It’s Time to Include Relationship Violence in the Campus Sexual Assault Conversation

By Elizabeth Wilmerding

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Recent strides have been made in sexual violence prevention in the college environment, although we still have a long way to go. To anyone working in this field for years—or decades—this small amount of progress can make one think, “It’s about time.” It’s time to acknowledge the amount of trauma occurring on college campuses. It’s time for survivors to get access to the support and services they deserve. It’s time for federal laws, state laws, and campus policies to promote cultures of nonviolence. And, it’s time to bring dating and domestic violence into the campus sexual assault conversation.

Our culture and policies around sexual violence are changing because our level of understanding is changing. Yet, we’re continuing to leave out dating and domestic violence. We now know that up to 90% of survivors of attempted or completed rape know their attackers. We know that 1 in 5 women will experience such an assault in their lives, as will 1 in 33 men and 1 in 2 trans* or gender-nonconforming people. We have begun to consider sexual violence from an intersectional perspective, recognizing that survivors have complex identities before an assault, and that those identities impact their experiences of trauma and healing in unique and complex ways. While our narratives around sexual assault and rape have shifted to include these realities, they haven’t changed enough to account for the intersections between sexual violence and relationship violence.

If we want to truly change our culture and eradicate interpersonal violence, it is critical that we acknowledge the link between sexual violence and relationship violence. One in 3 women have experienced violence from an intimate partner. Of these hundreds of thousands of women, 40-45% will experience sexual assault or rape as part of the abuse. New data shows us that 1 in 4 men may experience dating or domestic violence and these figures and those for trans* and gender-nonconforming people may underestimate the rate of incidence. Imagine if we dedicated the same amount of time, resources, and expertise to preventing dating and domestic violence on our campuses as we devote to preventing sexual assault and rape.

Many colleges and universities educate their students about affirmative consent, bystander intervention techniques they can use at parties, and definitions of sexual assault and rape. What if we expanded these dialogues to include the extreme jealousy and stalking that can indicate dating violence, and the intimidation and displays of power that often accompany domestic violence? What if we made sure undergraduate students understood that dating violence can happen in a variety of relationships, including those involving hook-ups or friends-with-benefits? And, what if we spoke with students about the many shapes domestic violence can take in marriages and long-term relationships?

I suspect that, by emphasizing the links to dating and domestic violence in our conversations about sexual violence, we will be able to greatly increase awareness of many types of interpersonal violence and reduce their occurrence and impact. Not only that, but we will validate the experiences of the many survivors whose experiences are not limited to one categorization of harm. True violence prevention depends on having a broad and nuanced understanding of both the current climate and our vision for the future. If we truly hope to end sexual assault, rape, stalking, dating violence, domestic violence, and sexual harassment, we must have a comprehensive approach. It’s time to include dating and domestic violence in our conversations and strategies about ending sexual violence on college campuses.


eliz1Elizabeth Wilmerding is pursuing a Master’s degree (2017) at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. Her background is in the prevention and support of survivors of sexual and relationship violence, in campus and community settings. A former intern at Futures Without Violence, she is currently doing a field placement at UC Berkeley’s PATH to Care Center, the university’s organization devoted to violence prevention and survivor support. She lives in Oakland, CA.

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Domestic Violence: Be Part of the Conversation

By Katie Ray-Jones

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If 12 million people were affected by an epidemic in this country, it would be all over the news. People in every community would be concerned, and you’d hear about it everywhere you went.

What if I told you that there is such an epidemic happening right now in every city and state in the U.S.? But this epidemic is not a disease or a virus. It’s domestic violence.

