By Mary Kate McGrath - April 6, 2020
In October of 2018, Lauren McCluskey, a college student and track star in Utah, was stalked on campus, kidnapped, and killed by a former boyfriend, as per the New York Times. The story shined a new light on intimate partner violence on campus.
Her parents, who have become fierce advocates for more stringent dating violence policies on campus, said the school violated civil rights law by failing to investigate over 20 reports of their daughter’s abuse. Instead of taking action, university officials assumed McCluskey wanted “privacy” and only considered reprimanding her for allowing the former-boyfriend, who was not a student, to stay in her dorm room on campus. Her murderer was later found out to be a felon and sex offender on parole who lied about his identity and age.
College or university campuses have a legal and ethical obligation to pay attention to intimate partner violence. McCluskey’s murder, which could have been prevented, underscores how important it is to investigate any report or incident of domestic violence thoroughly.
In February, the Department of Education passed a new guidance on dating violence, including provisions to bolster protections for victims of stalking or dating violence. Officials cited lethal attacks, such as McCluskey’s case, as underscoring the weakness of previous policies. The new rules will ensure domestic violence, dating violence, or intimate partner stalking are treated as a form of gender-discrimination that schools must address under Title IX, the federal law that requires schools to address incidents or risk federal investigation or loss of funding, according to the New York Times. Many colleges or universities treat domestic violence, dating violence, or intimate partner stalking as sexual harassment, but do not have staff trained to address these incidents as civil rights violations.
Intimate partner violence is more likely to impact young adults, and leaves college-age women particularly vulnerable. Most female and male victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner (69% of female victims, 53% of male victims) experienced some form of intimate partner violence for the first time before 25 years of age, according to National Domestic Violence Hotline. Nearly 43% of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse, and nearly 1 in 3 (29%) college women say they have been in an abusive dating relationship. Even more concerning, students likely underreport sexual violence on campus, due to fear of retaliation, shaming, or re-traumatization from court hearings.
Not only are college-age students more vulnerable to intimate partner violence, many are unsure how to seek help if they, or someone they know, is a victim of domestic abuse. More than half (52%) of college women report having a friend who has experienced violent or abusive dating behaviors, but 58% of college students say they don’t know what to do to help someone who is a victim of dating abuse, as per NDVH. Equally worrying, 38% of college students reported that they wouldn’t know how to get help for themselves if they were a victim of dating abuse. In order to prevent or address dating violence on campus, administrators should make sure community members understand how to file reports or access support resources.
College or university leaders now have a legal responsibility to educate their community about the prevalence of domestic violence, and develop strategies to address incidents on campus. Teaching students and faculty how to identify and report domestic violence can be a major part of effective response. It’s important for students to feel safe coming forward with a report of domestic violence, whether it is their own situation or a peer, and understand the protocol around reporting. Campus safety teams should be trained in how to address these incidents with sensitivity and empathy. Now, under the new federal guidance, it’s more crucial than ever that campus safety teams have a reliable medium for students to report an incident of domestic abuse.
Many individuals might struggle to come forward with a report of domestic violence, and without a clear protocol for reporting, the process is likely to seem even more intimidating. A campus safety app can be an effective tool for soliciting reports, allowing students, faculty, and staff to discreetly communicate with safety managers. The app has an anonymous two-way tip texting tool, which students can use to alert security to domestic violence situations on campus. During an emergency, users can also use the app to reach campus safety or local law enforcement directly. First responders will receive critical location data from the user’s phone, allowing them to respond to the incident swiftly.
Administrators can also make an active effort to communicate resources to students. Many individuals are likely to be afraid of coming forward, either for fear of retaliation from an abuser or worries that their report will not be taken seriously. It’s important for students to be encouraged to come forward with reports of domestic violence, and faculty and staff to receive thorough training on how best to respond to a domestic violence report.
Resources on how to access help or assistance on campus can be centrally located in a campus safety app as well. For any student or faculty member whose unsure who to reach out to, the app also includes a directory with important numbers, allowing community-members to easily find resources or assistance.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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