Criminal Justice Department confronts domestic violence issue through month-long campaign

Devin Hardner, Contributing writer

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Mercyhurst students and faculty showed their support with a passive campaign by the Criminal Justice Department.

Maria Garase, Ph.D., criminal justice associate professor and department chair, said the campus campaign emerged from her Women and Crime class, where the issue of women who are victims of domestic violence is discussed, along with the responses of the public.

“The goal was to raise awareness that domestic violence occurs, to give information how to identify domestic violence and to address that it affects all segments of the population,” Garase said. She noted that although women are primarily victims of domestic abuse, men can also be victims.

Domestic violence exists among all socioeconomic statuses, ages, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations.

Garase, who is also a member of the Bystander Intervention Committee, said the campaigners conversed with the Mercyhurst Counseling Center, as well as SafeNet in order to include validated information for victims.

“We didn’t want to just present statistics but rather we wanted to present some examples of verbal and behavioral cues in a relationship that may lead to domestic violence. We noted resources for individuals who read the signs and may identify or recognize these activities in their own relationships,” Garase said.

Along with the Counseling Center, SafeNet and the Bystander Committee, the Criminal Justice Department also worked with the Step Up program. President Victor was asked to speak on the issue by the Bystander Committee and he responded with a campus-wide video.

In his video, President Michael Victor explained how the Step Up program functions and its importance in ending domestic violence on campus. The program encourages everyone to take charge in a problematic situation and try to help.

“Be the one who looks out for others, especially those who are most vulnerable, and who is not afraid to confront or report abusive behavior,” Victor said.
When there is an altercation on campus, Police and Safety should be the first to be called. According to Chief Robert Kuhn, there is rarely domestic violence on campus, but it happens every day within the City of Erie.

“When two people who reside on campus get in a domestic dispute, we have ‘no contact’ orders, which prohibit the assaulter from contacting the victim. When there is a person from off-campus who threatens or harms an on-campus student, we have ‘no trespass’ orders, which prohibit the attacker from entering the campus,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn also mentioned the Student Outreach Committee, online tool anyone can use to submit an anonymous observation of a potentially dangerous situation. This can be used for any situation. It is not limited to domestic violence.

Aside from hanging informational flyers around campus including in women’s restroom stalls, Garase hosted a guest speaker in her Women and Crime class who was able to validate the campaign.

“Robyn Young, director of counseling services at SafeNet, discussed how to identify behavioral and verbal cues that indicate an unhealthy relationship and she also noted all of the services that SafeNet offers,” Garase said.

SafeNet has a Silent Witness Project, which is a traveling exhibit of life-size, wooden silhouettes that represent the victims that have been killed by a significant other. It puts a visual aspect on an otherwise invisible problem.

“There wasn’t a lot of direct feedback. However, anything that can raise awareness of this important issue is a step in the right direction. Domestic violence is seen as an invisible crime: it happens behind closed doors and is underreported,” Garase said. “If even one person saw the signs and sought assistance, then [the campaign] was a success.”