Hundreds of women go to SafeHouse Center every year to report domestic violence and sexual assault they suffered while in college, according the SafeHouse Executive Director Barbara Niess-May.
“We see anywhere between 400 and 500 people a year who were assaulted in college, whether they are in college right now or were assaulted in the past,” Niess-May said.
Niess-May said the rate of domestic violence and sexual assault among 18 – 23 year olds is higher than any other age group.
“About 25 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 23 will experience sexual assault,” Niess-May said.
According to a report by the National Institute of Justice from 2005, “When projected over a now typical five-year college career, one in five young women experiences rape during college.”
Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported 18 – 24 year olds comprised only 11.7 percent of the population in 2002, but were victim to 42 percent of the violence committed by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
According to Eastern Michigan University’s Police Department crime statistics, only four incidents of forcible criminal sexual conduct were reported in 2010. As low as this number might seem, Candace Dorsey, campus police officer for EMU PD who runs the Rape Aggression Defense system, said sexual assault is “severely underreported.”
“It is one of the most underreported crimes,” she said.
Dorsey said college-age women are particularly vulnerable because of their “lack of experience, lack of self confidence, lack of self-esteem and education.”
Jess Klein, program coordinator for the Eastern Michigan University’s Women’s Resource Center, said students need to be educated that domestic violence is not exclusive to physical abuse.
“It’s emotional. It’s verbal. It can be financial, coercive, threatening,” Klein said. “People don’t realize that those also fall under the domestic violence category.”
According to the Safety, Health and Employee Welfare Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, domestic violence may include physical violence, emotional and verbal abuse, isolation or threats and intimidation.
Dorsey said a lot of college students don’t recognize signs of domestic violence because media have normalized many unhealthy behaviors.
“Media has a way of glamorizing it,” Dorsey said. “They give it the appearance that this is romantic, that it’s healthy and normal. But it is not healthy in a lot of different ways. I think the media has a way of lessening the severity of what one person would consider serious.”
Klein said she doesn’t think the media causes violence but it creates “a culture where violence is seen as OK.”
Dorsey said most reports of domestic violence are made by people who observe the abuse.
“Our reports are not necessarily because the victim or survivor calls, but because other people hear a disturbance and other people are calling,” Dorsey said.
Klein said “bystanders are just as important as anyone else.” Given this, she stressed how important it is for everyone to be educated about domestic violence so that the campus community can recognize, report and even prevent it.
“Even if you’re not going through DV, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be educated about what it looks like and things so that you can help a friend in need or be an advocate against DV,” Klein said.
Niess-May stressed that men must be part of the education process.
“Men have to support women’s activities on campus and be part of outreach and education,” Niess-May said. “We find that men educating other men makes a huge difference. Men have to be allies on campus, because it’s not just a women’s issue.”
Niess-May said students should be aware of certain behaviors that might indicate someone close to them has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault.
“They may seem more withdrawn when they were normally pretty outgoing,” Niess-May said. “They may be more fearful or they may seem more isolated by their partner.”
In indentifying a batterer, Dorsey said the most common sign is controlling behavior.
“The red flags are going to be when the aggressor dictates what the person can wear, who they can go out with, when they put their hands on them the first time, meaning a grab a push a pull,” Dorsey said. “If they take their keys, they take their cellular phones, if they call or text constantly, these are all red flags.”
Klein pointed out that many of these controlling behaviors are the result of jealousy.
“Jealousy is a huge red flag in relationships and can turn into extreme controlling behavior,” she said.
Despite that jealousy is a natural emotion, Klein said students should be concerned if “you’re afraid to talk to your
partner about that jealousy, when you let it get the best of you and act out toward your partner because you’re feeling jealous, when you’re not recognizing that you’re feeling jealous and you’re justifying the reasons for your behavior.”
Klein said technology has greatly exacerbated domestic violence by enabling batterers to increasingly control their partners.
“People don’t realize that when your boyfriend or girlfriend texts you 20 times to check up on you, that’s a form of control,” Klein said.
Klein said social media websites further add to the problem.
“I think social media has definitely opened a huge can of worms,” Klein said. “It has opened up this new world, this new way to control your partner.” She stressed that sites like Facebook should be not be used “to keep track of them every second, where they are, what they’re doing and who they’re talking to.”
Despite that the majority of domestic violence reports are from incidents of a man abusing a woman, Dorsey said reports of violence perpetrated by a woman upon a man, and reports of violence within same-sex relationships, are becoming increasingly common.
“We have seen an increase in women being the aggressors in domestic relationships with men,” Dorsey said. “We’ve also seen an increase in domestic violence incidents between females in female relationships.”
Klein said survivors face unique barriers in incidents like this, explaining that men often fear emasculation, and members of the LGBT community fear judgment or being “outted” by their partners. Furthermore, she said those incidents seem to be taken less seriously culturally, even on EMU’s campus.
“Violence is wrong no matter who it comes from,” Klein said. “It doesn’t matter whom it’s against, violence isn’t right.”
Neiss-May, Dorsey and Klein said they have observed other barriers that exist among socially marginalized racial, ethnic and religious groups.
“We know that among the minorities and cultural groups, they feel very uneasy of reporting,” Neiss-May said.
Klein said she’s observed this even on campus.
“They don’t necessarily want to come out and say ‘this is happening to me,’ because they don’t want to shame their communities,” Klein said.
Neiss-May said members of those groups might also report less due to a poor perspective of police officers or due to fear of people within their group not believing them.
Dorsey and Klein both said they’ve observed an increased rate of reporting of domestic violence and sexual assault, but concurred that it was not due to an increase of incidents, but rather due to increased education throughout the community.
“I think we’ve done much better with reporting on campus with incidences,” Dorsey said. “It has to do with people being a little more concerned with their personal safety, safety of the campus environment and our efforts to get the information out there for them to contact us.”
Klein praised the EMU PD’s response to incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“Our DPS on campus is great when it comes to sexual and domestic violence,” Klein said. “They understand it. They know about it.”
Niess-May said EMU has greatly improved its community awareness and response to domestic violence and sexual assault. She praised the efforts of Klein, Dorsey and former Chief of Police Greg O’Dell.
“I think that Eastern has come a long way in supporting initiatives to end violence against women,” Niess-May said. “They’ve shown us that there’s a real commitment for education on campus and support being provided for survivors.”
“The tough part is getting our entire society and culture to say that’s men’s violence against women is wrong. That’s the challenge.”
Any students who are survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault can seek the services of the EMU PD, the WRC or SafeHouse Center. The WRC is located in room 356 of the Student Center. SafeHouse Center is located at 4100 Clark Road and its 24/7 helpline is 734-995-5444. The WRC will be holding awareness events throughout April as part of Sexual Violence Awareness Month. A complete listing of events can be found at www.emich.edu/wcen/.