Everyone has heard about “the ratio;” it’s hard not to. I heard about it before I even applied to Samford and have not stopped hearing about it ever since. For every one guy there is approximately two to three girls. Now I’m not going to address the brazen objectification of women inherent in the way we talk about that statistic, nor will I attack the male-centered nature of the portrayed statistical relationship (someone should). I’m going to simply say that Samford has a cultural problem in the way it encourages young men to treat young women. Samford’s culture isn’t really unique in this regard; there is a larger systemic problem.
According to 2011 study nearly 43% of college women experienced some form of abuse from a partner while in a relationship. I’d like to emphasize the fact that this statistic concerns women in a relationship. Nearly 43% of women in a dating relationship experienced abuse from the person they were dating. In a culture that actively encourages dating to get that “ring by spring” I feel like this is an important statistic to address.
What does relationship abuse look like? It can be a variety of things physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal. It can be exercising an inordinate amount of control over a partner’s personal life; it can be physical violence against a partner to cause fear or injury; it can be blaming a partner or making a partner responsible for one’s emotional state to coerce actions; it can be sexual assault. It can be all of these things individually or together but what each amount to is abuse.
I’d like to examine those last two forms together because many times they go hand in hand. I’ll do this with a (fictional) example. Consider a relationship that has just officially started. Nothing sexual has occurred and things seem idyllic. However, one partner would like for things to go further, pressuring the other partner. The partner could threaten to end the relationship, could threaten to harm the other partner, or could tie the lack of moving forward to their own emotional state by making the unwillingness to do anything equivalent to a rejection of the relationship itself. These are just a few of many examples of a coercive form of abuse. What happens if anything sexual comes out of this? Succinctly put: it is sexual assault. It may be in the context of a relationship, but it is still sexual assault.
How could a situation ever come to this, where 43% of college women experience this or some other form of abuse in a relationship? I don’t have an answer, but I do have a suggestion moving forward: address the culture that supports relationship abuse against women. How can we claim to be a community that supports young women when we buy into this culture? How can we protect young women at Samford when their first real experience on campus is being presented as dates to a dance for young men who have been told they can take their pick of the young women, maybe even two or three? I don’t think we can.
William Featherston, Columnist