Bruises without a name: investigating college student perceptions of relationship violence terminology

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University of Alabama Libraries

Rates of collegiate relationship violence are at an all-time high (Breiding, 2015). Although colleges and universities are taking steps towards reducing these rates, recent research has uncovered a fatal flaw in their methods: terminology. Lederman and Stewart (2003) surveyed relationship violence prevention campaigns across college campuses, finding ‘domestic violence’ as the most widely used name for collegiate relationship violence, yet also the one college students were least comfortable with using. 298 students at a large, southeastern university completed a survey through the online distribution tool Qualtrics. Using a basic 1-7 Likert Scale, students were asked to rate the appropriateness of the following terms: domestic violence, dating violence, dating abuse, intimate partner violence, intimate terrorism, and common couple violence. Findings indicate that students were significantly more likely to attribute the terms domestic violence, dating violence, and dating abuse to a situation if the perpetrator of violence was male rather than female. When partners were dating, students felt most comfortable with the terms ‘dating violence’ and ‘dating abuse.’ Most importantly, terminology was found to be correlated with perceptions of severity, blame, and recommendations for bystander action. Ultimately, this study suggests that schemas surround each possible relationship violence term, and offers the idea that simply adjusting what college student deem as ‘domestic violence’ could unlock the key to bystander intervention efforts and violence reduction in the future.

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