By Jessica Hergert
Every day in the United States, nearly 20 people per minute – 10 million people every year – are physically abused by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. College students find themselves at an elevated risk, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).
“College campuses can give you a sense of security – a feeling that everyone knows each other and watches out for one another,” suggests RAINN. “There are perpetrators who take advantage of this feeling of safety and security to commit acts of sexual [and domestic] violence.”
Even at Rider, domestic violence has taken shape within the student community.
Rider’s statistics have shown a slightly consistent increase in domestic violence offenses on the Lawrenceville campus, including allegations, reported with two incidents in 2013, five in 2014, three in 2015 and nine in 2016, the latest Clery Report claims.
“It is probably not statistically significant to say there is a trend up or a trend down [at Rider],” said university spokeswoman Kristine Brown. “I don’t want to characterize this in a way that makes it sound less significant, but it could just be an anomaly of that year.”
Like all public and private institutions that are involved in federal student aid programs, Rider publishes an “Annual Security and Fire Safety Report.”
This document, referred to as the Clery Report, defines and breaks down campus crime while providing names, numbers and websites that students can contact or utilize in case they find themselves in an unsafe situation.
According to loveisrespect.org, a site dedicated to “engage, educate and empower young people to prevent and end abusive relationships,” 43 percent of college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors.
These behaviors can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/verbal abuse, financial abuse, digital abuse or stalking, the website reported.
As opposed to domestic violence, dating violence is a category in which almost no offenses were recorded, except for one incident in 2014.
Public Safety Capt. Jim Flatley, attributes the nearly nonexistent numbers to inconsistent criteria of dating violence.
“Under the State of New Jersey law, there is no set definition for dating violence,” Flatley said. “Dating violence is included under domestic violence, so our numbers were a bit off.”
He added that in New Jersey, roommate altercations fall under domestic violence as well.
“When you go to other states, that [law] is nowhere in there,” he stated.
Of the statistics, Flatley reported most incidents involve victims coming forward to disclose an incident.
Susan Stahley, the alcohol, drug and sexual assault prevention and education coordinator at Rider, stepped in to say she has recently heard of more “bystander interventions” where a student will hear or see an incident and report it.
Flatley stated that although domestic violence disputes can range from verbal to physical, Public Safety most often sees the latter. However, there is a “good mix” of incidents involving roommates and incidents involving intimate relationships, he said.
Touching upon the potentially increasing trend in domestic violence shown by the Clery Report data, Stahley suggested that it is not that more incidents are occurring, it is that more victims are coming forward.
“There has been, I think, a significant change in awareness in the last few years about sexual assault,” she said. “I think there have been some changes in students wanting to make their stories known, so I believe that they are more willing to come forward to say something and talk about what happened.”
Brown echoed Stahley’s sentiment.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the past three years to educate both men and women about all the different safe ways they can come forward to report incidents on campus,” Brown said, also touching upon movements such as the #MeToo campaign. “I think in our current environment in the world with more of these types of situations being reported, I would wonder if we actually might even see more coming forward.”
Across Rider’s campus, education and awareness seem to be the most effective ways to reach students about the issue of domestic violence and keep the incident numbers down.
Yet it has been found that a majority of college students in America are not educated on the topic of domestic violence or the warning signs of a potentially dangerous relationship.
“College students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse – 57 percent say it is difficult to identify and 58 percent say they don’t know how to help someone who’s experiencing it,” according to loveisrespect.org.
A page titled “Is this Abuse?” on this website lists common warning signs of dating abuse including explosive temper, possessiveness, isolation from family and friends, checking email or social media without permission, mood swings and sexually forceful behavior.
Since January 2014, the responsibility of teaching students about tough topics like domestic abuse has often fallen on Stahley’s shoulders.
She touched upon the numerous resources – both confidential and non-confidential – available to students at Rider.
Confidential resources include the Counseling Center, where students can get “advice and therapy,” and the Health Center.
“Non-confidential would be any responsible employee – your community assistants, all housing staff, professors. If we are made aware of a situation, we are mandated to report it,” Stahley said, including herself as a non-confidential source. “Students are made aware of every resource that I could possibly think of off-campus, all the dating hotlines – text lines are the new big thing – numbers you can call for various things, as well as numbers for Public Safety or places where you can report.”
Stahley has been “running pretty full-force on getting messages out there” through specialized programs, specific group presentations like “Healthy Dating” for Greek Life students, games such as the campus-favorite Condom Bingo and “serious amounts of flyers.”
Similar to incidents of rape or sexual assault, incidents involving domestic violence are Title IX violations and are handled by Public Safety.
“When your case comes in, we take your initial information and then we send it to our Title IX compliance officer, and special investigators are assigned to follow up on that incident,” said Flatley. “Depending on who the respondent is, we would look to the victim and say, ‘What accommodations do you need in order to feel safe on campus here?’”
“That could include housing, classes, transportation, eating in Daly Dining Hall – a number of areas are covered,” he continued. “[Also,] we could consult with the dean of students to see if immediate measures need take place such as an in-room suspension, which tells the respondent you are not allowed on campus until a hearing is held.”
Ultimately, the victim is given control over where his or her case goes.
“We’re concerned about your well-being, physically and also mentally,” Flatley said. “We do not force anyone to report the crime. We leave it up to the victim.”
Flatley also stressed that in the event of an incident, a private room is reserved in Public Safety for a group called Womanspace – a nonprofit organization in Mercer County that specializes in a variety of services for those impacted by domestic or sexual violence. While Womanspace intervenes with the victim, Public Safety could contact the local enforcement agency should the victim choose to move forward with an official investigation.
With Rider seeing the largest and most diverse freshman class in fall 2017, students can be assured faculty and staff are making strides to ensure the university combats the national domestic violence averages.
“Nationally, worldwide, the movement is taking place,” Flatley said. “People are feeling [they] can come forward and feel safe doing that. That is very important.”
If you or someone you know might be a victim of domestic abuse, call 911 or contact Public Safety’s emergency number: (609) 896-7777.