Domestic violence affects millions of people in the U.S. each year. One in four women and one in seven men are physically abused by an intimate partner, and one in three teens will experience some form of dating abuse. However, these numbers don’t show the entire picture. It’s likely that many victims are suffering in silence and never report their experiences due to fear, shame, and a lack of resources.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and all month long organizations and individuals around the country are working to raise awareness about this important issue. Why is it so crucial to make domestic violence part of our national conversation? On a personal level, anyone can be a victim—or a perpetrator—of relationship abuse, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or background. But domestic violence isn’t just a private, family matter. On a broader cultural level, domestic violence intersects with many of the major social issues of our time, such as affordable housing, LGBTQ rights, and gun laws. This issue is shaped and perpetuated by many of the attitudes and fears that affect our world, like misogyny, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

At the National Domestic Violence Hotline, we are in a unique position to inform the ongoing conversation about domestic violence. As the only national hotline that provides direct support to anyone affected by intimate partner abuse, we are able to gather data and stories from survivors across the country. In 2014, The Hotline conducted a survey with our chatters about their abusive partners’ access to firearms. Of those who revealed that their partners had access to guns, 22% said their partner had used a gun to make threats, and 67% believed their partner was capable of killing them. These impactful stories and statistics can be used to inform policies that lead to better protections for survivors and our communities.

Many people might feel helpless at the thought of ending domestic violence, but there are many things that we as individuals can do. First and foremost, we must stop blaming victims. No one deserves to be abused for any reason. The person responsible is the person who chooses to be abusive. Second, it’s important that we learn the signs of relationship abuse so that we can recognize when it is happening. It’s also critical that we teach young children the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors. We can do this by being a healthy partner in our own relationships and calling out ideas or behavior that promote violence or abuse. We can all spread the message that love is not abuse.

By accomplishing these seemingly small acts, we can eradicate stigma for victims and begin building better support systems locally and nationally. We can also shine a light on abuse and promote healthy relationships for future generations. These may sound like lofty goals, but I believe that a world where all relationships are positive, healthy and free from violence is possible.

Learn more about The Hotline at www.thehotline.org.


katie-hotlineKatie Ray-Jones is the chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline). She is a recognized leader in the domestic violence movement and has extensive experience working with victims and survivors. Ray-Jones has managed emergency shelter and housing programs as well as nonresidential services for survivors and their children. Prior to being named CEO of The Hotline, she served as operations director and then president of the organization. She serves as treasurer on the board of directors for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and is a member of the National Task Force to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Public Policy:  Prevention or Harm?

By Grace Mattern

PIRC Research to Practice Specialist

Author and Nonprofit Advisor

www.gracemattern.com

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In the late 1990’s the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) worked with the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV) to amend New Hampshire’s child abuse statute to provide what everyone hoped would be increased safety for abused children and women.  Wouldn’t tougher penalties for abusers who violated stay-away orders make battered women and their children safer?

At the time I was working with Susan Schechter, a pioneer of the battered women’s movement, on another initiative—a national project to address the intersection of intimate partner violence and child abuse.  I asked her what she thought about the proposed policy change in New Hampshire.

“We should be trying to enforce the laws we already have,” Susan said.  “We don’t need more laws, we need to change how communities keep women and children safe.”

The law was changed. It didn’t improve enforcement of orders and it led to disagreements between DCYF and NHCADSV about an advocate’s role in reporting violations of orders.  Putting a criminal penalty in a civil statute—designed to outline the state’s work with families to heal abuse and reunite children with their biological parents—didn’t work, and it didn’t make children and battered women any safer.

The development of sex offender registries is another public policy initiative that was meant to protect children, but has turned out to be harmful in too many instances.  Sex offender registries were established with the belief that parents and the public could keep children safe if they knew where all the sex offenders were.  The instinct was protective.

But in reality, the most likely offender of any child is a family member or friend: someone from the community you would expect you could trust. In a third of cases the offender is another child, according to the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth.  In many states a juvenile convicted of a sex crime, no matter how unjust or misguided the conviction, is subject to a lifetime on a public sex offender registry.

In The New Yorker, Sarah Stillman recounts troubling stories of the children, some as young as 10 at the time of their offense, who are on public registries. The negative consequences they face include vigilante violence against them and their families, misguided and ineffective treatment, and crippling discrimination in education and employment.  Criminalizing trauma-related behavior by a child, and publicly identifying that child as a sex offender, doesn’t prevent child abuse. It perpetrates it through policy.

To be clear, I’m not making an argument against sex offender registries.  I’m pointing out that when we advocate for policy changes we believe will help protect victims, we need to think as creatively as we can about the ways policy changes might be harmful to vulnerable people.  If we can identify potential unintended negative consequences then we can advocate for policies that minimize unintended harm as much as possible.

