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How Domestic Abuse Hinders Educational Pursuits for Student Parents

Domestic abuse can have a lasting impact on the wellbeing and academic trajectories of not just adults but children as well, according to a new report from student parent success organization Generation Hope.Marlee BreakstoneMarlee Breakstone

The report, "Student Parents and Intimate Partner Violence" lays out research from various sources on the extent and effects of domestic violence on survivors, student parents, and children. The publication was released at the tail end of October, which was Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) – also known as domestic abuse or violence – is defined by the United Nations as a pattern of behavior in a relationship to gain or maintain power and control over a partner, with the abuse potentially including harmful physical, sexual, emotional, economic, digital, or psychological actions or threats.

"This is an issue that parenting college students are facing across the country,” said Nicole Lynn Lewis, founder and CEO of Generation Hope. “And so little is known about IPV when it comes to student parents."

According to the report, IPV often – but not always – follows a four-stage cycle of violence and abuse, wherein the abuser induces fears, perpetrates abuse, attempt to reconcile and/or downplay their actions, and enter a phase of calm or ‘normalcy’ before starting the pattern all over again.

Girls and young women are particularly vulnerable, the report noted, with women ages 18-24 most commonly abused by an intimate partner. This kind of abuse is prominent, with 1 out of 3 women and 1 out of 4 men facing it in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Among Generation Hope’s own Scholars, the teen parents the organization helps support, 40 of almost 200 in the D.C. metro region and Greater New Orleans area told staff that they have witnessed or experienced intimate partner, family, or sexual violence, the report noted.

"We know that one of the primary barriers that the student parents that we work with in our current caseload and our historical caseload [face], is the occurrence of IPV and trouble navigating the systems in place that are supposed to support them and not knowing how to interact with them, while raising a family and pursuing a degree,” said Marlee Breakstone, senior policy manager at Generation Hope and primary researcher and writer for the report.

And when it comes to IPV, the numbers are highly underreported, due to fears of disbelief, retaliation, and negative perception, the report stated.

"The fact that the data, how overwhelming it is, shows a lot of young folks are impacted by IPV still doesn't capture the reality of folks who are impacted, because we know that underreporting and systemic issues really persist," Breakstone said.

IPV often affects young people for life, impacting pregnancy and careers, the report noted. Teenage girls in physically abusive relationships are 3.5 times more likely to become pregnant than non-abused girls, and mothers who are IPV survivors may be more likely to experience unemployment, according to the report.

Nicole Lynn LewisNicole Lynn LewisDomestic abuse can also actively hinder and jeopardize academic paths and plans, the report noted. Almost half of college women (43%) who are dating have reported facing violence from their partner. And as a result of IPV, survivors have had educational goal progress disrupted (66%) or had to drop/retake one or more classes (44%).

Children can get caught in the path of domestic abuse as well, with more than 15 million U.S. children living in homes where IPV has occurred, according to the report. 

To help remedy these pervasive issues, Generation Hope offered several policy recommendations that lawmakers and leaders can employ. Such recommendations include creating campus spaces where student parents feel safe enough to disclose IPV; implementing programs for IPV intervention and prevention; establishing family-friendly housing options with priority for student parents; and strengthening economic security for survivors.

Leaders also need to collaborate with police for safe and comfortable reporting abuse and explore other options for survivors who don’t want to involve law enforcement, the report authors suggested.

Lewis is herself a survivor of domestic abuse, and her story is incorporated into the message of the report.

“Coming from a childhood fraught with fighting and desperate to escape the turmoil of home, Nicole began a dangerous relationship with a young man during high school who would later become her daughter’s father,” the report noted. She was able to escape and extract herself from that situation.

"I think it's powerful for people to see someone who was in my position, who made it through college as a young Black mother, who is now a CEO and founder of an organization that is thriving and growing,” Lewis said.


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