Raising Campus Awareness of Violence Against Women
- Violence against women remains a widespread issue, especially for college-aged women.
- COVID-19 has intensified violence against women, creating a "shadow pandemic."
- Students can raise awareness by donating to nonprofits and volunteering for crisis hotlines.
The 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) details legal protections for women who have experienced domestic violence, stalking, and sexual violence. Despite being updated and reauthorized in 2000, 2005, and 2013, the bill expired in February 2019. Now, President Joe Biden, who has supported the bill since its inception, promises to reauthorize VAWA.
Sexual assault and violence against women on college campuses have garnered increased attention in recent years. Many campuses have instituted more robust safety and security plans, including bystander intervention programs like Green Dot, campus police escorts, and on-the-ground awareness campaigns such as Take Back the Night.
College is a time filled with peer pressure and social experimentation. Many young students have limited relationship experience and may not recognize the signs of intimate partner violence or unhealthy relationships. The presence of drugs, alcohol, and social media may also contribute to higher rates of abuse.
Research shows that girls and women aged 16-24 exhibit the highest per-capita rate of intimate partner violence by a current partner.
Around 1 in 3 college students has experienced dating violence. Research shows that girls and women aged 16-24 exhibit the highest per-capita rate of intimate partner violence by a current partner. Sexual violence and assault on college campuses are major issues as well, with 13% of all students experiencing rape or sexual assault through force, violence, or incapacitation.
Unfortunately, college students often feel reluctant to report these crimes, leading many cases to remain unaccounted for. According to RAINN, just 20% of female student victims aged 18-24 report sexual violence crimes to law enforcement.
There are many reasons why victims do not report cases of sexual assault and violence. Students may feel alone and isolated or may fear the abuser will retaliate. They may also worry they'll be ostracized or ridiculed by their friends. Finally, any cultural factors at play could warrant embarrassment, shame, or even guilt should the victim disclose their abuse.
Pandemic Leads to Spike in Violence Against Women
The physical closure of campuses, restaurants, and public places due to COVID-19 has led to an uptick in violence against women in the U.S. Many women are unable to leave their abusers as a result of unemployment and a lack of financial resources. Furthemore, a heavier reliance on technology and virtual engagement has opened the door to online harassment.
U.N. Women and other organizations are calling this growth in violence the "shadow pandemic" because few are aware of the atrocities being committed against women at such an alarming rate.
Nonprofits focused on ending domestic violence and sexual assault have had to strategically think about how to physically intervene in abusive situations during a global health crisis. With the sharp rise in violence against women this past year, it's time for both colleges and students to acknowledge the severity of the problem and begin promoting awareness.
5 Ways College Students Can Promote Awareness of Violence Against Women
Complete a Bystander Intervention Training Program
In order to prevent violence against women, we must focus on more than just the perpetrator and the victim. Bystander intervention programs take a community accountability approach to emphasize how bystanders play a critical role in safely intervening in instances in which sexual violence, harassment, and/or stalking may occur.
These programs typically teach students important intervention strategies, how to report cases of concern, and tips and signs for recognizing troubling situations. Bystander programs are shown to have a beneficial impact on rape myth acceptance and bystander efficacy.
Bystanders play a critical role in safely intervening in instances in which sexual violence, harassment, and/or stalking may occur.
Cornell University, for example, offers three bystander training programs. One of the most popular bystander intervention programs on campuses is Green Dot, which encourages proactive and preventative behavior by recognizing the key role college faculty, administrators, and students play in shaping campus culture and eliminating violence.
More colleges are requiring first-year students to complete a bystander intervention program before enrolling in classes. Many schools are also incorporating this training into student organizations.
Volunteer for a Crisis Hotline
Volunteering for a crisis hotline allows you to assist victims without the risk of spreading the coronavirus through in-person contact. Many crisis lines committed to ending violence against women provide 24/7 support and operate out of nonprofits.
The pandemic has caused a spike in calls to these crisis lines. For example, the Battered Women's Support Services' crisis line typically receives around 18,000 calls a year, but in 2020, calls increased a whopping 300%.
Examples of Volunteer-Run Crisis Hotlines
Crisis line volunteers play a pivotal role by being the first responders to women and girls experiencing abuse, helping them access support services such as emergency housing, legal advocacy, and counseling.
Many colleges maintain crisis hotlines for victims and survivors. Students at the University of Oregon, for instance, can take advantage of the 24-hour SAFE hotline, which is operated by students, staff, and faculty. If you're interested in helping your fellow classmates navigate abusive situations, check to see whether your school offers a peer support crisis line.
Stay Up to Date on Domestic Violence Laws and Policies
Most laws that impact victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are state laws focusing on protection orders, divorce, custody, child support, and more. These laws also protect victims who are abused by former spouses/partners — an important protection for women who have already left a relationship or gotten divorced.
State laws on domestic violence vary widely. In Delaware, the definition of domestic violence includes instances in which a defendant causes a victim to reasonably fear physical injury, even if no physical injury actually happens. Take time to familiarize yourself with your own state's laws.
Because state laws on domestic violence vary widely, be sure you take time to familiarize yourself with your own state’s laws.
Mandatory reporting laws are also widespread in the U.S. Per these laws, anyone in an official school or educator position must report when they know, or reasonably suspect, that a student has been injured or harmed as a result of domestic abuse.
In order to remain informed about changes in domestic violence laws and how they impact you and your community, consider attending a local police forum. These forums are a great avenue for learning about new laws and developments and for voicing your opinions and concerns regarding how law enforcement can take a more active role in protecting women.
Contact your local police department to learn more about how to get involved in police forums.
Donate to Organizations That Help Women in Need
Nonprofits geared toward helping women experiencing abuse often provide wraparound services, such as counseling, legal advocacy, housing, childcare, and career guidance. These organizations play a crucial role in building women's self-efficacy and strengthening their ability to respond to and remove themselves from abusive situations.
Organizations That Aid Women Experiencing Violence
Many nonprofits rely on a dwindling pool of state and federal funds, which is why it's so important for members of the community to lend their support. In addition to accepting monetary gifts, these organizations often need donations of menstrual products for women in short-term emergency housing.
Research the organizations in your area to find out if they're hosting any funding campaigns or donation drives. If you're part of a student club, consider encouraging your fellow club members to hold a food drive or a period supply drive for local organizations focused on fighting violence against women.
Take a Stand Against Rape Culture
According to statistics released by RAINN, "1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime."
Rape culture is extremely toxic because it normalizes sexual violence and assault by perpetuating the objectification and sexualization of women's bodies, dehumanizing victims, and blaming women for male sexual aggression.
Eliminating rape culture requires coordinated college and community efforts, not to mention an enormous cultural shift. In order to take a stand against rape culture, students should do the following:
- Understand what constitutes consent and how alcohol and drug use impact one's ability to give consent.
- Complete campus trainings on sexual assault, harassment, and healthy relationships. If your college does not provide these trainings, speak to your counseling or student conduct department to see whether these trainings can be offered to students.
- Understand and be aware of sexist language, and hold your peers accountable for using language that stereotypes or demeans women.
College Students Can Help End Violence Against Women
Violence against women remains one of the biggest social problems of our time, and cases go largely unreported due to both social stigma and a culture of violence. Ending violence and abuse against women won't happen instantly — it will require systemic and institutional change and coordinated efforts.
Although the U.S. still has a long way to go, there are plenty of steps college students can take today to bring awareness of how violence against women impacts girls, women, students, and humanity as a whole.
Feature Image: Tharakorn Arunothai / EyeEm / Getty Images