After trying for too long to find justice for victims in the criminal justice system, advocates in the battered women’s movement learned that justice can never be fully realized by any system of government. No matter how well-crafted the policy, government retains the authority to implement it however it wants, including in racist and sexist ways.  We criminalized domestic violence and advocated for the police to put batterers in jail, and the men who ended up incarcerated were disproportionally black or poor or both.

As a movement, we hope to learn from our mistakes.  The emphasis on criminal justice responses to intimate partner violence and sexual assault shifted years ago, with more attention on other systems—medical, mental health, community-based, child welfare, public assistance—as places to advocate for the support of survivors and their families.

There is growing recognition across child sexual assault victim rights groups and groups of family members affected by the registry of juveniles, such as Women Against Registry, that reform is needed.  Stacie Rumenap of Stop Child Predators, talking about lobbying for states to adopt registries, told Stillman, “Never in our wildest dreams were we going state by state asking lawmakers to punish juveniles.”

We need to have wild dreams when we advocate for new policies so we make as few mistakes as possible.

 

For more information on state registry laws and juveniles, please visit the Center for Sex Offender Management.


matternGrace S. Mattern was Executive Director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence for 30 years. She has been actively involved with public policy and systems advocacy to promote effective community interventions in response to domestic and sexual violence and coordinated a statewide network of programs that assist victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. She served on the Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Chairing the Research Committee. She has also served on the Attorney General’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee, the National Greenbook Policy Advisory Council, and on numerous Boards of Directors, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the NH Network of Child Advocacy Centers and the NH Coalition to End Homelessness. She is currently the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the NH Center for Nonprofits and is a member of the Advisory Board of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

 

 

Addressing “Revenge Porn” Using a Community Approach

By LB Klein, MSW

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“Revenge porn” is a colloquialism for the non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit still or moving images with the intention of causing harm. It is a form of sexual violence commonly used as a tactic by a perpetrator of harassment, intimate partner violence, and stalking to harm the victim. The images may originally have been taken with or without consent, may originally have been consensually shared with a partner, or stolen via hacking of a personal computer or phone. The “revenge porn” is then posted publicly, often on websites, and sometimes with the victim’s contact information, social media sites, or address, so that the victim can be further harassed and humiliated.

There are two commonly proposed solutions for “revenge porn.” The first is the idea that people should just stop taking nude photos of themselves. This solution blames victims and shames people, usually women, for their sexuality and provides no solution for the problem of gender-based violence. The issue with “revenge porn” is the lack of consent in the distribution of the images, not in the existence of the images themselves. The violation is not the existence of bodies or people seeing them but in who decides who can share the images (victims have not participated in the decision or agreed to share images or personal information), the intention for sharing the images (i.e., retaliation or punishment) and the perpetrators’, usually men, effective tactic of leveraging patriarchy to shame their women partners as “revenge.”

The second proposed solution is turning to the criminal legal system. While less victim-blaming, this is often quite ineffective. “Revenge porn” is a psychologically and sexually abusive form of violence that relies on community shaming. While 27 states currently have laws against “revenge porn”  and seventeen more are drafting legislation, “revenge porn”— like many other forms of gender-based violence—is rarely addressed in a timely or fulfilling manner by the criminal legal system, and victims are often left to face increased stigma without recourse. There are people who will never feel safe turning to the police or the courts for help, even if those avenues are improved. Simply making “revenge porn” illegal is but one step toward true prevention and intervention.

Here are four areas outside of introducing new legislation or advocating for risk reduction that can be leveraged to address “revenge porn.”

  1. Increase the capacity of sexual and domestic violence service providers to raise awareness about “revenge porn”.

It is vital that advocates and counselors learn more about the nature and dynamics of “revenge porn” so that they can identify the behavior and possible remedies. As these providers are already working these issues, they can also raise awareness that “revenge porn” is a form of gender-based violence and that its victims deserve support.

