Failure to comply with the directive can result in disciplinary action which could result in separation from the University. Contact Student Conduct (949-5065) for more information.


Adams, D. (1989, July/August). Identifying the assaultive husband in court: You be the judge. Boston Bar Journal, 33-34.

Bachman, R. & Saltzman, L. (1995). Violence against women: Estimates from the redesigned survey. Washington, DC: Department of Justice.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1996). Uniform crime reports. Washington, DC: Department of Justice.

Lloyd, S. (1995). The darkside of courtship: Violence and sexual exploitation. In S. Stith & M. Straus (Eds.), Understanding partner violence: Prevalence, causes, consequences, & solutions (pp. 90-98). Minneapolis, MN: National Council on Family Relations.

Straus, M. & Gelles, R. (Eds.). (1990). Physical violence in American families: Risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Worth, D., Matthews, P., Coleman, W. (1990). Sex role, group affiliation, family background, and courtship violence in college students. Journal of College Student Development, 31, 250-254.

Zawitz, M. (1994). Violence between intimates. Washington, DC: Department of Justice.

Resource Directory

Medical Treatment
  • Altoona Hospital — 814-946-2153
  • AMED Ambulance Service — 911
  • Health and Wellness Center, Penn State Altoona — 814-949-5540
Police and Legal Information
  • Police Emergency Number — 911
  • Campus Police, Penn State Altoona — 814-949-5222
  • Altoona Police — 814-949-2489
  • Logan Township Police — 814-940-5999
  • Office of Student Conduct, Penn State Altoona — 103 Slep Student Center, 814-949-5222
  • PFA Office — 365 Blair County Courthouse
  • District Attorney — Blair County Courthouse, 814-693-3010
  • Blair County Victim Witness Program — 814-639-3018
Emotional Support
  • Health and Wellness Center, Penn State Altoona — 814-949-5540
  • Family Services of Blair County, Domestic Abuse Project — 814-944-3583
  • Campus Police Escort Service, Penn State Altoona — 814-949-5222
  • Family Services of Blair County, Domestic Abuse Project Shelter, 24 hrs — 814-944-3585 or 800-500-2849
Referral Information and Advocacy
  • Health and Wellness Center, Penn State Altoona — 814-949-5540
  • Family Services of Blair County, Domestic Abuse Project, 24 hours — 814-944-3583

The Counseling Center is staffed by licensed counselors who provide both individual counseling and case management services. The Center's staff is dedicated to assisting students in their pursuit of personal and academic growth, to help students gain a better understanding and appreciation of themselves, and to support students as they make important decisions about their lives. Contact the Health and Wellness Center at 814-949-5540 to schedule an appointment or schedule through the Online Student Access secure portal.

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