Last week, the Foundation unveiled its new Be 1 for Change campaign, which targets 16-to-24-year-olds with a smartphone app and public service announcement designed to help recognize dating violence. The app, called the One Love DA (Danger Assessment) Application, poses 20 questions, such as: Is he an alcoholic or problem drinker? Does he ever try to choke you? Do you feel owned and controlled? Has the physical violence increased in severity or frequency over the past year? Women who get a high score, which indicates a higher degree of danger, are urged to seek immediate professional help and are supplied with a list of phone numbers and resources. "You might already know that this isn't a good situation, but think that things are going to change," Sharon says. "If you take the test, you'll be able to see how much danger you're in, and it will probably persuade someone to go for help who wouldn't have actually done it before."
Such tools are particularly important, experts say, because people often aren't sure whether or not they're in an abusive relationship. No one says "I'm going to hit you in six months" on the first date, and as feelings grow and evolve, it can be easy to dismiss the warning signs or find a way to justify them. Dating violence is defined as any type of abusive or aggressive behavior to gain power or control, and includes verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as stalking.
Recognizing abuse is often challenging, especially since such relationships aren't always bad all the time. Be alert for these red flags: A partner who checks your cell phone or E-mail without permission, constantly belittles you, or is extremely jealous or insecure. Someone with an explosive temper who isolates you from your family and friends, while making false accusations. Mood swings, physical harm, possessiveness, and controlling or bossy behavior. "Notice whether a friend has general anxiety about needing to get back to her partner, or even small changes in the way she dresses," says Whitney Laas, 24, a peer advocate with the National Dating Abuse Helpline, which is based in Austin, Texas. "She might start dressing more conservatively, because her boyfriend doesn't want her dressing up for other people."
In a nod to our tech-savvy world, experts are also warning against "textual harassment," or abuse via text message. Making threats over text is serious—not just a form of angry venting. "Sometimes it's easier to text something nasty than it is to say it," Campbell says. "It escalates into abuse when it's constant, when it becomes scary, and when it won't stop even though you clearly told the other person that enough was enough." Textual harassment can also include demands for inappropriate pictures or constant monitoring of someone's whereabouts.
Though attention tends to focus on women who are abused by their boyfriends, men aren't always the perpetrators. They can be victims, too. The difference typically lies in the type and severity of abuse. Women usually initiate acts of aggression like slapping and pinching, while men are more likely to punch or sexually assault their victim.
If someone you care about is being abused, offer your friendship and support—often, that's all you can do. "A lot of people think, 'It's not my business,' but it definitely is," Laas says. "Whether it's a girlfriend you see crying a lot or who's really anxious about her relationship, or a guy friend who's being harsh to his partner, speak up and say, 'That's not OK.'"Let your friend know it isn't her fault, and encourage her to build a support network. But don't make any demands or force her into something she's not comfortable with: She has to handle the situation on her own timeline. Rather, let her know you'll listen at any time, without judgment, and offer to sit with her as she calls the crisis hotline or logs onto an online help site. "It can be really frustrating to stick by your friend when you see her being hurt or upset or depressed," Laas says. "But it takes time to get out of an abusive relationship. Be patient, and be there for her when she's ready to get help."