*This photo is being represented by a model, not a subject in the story below Photo: Chris Blanchette

Scar tissue

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By Rob Foreman

Hayley Walsh hadn’t been invited to her (now ex-)boyfriend’s birthday party. She sat at home until he texted her, saying that he’d meant to invite her — she then made her way over to the bonfire. But as she walked into the backyard, she received strange looks from her boyfriend’s friends. The kind of looks that said, “Why are you here?”

At around 3 a.m., Walsh was grabbing her sweater off of a lawn chair to head home, but hesitated when her phone vibrated with a text saying, “Once everybody leaves, come meet me.”

“Where?” she responded. “My room,” was the reply.

“My friend Emily [was] doing her best to try and get me to come home with her. She was like, ‘Please don’t do it, you know you’re going to regret it,’” Walsh recounts.

But her ex had told her that he loved her, and that after all this time he wanted to lose his virginity to her.

“I think this is different this time,” she told Emily. “He’s never done this before.”

Once Emily caved in, Walsh headed down to his bedroom. The two of them met, drank, and began to get intimate — but what she wanted to be a romantic, magical moment, quickly became the exact opposite. He got up immediately, put his clothes on and sat silently at the end of the bed. Walsh crawled to his side, across ruffled bed sheets.

“Hey, are you good?” she asked.

“You need to leave.”

“Why? Can I get a ride?”

“I don’t give favours to sluts,” he said.

On the verge of tears, Walsh headed out of his basement-bedroom and sat on the curb for almost half an hour, crying as she waited for her friend to pick her up.

That night was the breaking point of an abusive relationship that lasted for years.

Abusive relationships are a pattern of behaviours used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner, according to the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness. There are four types of abuse that can occur: emotional, physical, financial and sexual.

“It serves to keep that person in the relationship because they don’t feel good enough to leave or to be with anyone else … [the abusers] are kind of brainwashing them,” says Karen Abrams, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in treatment for depression, anxiety and psychological distress in women resulting from violence and abuse. After the relationship is over, the abuse can take its toll on the victim over a long period of time, and cause the person to question their worth. Dating violence is highest among the 15-24 age group, making up 43 per cent of all incidents of dating violence. Twenty-six per cent of girls in a relationship have reported being verbally abused, according to Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), an education and support service helping abused women.

Back in her senior year of high school, the romance had been a problem from the start. Walsh, now a third-year journalism student, remembers that she really liked him — he was the first guy that she ever wanted to be in a relationship with. Walsh says he knew that and used it to manipulate her during and after the relationship. From the onset, he would interrogate her about her past with other guys, and when she gave honest answers, he showed anger and disrespect in response.

“He would … call me a slut and a whore, like, ‘Why should I even date someone like you? You’re a classic example of what I wouldn’t want,’” Walsh says.

While he kept that hanging over her head, they eventually began to get intimate. Both virgins, Walsh found that she would be performing sexual acts on him but he would never reciprocate.

“He would say that he didn’t believe that I was the kind of girl he would want to touch in that way,” she says.

Third-year photography student Hilary, who asked that her full name not be used, experienced mental abuse during her first year at Ryerson. Throughout the relationship, which battered her self-esteem, she was belittled and humiliated in front of her friends.

“He’d just be like, ‘Oh that’s fucking stupid, you’re a fucking idiot,’” recounts Hilary.

There were many times where she found herself heading back to her apartment and crying in bed until she fell asleep. “Then the next day I would go and hang out with him. [In a toxic relationship], they sort of make you feel like you’re not good enough for anyone else and that you have to stay with them.”

The abuse that Hilary was subjected to also reached its climax at her boyfriend’s birthday party, in his apartment. She headed up the stairs in the building towards his room with a few of her friends. The party was a standard house party, with students bringing the bong out and playing beer pong in poorly-decorated rooms ringing with loud music. Everything seemed fine at the time, until Hilary decided to go back to her room to grab more alcohol. As she drunkenly stumbled through the hallway, she passed a girl who called her a bitch under her breath.

