October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and it is important for students to take a moment to reflect on the purple ribbons seen around campus to recognize all of those who have fallen victim to domestic violence.
The numbers are unfortunately high, especially for people between the ages of 16 and 24. 21 percent of college-aged students report having experienced some form of dating violence by a current partner and 32 percent report experiencing dating violence at some point in their life by a previous partner.
The numbers are likely even higher, but 70 percent of the time it goes unnoticed or unreported. In a college campus setting it is often difficult for victims to feel comfortable reporting any dating violence because of the entrapment they may feel from overlapping social circles. I
t also could be due to the fear of being stalked, people not believing them or their parents finding out. They tend to fear getting in trouble for something that is certainly not their fault. “
Embarrassment never belongs on the part of the victim, the abuser is the person who should be embarrassed,” said director of Domestic Violence Services at SafeNet, Robyn Young.
While not all violence is committed by men, it is most commonly men who abuse women, primarily of college age. Young women are in the highest risk group by age and this makes it all that much more important for those of us in a university setting to recognize the importance of this month.
Dating violence takes many forms. It can be verbal, physical, emotional, isolation-behaviors, digital, academic or anything non-consensual.
“It doesn’t all look the same for everybody, but it’s always about power and control,” said Mercyhurst Empowerment and Prevention Project (MEPP) manager, Michael Madonia.
Executive director of Wellness, Judy Smith, Ph.D., secured funding for this project through a federal grant from the Office of Violence Against Women. Madonia’s role is to manage the day to day programming of the project. The primary focus of the grant is to address issues of dating, domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.
This grant funds education, prevention and victim services for anybody on campus — students or employees of Mercyhurst University.
An example is the “No Zebras” program on bystander intervention, which many may remember from orientation. For those who are unfamiliar, the idea behind it is essentially that if there is a lion, one zebra alone cannot stand up to it, but as a herd they are more powerful and can stand together to take down the lion. The same can be said for students standing up against sexual assault and domestic violence.
The project also provides workshops on bystander intervention, healthy relationships, understanding trauma response and how to be an effective, trauma-informed first responder to a victim. These workshops are offered in a variety of classes, clubs, athletic team meetings, etc. and are not only offered to students, but faculty and staff as well.
There are also opportunities for students to intern and train as peer educators with the project. This month, MEPP, in conjunction with SafeNet of Erie, is specifically focused on dating and domestic violence.
This issue touches close to home as almost exactly 10 years ago, Jenni-Lyn Watson, a former junior dance major at Mercyhurst, was killed by her boyfriend. The goal is that such a tragedy never happens again and therefore, this month is especially important to raise student’s awareness about what domestic violence may look like.
There is no victim shaming here, as sometimes as a victim it is difficult to see the signs, because the abuser will apologize or make sure there is nobody that their partner can tell by isolating them. This is where all of you, as Mercyhurst students and employees, come in. It is your job to not be a zebra.
“Oftentimes friends recognize abuse in a relationship before the person in the relationship acknowledges it or sees it,” Madonia said.
This is because these people are closest to the situation and are looking out for their friends. Some of the most common signs to look out for include if your friend stops spending time with you, their partner is accusing them of being with certain people, their partner reads their messages, their partner is going to be upset if they are late, they change their style to please their partner, they constantly check in with their partner or they have unexplainable bruises.
“If you have a friend, be a friend,” said Blackman. “Anyone can be a victim.”
If you notice anything at all, talk to them, report it and be safe. The pandemic has accentuated the problem of dating and domestic violence because many victims are trapped at home and isolated with their abusers. Their friends may not notice any negative signs because of a lack of contact.
Victims are now waiting longer to report abuse; therefore, their situations are more severe. Raising awareness and education right now is even more important. Last October, Mercyhurst conducted a “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes” event where men literally walked around campus in women’s shoes (4-inch red stilettos) to raise awareness and understanding about the vulnerabilities women face.
COVID has sidelined the Walk a Mile event this year but MEPP along with SafeNet will continue to sponsor a Silent Witness display while also holding the Clothesline Project and handing out information and purple ribbons. If you have been victimized or if you suspect a friend is a victim of domestic violence there are many resources and supports on campus.
Please reach out to one of the resources below for help if you are not sure what to do.
On-campus resources include the Counseling Center, Title IX office and Police & Safety. Campus police are especially helpful if there is any threat of immediate danger. SafeNet can also be contacted anonymously. They ask that if you are comfortable enough and say that you are from Mercyhurst University it can be properly counted into their statistics. The phone call is completely confidential.
The hotline can be reached at (814)454-8161. Similarly, the Crime Victim Center’s phone number, (814)455-9414, doubles as a 24-hour hotline that can put you in contact with a free counselor.
If none of those people are comfortable sources for you, then RAs and Campus Ministry staff are also trained on what to do in these types of situations.
These resources are all free to any student or employee of Mercyhurst University.
There is also a new app up called RUSafe by SafeNet. It is free and helps students to seek help from domestic violence organizations all over the country. The app can be used by victims, friends or family. One important thing Madonia notes is that all relationships have their imperfections.
“Recognize when imperfections have become deal breakers and there are qualities to the relationship that have just become unacceptable,” Madonia said.
This is when it might be considered domestic violence. A healthy relationship should move at a comfortable pace, with an emphasis on trust, honesty, respect, equality, independence, kindness, responsibility, healthy conflict and, above all, it should be fun.
“It’s always more difficult to end a relationship than it is to start one,” Madonia said.
Due to this, help from others is so important. You could be the support they need to get out of a situation of domestic violence. Do not be a zebra.
If you are interested in scheduling a workshop, presentation or becoming involved as a peer educator please contact Michael Madonia, LCSW at email@example.com, Preston 221, (814)824-2354.