“The first time it happened, I was about 14. My boyfriend saw me at a movie with some friends. The next day he slapped me across the face and told me I should not go out without them. After that, he hit me so often, I began to make up lies about the bruises.”The scenario above describes an anonymous female’s experience of relationship abuse.
According to the West Chester University Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Committee, dating violence is a relationship that is abusive, whether the abuse is physical, verbal, sexual or psychological. It includes two individuals struggling with the issue of power and control in a relationship. Dating violence usually occurs after two people become seriously involved, but it may even occur on the first date.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and the Women’s Center held a program on Oct. 1 entitled “Real Talk about Dating Abuse.” The center is also sponsoring the relationship support group and has ongoing programs that raise awareness regarding domestic violence, Robin Garrett, assistant professor of nursing and women’s studies and director of the Women’s Center, said.
“It is important for college students to recognize that dating abuse is part of domestic violence,” Garrett said.
The WCU Women’s Center is sponsoring a relationship support group. The group will meet Mondays at 8 p.m. in room 220 in Lawrence Hall.
“The group will focus on three main components that include safety, openness and confidentiality,” said Emily Herber, a WCU graduate student who will facilitate the meetings.
Each meeting will be similarly structured. There will be an introduction session, a discussion and, if time permits, an informal healing exercise, according to Herber.
Herber is currently a clinical psychology major and volunteer at the Women’s Center. She has completed more than 60 hours of training and has more than a year of experience working with survivors of domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is an important topic, and I hope to alert all women that are victims and women that are potential victims,” Herber said.
“Creating a safety plan is the first step in getting out of an abusive relationship,” Herber said. “The person needs to find someone they can trust. The WCU Women’s Center or the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County is a great place to go for support.”
According to the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, one tip for ending an abusive relationship is to end the relationship over the phone if there is fear that the abuser may cause harm. Another tip is to end the relationship in a public place because a physical attack is less likely there.
A survey by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network found that one in every six women in America has been sexually assaulted. RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization and is ranked as one of the best 100 charities by “Worth” magazine.
RAINN provides a national sexual assault hotline that is available 24 hours a day. The hotline is free and confidential. The hotline will provide immediate support and will also assist in finding a local crisis center, according to their Web site, www.rainn.org.
There are several centers on campus that can also assist victims of violence. They include WCU Public Safety, health services, the counseling center and the women’s center, according to a brochure distributed by the WCU Sexual Assault Prevention Committee. For immediate help, students should always call 911.
“The Women’s Center will listen, offer support and will also give referrals both on and off campus,” Garrett said.
One place the Women’s Center suggests is the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County.
“The Domestic Violence Center of Chester County provides an array of comprehensive services for victims of abuse,” said Dolly Wideman-Scott, CEO and executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County. “Services include a 24 hour hotline, emergency shelter and transitional housing, individual and group counseling, legal representation and advocacy and public education and training.”
According to Wideman-Scott, from July 2006 through June 2007, the DVCCC provided services for more than 2,600 victims of abuse and their dependent children.
The DVCCC has a 24-hour hotline. A person trained on the issue can be reached by calling the hotline at 888-711-6270.
“Women should know they have a safe place to go to,” Herber said. “They need to know that they are not alone. If they need a safe place to go to we are here for them.”
According to the 2007 Annual Crime Report of Campus Security that was released to the public on Oct. 9, 2007, there were three forcible sex offenses reported on campus in 2006. In 2005, there were 10 reported cases.
“It is always important to report all crimes,” Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Michael D. Bicking said. “It is important for the students to report a crime as soon as possible after its occurrence because key evidence may be lost with time. Crimes should also be reported if it has happened sometime in the past.”
The Department of Public Safety also issues safety alerts that provide notice to the campus that a major crime has occurred or if there is a continuing threat present against the campus. The alerts are also required by the Federal Clery Law, according to Bicking.
The Annual Campus Crime and Security Report includes statistics for the previous three years concerning reported crimes that occurred on-campus, in certain off-campus buildings or property owned or controlled by West Chester University and on public property within the campus. The report also includes institutional policies concerning campus security. A copy of this report can be obtained by contacting Public Safety or by visiting http://www.wcupa.edu/dps/clery.pdf.
Some things that students can do to prevent themselves from becoming a victim include avoiding walking alone, limiting alcohol use, using well lit walkways after dark, avoiding desolate and unpopulated walkways, letting someone know your plans, always being aware of your surroundings, reporting all crimes and suspicious incidents and looking out for your fellow students.
Hannah Severtson is a third-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at HS597440@wcupa.edu.