Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My daughter is in college and lives with two other roommates. She and another want to push the third one out. From what she tells me, they hate the other girl’s boyfriend because he apparently treats the girl awfully and makes her cry all the time. They are tired of telling her to dump him only to see him plopped on their couch days later.
I see it as an abusive relationship and my heart breaks that they would push her away, but I also get how hard it is to have front-row tickets to a show they don’t want to watch. What can I tell my daughter?
Advising the Bystanders
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First, advise her to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, which can help them understand the situation and better help their roommate.
Also urge them to go through the school for help. Academia is under serious pressure to address relationship abuse problems, and it needs fellow students like your daughter to speak up.
These roommates also need to consult school authorities on whether they have standing to keep this guy out of their apartment, especially if they don’t feel safe with him there.
If it’s abuse, “Dump him,” might not be enough.
Re: Bystanders: I have been the girl your daughter is trying to push out. Instead of trying to help me through a hard time, my “best friends” kicked me to the curb. Suffice it to say, our friendships also ended, along with my unhappy relationship shortly after. Please tell your daughter to be kind in her decision to ask her roommate to leave. Losing a friend in the midst of a possibly abusive relationship can be devastating. I mourn the loss of my two friends much more than I did that boyfriend.
Re: Bystanders: They need to banish the boyfriend, not the abused roommate. Without flinching and in front of the abused girl, tell said boyfriend he is no longer allowed inside their residence, that the school has been notified of his suspected abuse, and that it will not be tolerated or enabled. Demonstrate to the abused roommate just how to stand up to bullies, not how to be one.
Re: Roommates: The boyfriend could just be a total glass bowl and the young woman is upset about the way her boyfriend is treating her. I just think people are way too quick to call out “abuse.”
All the more reason to talk to someone (hotline, adviser) who has the time and training to hear the details, make some sense of them and advise a course of action accordingly.
I humbly suggest that the reality is not that “people are way too quick to call out ‘abuse’” – but instead that witnesses are way too quick to rationalize away the possibility of abuse, because it’s so much easier to say, “S/he is just a glass bowl,” “It’s not my business,” etc. It’s easier for the victims themselves to rationalize because getting away is so hard. Female abusers especially are brushed off so often as just nagging or jealous.
For anyone unsure of the seriousness of poor treatment, MOSAIC is an excellent threat-assessment resource from Gavin de Becker’s shop: www.mosaicmethod.com.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.