Group raises dating violence awareness

You may have encountered silhouettes, handprints and purple footprints as you were making your way around Gannon University’s campus for the month of October.

These are some of the objects the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) group placed to honor Violence Awareness Month.

According to a 2011 poll conducted by breakthecycle.com, more than four out of 10 dating college women reported experiencing some violent and abusive dating behaviors in college. In addition, more than one in five females in college reported actual physical or sexual abuse, or threats of physical violence.

For these reasons and many more, the SAVE group, in collaboration with SafeNet, started the footprints initiative at Gannon.

Katie Allison, coordinator of the violence prevention program, said the idea behind the initiative was to encourage students to take steps to stop dating violence.

According to a fact sheet published by SafeNet, dating violence is any “controlling, abusive and aggressive behavior in a romantic relationship. It occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and includes verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or a combination of these.”

Allison said abuse could be emotional, spiritual – where one of the partners of the relationship belittles practices and beliefs of the other’s faith – or financial, where one partner takes over the other’s bank account or tells the other how to spend their money.

“It’s any behavior that compromises who you are and what you stand for,” she said. “It happens so often because people want to belong and want to be in a relationship.”

She added that dating violence could happen in both sexes. It’s not one sex or the other.

“We have a tendency to think that women are always the ones abused but men are also abused,” she said.

Ted Marnen, director of Campus Police and Safety, echoed Allison’s words.

“It also happens to men, but they don’t like to talk about it and are less likely to ask for help,” he said.

According to the poll, 17 percent of men reported being in an abusive relationship.

The silhouettes spread around campus, Allison said, symbolize people who witness violence and are reluctant to come forward.

“Especially on college campuses, we have a tendency to step back and see what’s going on but not say anything and become a silent witness,” she said.

She also said that oftentimes, signs of abuse are not outwardly visible, but those subjected to it lose confidence in themselves, compromise who they are and make excuses for their partner’s behavior.

She said students who suspect their friend is in an abusive relationship can take steps to help them by being supportive and sensitive. They should try to reach out for help, avoid blaming the friend for the abuse they are undergoing, listen to their needs, understand they are willing to leave the relationship and allow them time to grieve its end.

“Hold yourself and each other accountable,” she said. “This isn’t who you are, this isn’t who you stand for and this isn’t how you’re raised.’”

Alex Iorio, a senior sport and exercise science major and president of SAVE, said she believes a lot of students think relationship violence and sexual assault happen at other schools but not here.

“I hope that by seeing the footprints and taking the time to think about these things, students might consider that it does happen here and we need to be more aware of it,” she said. “I also hope that it helps student victims feel like there is support for them on campus for what they’re going through.”

Marnen said that because the campaign is an informational one, the number of students inquiring about abuse has increased on campus.

“We have students who are unsure if they’re victims or not, so they come and ask to know if their concerns are founded,” he said.

A recent forcible rape complaint was reported on campus, according to Gannon’s Police and Safety crime report published earlier in October.

Marnen said the case was transferred to the legal system and a student was being investigated for the incident. Measures are being taken to keep the students away from each other until the case is resolved.

One other non-forcible sex offense has been reported on campus, but was not pursued complying with the student’s wishes. The report indicates two assault complaints, both of which have been resolved.

Emma Mancini, a senior biology major and a member of the SAVE group said the mission of the “A-Team,” a term she said refers to the members involved in the group, is to raise awareness about violence and safety on campus.

“Basically we take what we see wrong on campus and try to fix it,” she said.

One of the major activities the team conducted was providing food, water and transportation to students at the drop-off location under Gannon’s Arch during Homecoming night.

The group, Mancini said, educates about several topics, including sexual violence and stalking, with each month devoted to raise awareness about one issue.

“We want to give students some insights about problems they may encounter,” she said. “We want to say, ‘This happens, this is real life; if you see something, do something.’”

Iorio shared Mancini’s view of the group’s mission and said other students might see a group advocating against violence and become encouraged to join them.

“Our motto is ‘See something, say something, do something,’” she said. “I hope that students who see these things feel more empowered to do the right thing.”

The SAVE program was started after the university received a grant from the Department of Justice: Office of Violence Against Women to look at dating violence, sexual assault and stalking on campus. The purpose was to provide victim services, raise awareness about policies and procedures, offer educational opportunities for students and train the faculty and staff so they know what to do when someone comes forward with a possible abuse complaint.

Other campaigns started by the A-Team include September’s Safe Campus Awareness Campaign and The Day of Action Campaign, during which people painted their hands and pledged to give a hand to help each other and to say something if they see something or know something, Allison said.

The idea, she said, was to encourage students to take a stand and be active in preventing violence.

“Action matters,” Allison said. “If you see something, say something, do something. Don’t be a silent witness.”

 

HIBA ALMASRI

[email protected]