By Sarah Siock, Amethyst Martinez, Allison Polhemus, Danielle Tyson and Luke Lombardi
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), nearly 10 million women and men are physically abused by an intimate partner each year. Students at colleges and universities, including Rider, are no exception.
College-aged women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence. A 2009 study from the U.S. Department of Justice found that females between the ages of 18 and 24 had the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Rider exemplifies these national statistics, as the university has consistently reported domestic violence offenses at its Lawrenceville campus over the last six years, according to annual campus safety reports.
Domestic violence at Rider
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires all colleges and university campuses to disclose information regarding crime statistics on or near campuses annually, including domestic violence.
The most recent Clery Report shows six incidents of domestic violence occurred at Rider in 2020, which is a decline from 10 in 2019 and 11 in 2018. However, the number of domestic violence incidents in 2018 and 2019 was higher compared to the previous three years. Rider reported seven incidents of domestic violence in 2017, nine in 2016 and three in 2015.
Rider’s Director of Public Safety James Waldon said there is not one succinct reason that would cause the number of domestic violence incidents to increase.
“There’s no rhyme or reason for those types of [crimes]. Those aren’t the types of crimes that there is rhyme or reason because they’re so personal,” said Waldon.
However, Waldon said the drop in 2020 compared to 2019 and 2018 could be due to fewer people living on campus because of the coronavirus pandemic, causing an overall decline in crime. Last year, according to Data USA, 3,600 students lived on campus, compared to 4,600 in 2019.
When looking locally, Rider has higher per capita rates of domestic violence than neighboring universities also based in Mercer County, New Jersey. In 2020 the rate of on-campus domestic violence was 1.67 incidents per 1,000 students at Rider. Meanwhile, at Princeton University the rate of on-campus domestic violence was 0.21 incidents per 1,000 students. According to Data USA, Princeton has slightly higher enrollment numbers with 4,700 students enrolled in 2020.
Rider also has higher per capita rates of domestic violence incidents compared to The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). In 2020, TCNJ reported 0.14 incidents per 1,000 students with 7,100 enrolled. Pre-pandemic, Rider also had the highest per capita rate among the three colleges with 2.17 incidents per 1,000 students in 2019. The same year, TCNJ reported 0.13 incidents per 1,000 students and Princeton had a rate of 0.48.
Waldon said he was unable to determine why nearby universities have lower rates of domestic violence due to not being familiar with their reporting processes. Princeton and TCNJ declined to comment on domestic violence at their campuses.
Prevention leads to uptick
Waldon did say an increase in reports of domestic violence could be the result of students being more willing to report the crime.
“The first thing I’ll always warn everybody is when you do crime prevention work it’s sort of an oxymoron. If you’re really doing your crime prevention work well, crime actually increases. Why is that? People feel more comfortable about reporting. It could be because we have so many different ways to report and people feel so comfortable,” said Waldon.
Waldon said students have the option to report incidents of domestic violence to Public Safety or Rider’s Title IX Office. Those who file a complaint involving domestic violence or sexual harassment are offered supportive measures including no-contact orders and Rider’s counseling services.
“That’s why there are multiple ways of reporting, because not everybody is comfortable coming to Public Safety. … The one thing I love about this campus versus other campuses I’ve worked on is just about any office you walk into will get you to the help and the services that you need,” said Waldon.
Jaime Wright, who is the assistant director in the Office of Community Standards and oversees Alcohol/Drug and Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) education at Rider, agreed that the more resources available to students may make them more likely to report. She pointed out that Rider has a partnership with Womanspace, a Lawrenceville nonprofit organization that provides services to individuals and families impacted by domestic and sexual violence. Rider also participates in Domestic Violence Awareness Month which happens every October.
Wright noted that many students are aware of the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses but are sometimes unsure how to respond when they witness it in person. She said the ASAP team is working toward promoting bystander intervention regarding domestic violence. She explained that a partner constantly encouraging their significant other to skip class or isolating them from their friends can be potential signs of an unhealthy relationship, and in some cases, slowly escalate to dating or domestic violence.
“That’s one of the things that we’re slowly starting to incorporate in our conversations is educating the community with a set of tools as a bystander. What can you do? What can you say? What are the resources you have when you’re noticing something your friend is going through or if your friend is the individual potentially causing harm?” Wright asked.
Waldon explained that no matter who a report is filed to, all incidents of domestic violence are reviewed by the Title IX Office. Thomas Johnson, director at Title IX and of Equal Opportunity Compliance, said the uptick in domestic violence incidents at Rider could also be due to greater national attention on sexual harassment.
For example, in 2017 the #MeToo movement gained widespread attention, with women sharing stories of sexual harassment across the internet and other outlets. In 2018, the year following the movement, Rider reported 11 incidents of domestic violence, the highest number of incidents within the past six years.
Johnson said, “There’s always a possibility people are more willing to speak when people become more educated about what they’re seeing.”