The last three months of the year are among the busiest on college campuses–even when there’s a pandemic. Midterms quickly give way to final exams. Homecoming celebrations push homework aside for many students in the early fall, and a significant number of undergraduate and graduate students prepare to walk across the stage and into a new world.
With so much happening at the institutional and individual levels, it’s easy to forget that October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month or that Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Months are both in the first half of the new year. However, the busyness of campus activities should not force the business of creating a culture of safety for students, and domestic violence out of the picture.
Two out of five college women have experienced some violent and abusive dating behaviors, and more than one in five women report physical violence. Cohabitation continues to rise among young adults between the ages of 18-24, with nearly one in ten living with an unmarried partner based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau. These numbers do not take into account students with separate dorm rooms, apartments, or homes who effectively cohabitate by “sleeping over,” which creates the potential for domestic violence.
Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the intimate partner violence at nearly three times the national average. And since the severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence, the risk of domestic violence, particularly for nontradtional, commuter, and community college students, is likely much higher than we would like to admit. According to Trends in Community Colleges:
Enrollment, Prices, Student Debt, and Completion, a research brief developed by the College Board in 2016, 31 percent of community college students live households with annual incomes less than $30,000. When we also consider that data from the 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) shows that 44 percent of victims said their household income was less than $25,000, according to analysis from FiveThirtyEight.com, we have to confront the possibility that a significant number of community college students might be experiencing some type of domestic or sexual violence.
In a 2017 article from The Atlantic, Emily Martin, counsel and vice president for workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center noted that our willingness to believe victims of harassment and violence is not extended to all victims equally. “If you’re poor, you may be found less credible when you tell your story,” Martin said. The data clearly tells us that nearly one in three community college students is living at or near the federal poverty line, which means they are more likely to experience sexual assault or domestic violence and less likely to get the support they need if they do.
Most college students admit not knowing how to help someone who is a victim of dating violence, and the issue can be even more complicated when students are cohabitating. In cases where cohabitation is a function of enchantment and economics, the risk of homelessness may make students reluctant to report domestic violence. Also, when students are living off-campus, they have less contact with campus faculty, staff, and administrators, making changes in mood, behavior, or physical appearance hard to identify.
Almost half of women in abusive relationships are also sexually assaulted by their abuser, which means identifying and addressing domestic violence and dating violence early is an important part of prevention on college campuses. The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators outlined some areas campuses can focus on to prevent and respond to domestic violence and dating violence in a 2015 blog post:
- Train faculty, staff, and administrators to respond to reports of relationship violence and to address such reports with the same level of vigor and follow-through as they may devote to sexual assault or other issues.
- Conduct research to understand the scope, scale, and nature of domestic and dating violence on your campus. Confidential climate surveys should include questions concerning their students’ personal experiences and observations to assess the prevalence of dating and domestic violence.
- Ensure administrative and support systems are responsive and prepared to meet the needs of students. Campus healthcare professionals should be encouraged to ask the appropriate questions whenever they identify a student who appears to have been the victim of relationship violence. Student conduct policies and procedures should be reviewed to assure they are attentive to matters of relationship violence. Administrators, especially student conduct adjudicators, must be prepared to equally attend to the concerns of reporters and respondents when allegations of relationship violence are raised.
- Advocate for a culture of safety. Education professionals should consistently advocate for policies and programs that promote the well-being and welfare of students–not just during monthly observations. Appointing students to boards and committees responsible for designing these policies and programs can help ensure these efforts effectively meet the needs of students.