Domestic violence widespread on college campusesOn Thanksgiving Day 2014, the body of Shannon Jones, 23, a senior engineering student at Cornell University was found in an apartment. Her boyfriend, 32, had strangled her after an argument. In February, 21-year-old Miami University student, Rebecca Eldermire was shot to death by her ex-boyfriend in her apartment (just a mile from campus). The list goes on.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 6 in every 1,000 students will be sexually assaulted. That being said, about 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported by female college students.
As these statistics show, typically, when we think about violence on college campuses, we think about sexual assault. For some reason, domestic violence is far less talked about. And although men can be abused in relationships, they are far outnumbered by women.
Last year the U.S. Department of Education published its final rules to implement changes to the Clercy Act under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. Basically, this says that colleges have to collect statistics for cases of sexual assault in addition to incidents of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Moreover, colleges are required to include a statement of policy and procedures about how they’re handling these crimes.
Many colleges have counseling and support services for students who are victims of domestic violence, in addition to partnerships with local domestic violence shelters. For example, The Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education at University of Minnesota provides a safe place for its students, faculty, staff, alumni and family members who are victims or concerned people of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking.
“It happens a lot. And the difficulty of escaping this kind of relationship is hard—at any age,” says Becky Redetzke Field, legal advocacy coordinator at The Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education at University of Minnesota.
One of the drivers of college violence, according to the Teen Dating Abuse Report, conducted by Tru Insight in 2009 for Fifth & Pacific Companies and Family Violence Prevention Fund, is that some 70 percent of young victims don’t realize that they are being abused by their partner. And while 52 percent of college students know someone being abused, many don’t intervene because they think it will make matters worse, they feel it is not their business, they think it will hurt their relationship with the victim, they know the abuser or they are afraid the abuser might make their own life more difficult.
Redetzke Field adds, “Violence in high school relationships carries over to college. And if violence is present in a person’s first relationship, it can present larger barriers to trying to figure out how to have a healthy relationship after that. Even more so, if it’s a first sexual relationship … that’s such a defining experience for a young person. They may wonder, “How do I have healthy sex with someone? How do I have a healthy relationship with someone?”
Who the victim discloses the abuse to first is critical to whether or not a victim is able move past abuse healthfully, Redetzke Field says. “Whether it’s an advocate, the courts, friends, a healthcare worker—as long as that trusted person responds in an appropriate way, that’s the determining factor. A lot of survivors tell someone and are then blamed or shamed by that confidant, which shuts them down.”
For ideas on how to communicate with someone experiencing abuse, consider reading Be A Better Advice Giver and Empowering Survivors, or scroll through this series of escaping violence articles.