Sexual assault on campus is one of the most talked about issues on college campuses this fall. I will not talk about it today. September is National Campus Safety Awareness Month, and while stories of mismanaged sexual assault investigations blanket the news, there exists a neglected campus safety topic that impacts approximately one in three young women and occurs at the same rate in same-sex relationships as it does in opposite-sex relationships. What I want to talk about today is intimate partner violence.
IPV is synonymous with the often more familiar term domestic violence. IPV, put simply, is a pattern of behaviors used to gain control and power over an intimate partner, previous or current. Means by which to gain this control can include physical, emotional, financial, verbal and/or sexual behaviors. IPV can also include stalking. One does not need to look far to see how the most extreme forms IPV have taken on college campuses with the recent stories of Alexandra Kogut of SUNY Brockport; Jenni-Lyn Watson of Syracuse, New York; and Yeardley Love of University of Virginia.
Each of these young women’s lives was brought to a violent and untimely end by a current or former intimate partner. Death does not have to be the inevitable outcome, nor does IPV only manifest itself in severe physical violence. In fact, females ages 20–24 are most at risk for nonfatal intimate partner violence.
What can we do to help prevent IPV on campus to create safe communities? First, we can recognize potential indicators in our friends’ — or perhaps even in our own — relationships with dating partners. IPV typically begins with possessive behaviors that may fly under the radar for friends, families and even victims. Early indicators may include such behaviors as jealousy, isolation from friends and family, and attempts to control everything in your friend’s life, from what she wears to whom she can friend request on Facebook. A friend in an abusive relationship may walk on eggshells around her partner or be afraid not to respond immediately to calls, texts or emails from him. She may feel the need to constantly apologize or make excuses for his behavior.
Second, it is important that we recognize college students may experience unique obstacles in dealing with IPV on campus. For example, a student victim living on campus and away from home may feel trapped in his community and peer group. He may be uncertain of campus policies and procedures for reporting abuse, feel afraid to report incidents if drugs or alcohol are involved, or find it difficult to navigate safety plans if he lives in the same residence hall or shares classes with his partner.
Third, though barriers exist, there are steps we can take as bystanders and friends to intervene in unsafe relationships. For example, if you witness IPV, you can speak up and let the offending partner know his actions are not OK. You can create distractions to de-escalate situations in the moment or gather a group of people to talk to the offending partner about his behavior. Talking to a trusted college faculty or staff member about your concerns is also an option. If you feel like someone’s safety, including your own, has been threatened, you can call the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management or 911.
IPV is not just a personal problem between two people — it is a crime that affects the entire campus culture. To learn more about how to recognize the signs and how to be an active bystander, visit LoveisRespect.org. Know and utilize your on-campus resources such as Public Safety at 607-274-3333 and the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at 607-274-3136. The Advocacy Center’s 24-hour local hotline, 607-277-5000, is available 24/7 for safety planning and support.