What Are the Signs of Sexual or Relationship Violence?

Signs of a Healthy Relationship

A healthy relationship brings out the best in you—whether that relationship is with friends, family, or a partner. While no relationship is perfect, a healthy relationship should make you feel good most of the time. Here are some signs of a healthy relationship:

  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Independence
  • Respect
  • Equality
  • Communication

Take this quiz to find out if you’re in a healthy relationship.

Everyone has certain things they’re looking for in a relationship. Besides the above qualities, what else would you want in a potential partner? 

Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

Knowing the signs can help you determine if you or a friend may be in an unhealthy relationship. A partner may use these behaviors to gain power or control. Sometimes, these behaviors may lead to violence. Here are some signs of an unhealthy relationship:

  • Jealousy
  • Manipulation
  • Isolation
  • Checking cell phones or social media without permission
  • Belittling or putting down
  • Making you feel guilty for your partner’s actions
  • Volatility or explosive temper
  • Telling someone what they can and cannot do
  • Deflecting responsibility

It can be very difficult to know if you are in an unhealthy relationship. OneLove, a group whose mission is to educate young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships, empowering them to identify and avoid abuse and learn how to love better, created a series of short videos that show what the signs of an unhealthy relationship look like.   

Signs that Someone Has Experienced Sexual Violence

Some people who have experienced sexual violence may exhibit signs or symptoms related to their experience. Everyone will be different, though, so it may not be easy to know if someone has experienced sexual violence. Signs may include:

  • Depression, sadness, or feeling down
  • Self-harming behaviors or suicidal thoughts
  • Worrying about things that they didn’t worry about in the past
  • Withdrawing from friends, academics, or co-curriculars
  • Increased drug or alcohol use

These behaviors may be related to sexual violence or they may be caused by other things, like a mental health condition. Being an active bystander and checking in with your friend to see how they are feeling is a good strategy. 

How to Help a Friend

If you think a friend may be in an unhealthy relationship, there are ways you can help. You may not know what to do, and that’s normal! Having a conversation is a good way to start

  • Find a time when you can talk to your friend in private.
  • Make sure you have plenty of time—if you’re running to a class, you should wait until later to start the conversation.
  • Express your concern. You might say “I’ve noticed a few things about your current relationship, and I have some concerns I wanted to talk to you about.”
  • Focus on the unhealthy behaviors but try not to label them. Saying your friend’s partner is abusive may cause your friend to shut down. Instead, talk about what you’re seeing. “I have seen your partner call you names and put you down. How does that make you feel?”
  • Hearing this may be difficult or embarrassing for them, so you can talk about similar situations that you have been in to help your friend know they’re not alone.
  • Don’t blame your friend—it is not their fault. Their partner is the only one to blame.
  • Allow them to make their own decisions. You cannot force your friend to do anything. It’s up to them what the next steps may be. 
  • Provide resources and let them know you’re available to talk some more. 

You may consider talking to a counselor or confidential advocate if you think a friend may have experienced sexual or relationship violence. They can help you with the conversation and can provide support to you. 

If you think your friend may be perpetrating unhealthy behaviors themselves, you should talk to them about your concerns. 

  • Do it in private when you won’t be interrupted by other people or other things to do.
  • Focus on the behaviors—mention specific behaviors you’ve noticed that are concerning. Try not to label the behaviors. You might say “I’ve noticed that you call your partner a lot, even when you know they’re busy. Have you noticed this? How do you feel about it?”
  • Your friend may not realize what they’re doing is unhealthy. Provide them with resources or someone to talk to. You can also refer them to this “Am I a Good Partner?” quiz
  • Provide continued support and conversation. Your friend may come back with more questions or to talk more. Keep the lines of communication open.

You may also consider talking to the student health or counseling center staff, as well as confidential on-campus advocates for support and advice. They can help you decide what to say and how to say it.