Ensuring a safe return to campus for students, faculty, and staff has taken on a new meaning and challenges for college campuses as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers. Campus leaders must balance COVID-19 safety protocols with a pressing need to improve student safety in other areas, including dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
Recent research suggests the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent stay-at-home orders significantly weakened financial and social support systems. These stay-at-home orders were particularly devastating for those who experience domestic violence and intimate partner violence at home, as one study found that of those also experiencing violence at home before the onset of the pandemic, nearly 23 percent reported that the violence had worsened. Unemployment and isolation from others have left survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence susceptible to increased violence in the home. The reopening of college campuses provides an opportunity for those individuals experiencing violence at home to escape from their abusers and for campus staff to provide resources for them to escape from abuse permanently.
The reopening of campus is an opportunity to provide support for victims of violence, providing a haven from their abusers, as women 18-24 and 25-34 have the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Evidence from Smyth et al. 2021 suggests community-based and multi-sectoral resources and support are more effective for victims of intimate partner violence. Here is a list of resources and recommendations that campuses may use to expand their outreach and impact to provide support and resources for victims upon their return to campus.
- Since the COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on many people’s financial and economic security due to unemployment and layoffs, providing financial assistance to survivors is one critical approach to escaping abuse in the home.
- Campuses can create a campus-funded grant program, like the Scholarship for Abused Women, through the Center for Research on Violence Against Women at the University of Kentucky. In 2013, Brandie Cobb, a young woman and survivor, became the first recipient of the academic scholarship to the university and after undergrad not only graduated with a Master’s degree in 2019, but has continued to serve on the Attorney General’s Survivor’s Council.
- Campuses could also collaborate with other community organizations to establish a fund/financial support for domestic and intimate partner violence survivors.
- Through newsletters, text messages, or even signage across campus, colleges can also share lists of established funds, such as the Domestic Violence Response Fund
- Educating students on sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence remains one of the most effective strategies of reducing and eventually eliminating domestic and intimate partner violence and sexual assault and violence on college campuses. Research suggests young people and young adults are less likely to accept abuse when they are educated on the impact abuse has on survivors and how being a good ally aids in healing survivors. Efforts to educate students, staff, and faculty on being active bystanders and supporting survivors of abuse make for more informed allies and bystanders and helps survivors accept community support.
Many organizations offer resources to help campuses host events and educational programming to reduce and eliminate various types of violence. The Center for Changing Our Campus Culture website includes an array of resources to integrate victim services into policy, build coordinated community response teams on campuses, and successful trauma-informed victim interviewing.
- Another area to support survivors is using the Internet and technology to create online and virtual support groups and resources. Resources and interventions using the Internet and technology include:
- Internet Forum Support Staffed by Survivors
- Internet Support Line Staffed by Volunteers
- Embedding QR codes in flyers and posters around campus that direct to helplines and resources
While protecting students, faculty, and staff from COVID-19 as they return to campus is a priority, colleges and universities should not ignore efforts to protect against and eliminate domestic and intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
Authored by Tasia Muse, Fahrenheit Creative Group