“I didn’t do anything, I was just drunk-walking down the hallway,” Hilary recalls. When she got back to the party, she joked to her boyfriend about the incident, but while everyone stared and her embarrassment grew, he began to freak out.

“I’m gonna kill that bitch. Fuck that girl. Let’s go fucking egg her door!”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll get over it, don’t worry,” she whispered to him, but he’d begun pulling eggs out of the fridge in the corner of the apartment.

Hilary got in his way and touched his arm to get him to calm him down.

“As soon as I tried to touch him, not in an aggressive way, more of a comforting way, a calm-down way, he like grabbed my shoulders and shoved me into the fridge,” she recalls.  As she crashed into the fridge, people started to try and get in between them and the situation de-escalated. But that was one of Hilary’s key warnings that there was something wrong in her relationship.

“He wasn’t even shitfaced, he knew what he was doing. Like he was still in control,” she says.

While the physical abuse ended there for Hilary, the same was not the case for Walsh. She was left with a choice between performing sexual acts or not getting a ride home, and it didn’t stop at merely oral sex.

“Before we did it, he was obsessed with the idea of doing anal sex, and it would come to the point where we’d be in bed doing stuff and he’d flip me over and try to do it,” she says. “And I’d tell him no, it’s fucking painful.”

She made it very clear to him that she did not enjoy it and yet he still persisted. With her infatuation with him, and the threat of a break up looming over her head, she often caved into his demands.

“It went from, ‘If you don’t blow me, I’m not taking you home,’ to, ‘How come you don’t wanna do anal with me? Do you not like me anymore?’”

He never wanted to have regular sex with her — he told her that vaginal sex was for someone that he truly loved, and he didn’t love her — until changing his mind at his birthday party.

Walsh remembers asking him why he was kicking her out of his house after they had slept together, especially since he had told her that he loved her and wanted her to stay the night. That all turned out to be a lie, she says — he had been sleeping with other girls before and was taking advantage of her emotions to add another notch to his belt.

“Anxiousness is not a component of love when it feels that way, when it feels like there’s constantly a threat of him going to leave if you don’t do something sexual to him, and I understand that now.”

After that night, she realized how toxic the relationship was and that she needed to be able to stand up for herself. She recognized that there was nothing romantic about the anxiety that coloured the relationship. “Anxiousness is not a component of love when it feels that way, when it feels like there’s constantly a threat of him going to leave if you don’t do something sexual to him, and I understand that now,” she says.

In Hilary’s case, the guy she had been seeing threatened to humiliate her once it was all over. He told her that he had a naked picture of her that someone else had taken, and that he would spread it around. The fear had Hilary frantically contacting all of her friends, asking if they had taken pictures of her that she didn’t know about.

“He didn’t even want anything,” she says. “He just says that he has it and he’s gonna send it around.”

After an extended period of time, he finally caved in and told her that it was a picture of someone else who looked like her.

“He sent me to her [Facebook] profile, she had hair like mine and her face wasn’t in it. It was a shot from behind,” Hilary explains. “So he could’ve lied [to others] and said it was me.”

Abrams works to help women recover from abusive relationships — she says that the first step is to identify specific parts of abuse. “If this is their first relationship, they don’t know that some of this is even abuse,” she explains. Once that has been identified, others can work to undo the damage and explain to the victim that they are allowed to have a voice.

The biggest change the relationship instilled in Hilary has been a stronger guard against trusting men. She admits the development has negative side-effects, but her experience has shown her that it’s safer to be absolutely sure. “It’s [in] being intimate that I choose not to trust men, and I know that it’s better that way,” she says.

After Walsh started to appreciate what a real relationship is supposed to be, she was able to get over her ex. She was able to look back at the whole situation as a learning experience — she says that she doesn’t regret having lived through that period in her life. She’s not glad that it happened, but she’s glad that it happened early.

“Sometimes that can happen when you’re older and you don’t necessarily have the equipment [to move on],” she says. “Now I have the equipment at a young age to say bye to fuccbois.”

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