The numbers will shock you.
Liz Claiborne Inc., a corporate leader in dating violence awareness, commissioned a poll in September of 2011 among college students to research the issue. The results were staggering.
According to Liz Claiborne Inc.’s Love Is Not Abuse 2011 College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll, some 43 percent of college women have experienced violent or abusive dating behaviors. Nearly a quarter — 22 percent — reported actual physical abuse, sexual abuse or threats of physical violence. However, 38 percent of college students said they wouldn’t know how to get help on campus if they found themselves in an abusive relationship.
“The findings of this survey prove that colleges and universities need to provide a more comprehensive response and additional creative educational programs to address dating violence and abuse,” said Jane Randel, senior vice president of corporate communications for Liz Claiborne Inc.
But here in Central New York, colleges actually have a pretty comprehensive list of services that they provide to students, and they make sure that students in unhealthy relationships are aware of what’s out there. In addition, each of the three major schools in Onondaga County has preventative education programs in place to help students understand how to maintain a healthy relationship.
Le Moyne College
“Students have a few options,” said Anne Kearney, LCSW-R, director of the Wellness Center for Health and Counseling at Le Moyne College. “A student could seek counseling, and that’s a confidential relationship. Clearly, in that relationship, the student would be encouraged to set limits, whether that is to file charges or a formal complaint. In that case, the goal is to have the client self-determine options.”
Kearney said the options are different, however, if abusive behavior is witnessed by another party on campus.
“If violence between two people is witnessed, security is involved and a report is written,” she said. “That situation is required to go through a judicial conduct hearing and appropriate sanctions will be issued. The victim has the right to pursue legal charges.”
In terms of preventative education, Le Moyne has implemented a number of different initiatives.
“For freshmen coming in and non-residential commuters, they’re required to attend two sessions during the first weeks,” Kearney said. “The first is focused on binge drinking, alcohol and drug abuse, and we include within that how it leads to unfortunate situations with dating and relationships and sexual assault. It’s not just the physical problems with the drinking — it can lead to serious problems in your relationships. We weave that into the message.
“The other part is a program with sexual assault prevention and social media — stalking, texting, Facebook and sexual violence,” Kearney said. “We want students to understand healthy ways to use those tools instead of using them to harass others. Those are the big programs in the beginning.”
Beyond the new-student orientations, Kearney said there are regular reminders to students that maintaining healthy relationships is a priority at Le Moyne.
“We also do Healthy Mondays,” she said. “In the cafeteria for lunch every Monday, we have educational things, including literature from Vera House. We participate in their White Ribbon campaign. We try to promote healthy relationships.”
In addition to those programs, Kearney said Le Moyne is looking to add more initiatives in the near future.
“We’re starting to introduce some programs in bystander intervention, training our [residential] life staff to promote that within floors and communities on campus,” she said. “Next semester, we have a lot of new initiatives coming out. One is ‘if you see something, say something,’ dealing with dating violence as well as civility and respect. If you see someone mistreating someone, bullying someone, disrespecting someone, you should speak up. We’ll have a big week-long series of events starting Feb. 14 focused on bullying, civility and respect, with various national speakers and programming to build communication around these values.”
Kearney said she felt that bringing the issue of dating violence and healthy relationships to the forefront was something that had to be done to serve the student population.
“I think our mission is to care for the whole student, mind, body and spirit,” she said. “We educate them in the classroom, but education goes way beyond that. It goes beyond making sure they get their degree. We as a community have to support them in healthy development and lifelong lifestyle skills and values and self-respect. Beyond that, it’s a public health issue now. We know that we’re not in an ivory tower in a bubble. These issues affect our students. We have an obligation to respond and to try to prevent it.”
Students and staff at Onondaga Community College have a close working relationship with Vera House, according to Laura Lewin, program coordinator in student development. That relationship contributes to a heightened sensibility toward issues pertaining to intimate partner violence. The college participates in Take Back the Night rallies, held to protest rape and sexual violence; Lewin said the college’s male and female athletes are heavily involved.
OCC also takes part in the Clothesline Project. The project provides a vehicle for women affected by violence to express their emotions by decorating a T-shirt. They then hang the shirt on a clothesline to be viewed by others as testimony to the problem of violence against women.
“Those hang in our Gordon Center for about a week,” Lewin said. “That’s a great initiative.”
In addition, this spring, the college will host a Healthy Relationships Week.