  1. Increase public education and awareness without shaming victims.

Due to recent media attention, there is increased awareness that “revenge porn” is happening, but the sensationalism and emphasis on legal intervention does not inspire the public to take responsibility. Educational efforts should focus on what community members can do to aid in prevention by avoiding “revenge porn” websites, shaming websites that host nonconsensually-shared images, and providing support to friends who are targeted through “revenge porn.”

  1. Include discussion of “revenge porn” in bystander intervention programs.

Bystander intervention is a powerful prevention strategy that centers on seeing all members of the community as a part of the solution for ending violence. These programs should include examples of “revenge porn” alongside other forms of interpersonal violence. These programs can emphasize the need for perpetrator accountability and the power of prosocial bystanders to shift the culture that emboldens “revenge porn” perpetrators.

  1. Engage with leaders in the technology field to develop innovative solutions.

While “revenge porn” is simply a form of gender-based violence facilitated using new technology, social media and the idea are relevant points of consideration when uncovering solutions. Technological interventions might make it harder for abusers to disseminate “revenge porn” or might help survivors quickly get images taken down.

“Revenge porn” is a new manifestation of a pervasive endemic public health issue: gender-based violence. It relies on a patriarchal culture in which even well-meaning individuals abdicate responsibility. This leads to the perpetuation of the myth that criminal and civil legal systems work to provide justice and restoration to victims, or that further shaming and limiting the sexualities of women are effective prevention strategies. Because these are false promises, we must consider new solutions that are rooted in communities, address power and privilege, promote education, empower bystanders, and use innovative technological practices. Only through leveraging interdisciplinary expertise and listening to what survivors really want will we see a shift away from a culture that enables “revenge porn” and excuses those who host and post it.


LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. In that role, she builds the capacity of institutions of higher education and communities to implement the Bringing in the Bystander Program. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this Fall.

Why Don’t Survivors Just Report Sexual Assault to the Police?

By LB Klein, MSW

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According to the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. There are many reasons why a survivor might choose not to report an assault, or to stop pursuing a case after reporting it. Every survivor’s healing process or sense of justice is different, and it’s always the survivor’s right to choose whether or not to report sexual violence to law enforcement. The following are just some of the reasons that survivors may choose not to report:

  • Survivors might feel embarrassed about what happened, or want to avoid publicly discussing sexual acts or repeating the story over and over again.
  • Survivors often blame themselves or believe others will blame them.
  • Survivors might believe that involving the police or criminal legal system could lead to time-consuming and invasive processes with little chance of tangible results. They might also worry that these lengthy processes could delay their recovery.
  • Survivors might worry that the criminal legal system will find the perpetrator not guilty, making the reporting seem like an unnecessary and demoralizing ordeal. This might lead survivors to feel even less safe having gone through these systems. Failed legal cases can make survivors feel even more at fault, and as if no one believes them.
  • Survivors might not want others to find out about what happened, or to become targets for gossip or retaliation. Survivors might fear both physical retaliation and social consequences that could inhibit moving forward with their lives.
  • Survivors might not want their families, significant others, or friends to find out for fear that they will worry, become overly protective, blame them, retaliate against the perpetrator, or insist that they leave certain environments like school or work.
  • Survivors may not recognize that what happened to them was sexual assault or rape. They likely know and sometimes care about the person(s) who committed these acts. They might want help or support, but would not want to pursue actions that label what happened as “rape.”
  • If the perpetrator is found guilty of committing a sexual assault and receives a significant punishment, the survivor may face retaliation from other members of the community for getting someone in trouble.
  • The survivor may have been threatened by the perpetrator or be frightened of the perpetrator.
  • Survivors may fear compromising or complicating relationships with mutual friends.
  • The survivor may fear that others won’t believe an assault occurred. A common reaction from friends or family members that the survivor might have experienced is disbelief—that situations like this could not possibly happen. Another common reaction is to blame and scrutinize the survivors’ behavior, making the survivor reluctant to report assaults in future.
  • The survivor may have already had a bad experience with legal systems or have a criminal record, or know someone else who has been victimized by the system.
  • The survivor might not have the resources to pay the legal fees that are sometimes associated with reporting.
  • Survivors from communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, American Indian and low-income communities may have negative histories with law enforcement perpetrating state violence against them or their communities and may not view law enforcement and the criminal justice system as a source of healing, justice, or support.
  • The survivor might be focusing on coping with mental health symptoms, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, PTSD, academic or work difficulties, and safety concerns, and not have the time, energy, or support to pursue the case. Participation in legal processes often exacerbates these problems rather than alleviates them.
  • The survivor may have been engaging in other embarrassing or illegal activities when the assault occurred, and fears the conduct or legal process will uncover these.
  • If survivors identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or queer, or they were engaging in sexual activity with a person of the same gender at the time of the assault, they may be concerned about being outed if they pursue a legal process.

