If you would have asked me my freshman year of high school if I was or had ever been in an abusive relationship, my answer would have been a very confident “no”. At the age of 15, my first real relationship consisted of fight after fight with a whole lot of manipulation. At such a young age, couples should be fighting about which movie to see or who’s parent is going to pick them up, not how much control one can have over the other. I was so set on the fact that since he never hit me, or never even laid a finger on me unless I told him it was okay, that everything was perfectly normal. Now let me tell you something that took me years to figure out: Just because he doesn’t hit you, doesn’t mean he doesn’t abuse you. I can’t even tell you how many times I heard “it’s because I care”. Disclosure: this actually meant “it’s because I need to control you.” He might not have hit me, but he didn’t let me leave the house unless he knew where I was going. I was directed to text him who I was with, where I was going, when I was leaving, and how long I would be there. He might not have hit me, but he got mad at me when I dyed my hair purple because he didn’t like it. My hair. My decision. And HE was upset over my decision on what to do with my hair. He might not have hit me, but when I chose to hang out with my friends over him, I didn’t hear from him for the rest of the day. He might not have hit me, but when he saw my location on Facebook said somewhere that wasn’t where I lived (even if it said I was at my dad’s house an hour away), he would throw a fit. He might not have hit me, but he convinced me every friendship I had was toxic, except his of course. After these fights usually followed the “It’s because I care” or “I’m just kidding”. If anything is taken away from this, I want you all to know it’s not because they care and nothing is funny about abuse. It is because they have a need to control what they think belongs to them. You do not belong to anyone. You are brighter than the darkness they try to fill you with.
If it weren’t for my loving, compassionate parents who never doubted my strength and the friends who never gave up on me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have had the courage to leave him. My story is nothing compared to what some brave, strong women go through on a day-to-day basis. It is for these women I do what I do. It took me a long time to realize the relationship was toxic and controlling, but I vowed I would stand up to talk with anyone who will listen about what consent is, what abuse is, and what we can do to prevent it. I’m still learning myself, but everyone has to start somewhere. Making this vow is what brought me to Kristine and Voices of Hope, and my Sexual Assault Prevention seminar at my university. One of the first events our seminar held was a “Love and Support Day”. The campaign had everything from self-care to teaching about consent. The most important part of the event was the “Free Hugs” campaign. I stood in the middle of the very busy University Student Union and asked for consent for hugs. I then briefly explained to them what consent was and the actions we can take as a community. Watching people’s eyes light up when they got asked for a hug and understood what the meaning behind it was might have been the most rewarding part of all. My heart aches for those who do not see their worth because of the way someone else has treated them. To the women who do not believe in themselves or believe that someone else has control over them, this one is for you. You are not alone. Day by day I promise to make every effort to teach other’s about what consent is, why relationships can be toxic, and how we can stick up for ourselves and other’s around us.