“Students sign a pledge to remain in a healthy relationship, and that goes for their family and friends, too,” Lewin said. “If you see something bad happening, you can learn healthy, safe ways to intervene.”
All of these are ways to keep the dialogue going about healthy relationships and intimate partner violence, Lewin said.
“It’s our hope that things like this don’t happen, but we know it does,” she said. “Having the information out there is not a bad thing. You can’t have too much information.”
Should a student find himself or herself in a dangerous relationship, he or she is advised to report the matter to campus safety immediately. Students are also encouraged to visit the school’s counseling department.
In terms of preventative education, Lewin said OCC has a wealth of resources available to students.
“We have a monthly e-newsletter called Student Health 101 that goes to all of our students as well as faculty and staff,” she said. “Among other things, it addresses sexual assault and dating violence. We regularly have an article on that topic in the newsletter. It’s a great resource for our students, and our students do read it regularly. We get an accounting of how well-read it is, and it’s increased over time. That’s a very good tool.”
In addition, the school offers courses on human sexuality as well as informational tables twice a semester.
“It’s a table in the hallways with information about our on-campus counseling department and our campus safety department and resources for any students that are in a crisis matter,” Lewin said.
Mostly, Lewin said she wants students to understand that they can go to a counselor, an instructor or anyone at OCC that they feel comfortable with if they need help.
“It’s important for students to know that we’re here and we care,” she said.
The most comprehensive program by far is at Syracuse University. The school features the Syracuse University Advocacy Center, the mission of which is to provide support and advocacy for students who have been impacted by sexual and relationship violence, to coordinate a comprehensive campus sexual and relationship violence prevention and education program, and to engage students and the greater campus community in dialogue about violence prevention. Volunteer advocates attend an intensive New York State Department of Health-approved training and receive ongoing education. Advocates are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round, to respond to students seeking assistance. Representatives from the center will, if necessary, accompany students to the hospital or police department, help them obtain orders of protection and help them navigate the judicial process at SU. In addition, advocates can assist students and their families and friends with referrals for follow-up appointments for health care and counseling.
“It’s become really clear across the country that relationship abuse impacts young people,” said Janet Epstein, executive director of the center. “People come to our campus with experience with abusive relationships, or they get into a relationship that they’re not comfortable with. We really explore what’s going on for them and talk about, as a community, what are healthy relationships, what is respectful behavior and what is abusive behavior.”
Epstein said that much of the center’s programming comes from the students, which is fitting, considering students asked for the center in 1989.
“Our approach to addressing violence is through our peer theater group, e5m, and our peer sexuality group, Sex Esteem,” she said. “We have a group called Mentors in Violence Prevention. Students attend extensive training and then facilitate conversations with their peers about becoming empowered bystanders. We also have a men’s group, AMI. Many of the AMI members are trained as MVP Peer Facilitators. The group explores how rigid definitions of masculinity can lead to violence and to engages in dialogue to redefine masculinity.”
Much of what the Advocacy Center does in its peer training centers on helping bystanders understand how to safely intervene in a potentially volatile situation. Epstein said that is the best way to alter the culture.
“Our approach is that most people won’t be the perpetrators of violence, and most people won’t be the victims of violence,” she said. “But most people will be in a situation where they’ll overhear something or they’ll see something — they’ll hear a disrespectful joke or witness an argument that could lead to violence. There are safe ways to intervene or speak up that can prevent that escalation. And each individual finds his or her own level of comfort. For some people, that’s walking up to somebody and saying something. For others, that’s calling the police. We’re really exploring what we can do as an empowered bystander. For all of us, that means helping those that have been harmed by abusive relationships and being there for somebody. If people learn and see what they can do, they can step up to make a difference. That puts us a long way down the path toward creating a community that promotes respect.”
Epstein pointed out that the community piece is particularly important; dating violence is, above all, a community issue.
“If you look at the statistics on sexual violence, one in four women will be sexually assaulted by the time they finish college. One in six men will be sexually assaulted,” she said. “Those numbers are from birth, so they include childhood assaults, but that’s a large number of people impacted. And really, we’re all impacted when someone is harmed. In order to see effective progress, you have to look at it as a community issue. If you’re working with people together, you’ll see effective progress to make the community safer and more respectful rather than just having those individual conversations, though those are important, too. Dialogue is what makes the difference. That’s what brings it home to people. That’s how you’re able to make a difference.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.