For these reasons and many more, many survivors do not choose to report to law enforcement. No one should ever force or coerce a survivor into reporting an assault to the police, and it should be a survivor’s decision if and when to report. It is crucial to put survivors’ self-determination at the center in all sexual assault prevention and awareness programming to help survivors regain the power and control taken from them when they were sexually assaulted.  We must continue to validate the experiences of survivors, regardless of whether they ever report to a police officer or spend a day in a courtroom, and to consider ways to address sexual violence outside of criminal legal interventions.


LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. In that role, she builds the capacity of institutions of higher education and communities to implement the Bringing in the Bystander Program. She is based in Atlanta, GA.

 

Welcome to PIRCBlog!

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          We begin this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month with the launch of our newest communication platform, the Prevention Innovations Research Center blog. Welcome to PIRCBlog!
         Prevention Innovations Research Center (PIRC) is internationally recognized for its collaborative research and community engagement, with a focus on preventing and responding to sexual and relationship violence and stalking.
          We hope to bring you interesting updates from our work here at the University of New Hampshire including work by our PIRC colleagues and collaborating partners from around the globe. Together, we are engaged in cutting-edge scholarship, research, education and developments that are making news and making a difference in ending sexual and relationship violence and stalking. Our research informs policy and practice and we convene practitioners and researchers to develop strategies for evidence-based, innovative approaches to violence prevention. We are committed to mentoring the next generation of researchers, scholars and advocates. Therefore, PIRC researchers involve graduate and undergraduate students in their projects at all stages, from design to implementation to publication. Our Susan Schecter Domestic and Sexual Violence Social Justice Lab is an interdisciplinary research laboratory where PIRC offers paid and credit-earning research assistantships to UNH students.
          PIRCBlog will include contributions from the PIRC team as well as from guest bloggers. Contributors will discuss current practices in social change and violence prevention, take a deeper look at the evidence-based research that drives our mission and summarize their peer-reviewed publications. We will also examine the partnerships with practitioners and communities where research findings are put to use and discuss their implementation. PIRCBlog will recognize practitioners and researchers world-wide who are working toward the same goals by highlighting like-minded organizations, tracking the news related to the prevention of sexual and relationship violence and stalking, and reviewing books, movies and other media that highlight sexual and domestic violence.
          As the launch of our blog coincides with April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we have planned a series of posts on this year’s theme:preventionWatch for discussions of the importance of prevention and PIRC’s efforts helping post-secondary institutions, federal and state efforts,and local communities develop and implement model policies, procedures and programs. We’ll also be addressing prevention efforts in the military and on college and university campuses, prevention and public policy, and prevention in the media.
          We invite you to read and to comment on the blog, follow us on WordPress,visit our website, and subscribe to our semi-annual newsletter, PIRCNews, for information about PIRC. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, please see our submission guidelines. You can also follow us on Twitter (@WePreventNow), on Instagram (@preventioninnovations) and on Facebook where you will find updates about our work, and announcements of new blog posts. Thank you for visiting PIRCBlog!
          –Sharyn Potter and Jane Stapleton

SharynPotter1Sharyn J. Potter, Ph.D., MPH, is a founder and Co-director of Prevention Innovations Research Center: Ending Sexual and Relationship Violence and Stalking at the University of New Hampshire and is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology.
stapletonJane Stapleton, M.A., is a founder and Co-director of Prevention Innovations Research Center: Ending Sexual and Relationship Violence and Stalking at the University of New Hampshire.