A Conversation on Campus Dating Violence and Sexual Assault

A Conversation on Campus Dating Violence and Sexual Assault

This post was contributed by Olivia Hinerfeld, Washington, DC campus intern for loveisrespect
Pictures via Nancy Vo, Washington, DC campus intern for loveisrespect

“What does the conversation on dating violence look like on your college campus?”

This is the question I asked of over forty administrators, faculty and staff members, and student activists from across the District of Columbia in individual interviews over the course of June and July 2015. Each person answered the question in a different way; however, one trend rose to the surface.

In the past two years, the United States has made enormous progress in addressing campus sexual assault, but many campuses are missing a part of the equation: dating violence and healthy relationships need to be a bigger part of the conversation at colleges and universities.

On Friday, July 17, university administrators and student activists from across the District of Columbia gathered at Georgetown University for “A Conversation with Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline” to discuss how schools in DC are already addressing dating violence and sexual assault, what steps still need to be taken and how The Hotline and loveisrespect can be better resources for college campuses. The event had representation from Georgetown University, George Washington University, American University, Catholic University of America, Howard University, University of District Columbia, and University of Maryland – College Park.

Lynn Rosenthal, former White House advisor on violence against women and current vice president of strategic partnerships at The Hotline, opened the event with a call to action to the students in the room to engage more deeply with the issues of dating violence and sexual assault. She then introduced Ray-Jones.

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Ray-Jones provided context for the event by describing The Hotline and loveisrespect’s services, drawing attention to the array of tools the organization offers to serve teens and young adults. Following her remarks, she moderated a panel with nine students from across the District, giving them a chance to provide feedback about their experiences as student activists working on the issues of dating violence and sexual assault.

In response to a question about the biggest obstacles facing college campuses in addressing sexual violence, students talked about a variety of concerns. Several observed that campus culture has to be open to combating sexual assault and dating violence. Others raised the issue of intersectionality and making sure that vulnerable populations who are disproportionately affected by these issues have adequate resources.

So as to change campus culture, students discussed the importance of bolstering mental health resources, offering bystander intervention education and implementing peer education programs. The lone male student on the panel also underscored the need to further engage men on these issues.

Next, the rest of the attendees broke out into tabletop discussions to further explore the topics raised by the student panel. As the event progressed, I was struck by the number of creative campaigns, trainings, programs and initiatives targeted towards confronting sexual assault and dating violence already in effect across DC. It was made abundantly clear that we all have so much to learn from one another — a genuine opportunity for collaboration has arisen. Now, we have a responsibility to answer this call.

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Given that nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors (source), there is no question that dating violence needs to become a bigger part of the conversation at colleges and universities. Taking into account that one in six college women have been sexually abused in a dating relationship (source), it is important that campuses pay greater attention to the overlap of sexual assault and dating violence, rather than treating the two as separate issues.

As attendees departed, they left with a challenge in mind: to follow up with a person they had met that day who had inspired them. Ultimately, I hope that the young people in the room on Friday saw the value in connecting with student activists from other colleges and universities.

On campuses, students are necessarily the driving force for change; by developing a forum to collaborate on these issues, we can move our schools forward together.

#LIRCampusTalk Blog

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