Monday, July 16th, 2018

College campuses across the nation join the fight to end domestic violence

Abigail Johnson-Ruscansky | The Free Press

Posted on September 29, 2014 in News
By Francis Flisiuk

In this country at least four women are murdered by abusive partners daily and 25% of female college students have reported a violent rape, according to a crime victimization survey done by the National Institute of Justice.

With an estimated one in five college women attacked, USM’s faculty and students are working to spread awareness about the disturbing prevalence of domestic violence in Maine and in the rest of the country.

Last Monday a film titled “Private Violence,” which chronicled the lives of two survivors and their attempts to leave their abusers, was shown in Hannaford Hall supported by the USM efforts from the Campus Safety Project and the Women and Gender Studies department. SPACE Gallery, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and Family Crisis Services also helped to co-present the documentary film.

“It’s a very powerful film,” said Amy Taylor who is on the board of directors of Family Crisis Services. “It’s emotional, daunting and really tastefully done.”

“The people who hurt you the most often can be the ones you love,” said Taylor, who dealt with an abusive father in her childhood.

The film brought to light that the most dangerous place for a woman in America is her own home, by telling the dramatic tales of two survivors: Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters. Kit Gruelle has 25 years of experience advocating for battered women and remains dedicated to shattering the harmful stereotypes that surround domestic violence and its survivors.

Gruelle said that one stereotype is the notion that only poor and uneducated women are being abused, when in fact domestic violence can happen in any household, regardless of any differences. For Gruelle, looking past isolated incidents and examining our patriarchal society as a whole may be the key to ending violence against females. She explained that we have to take a hard look all over the world, at how different communities interact, and how the criminal justice system is responding or not responding to these acts of violence.

“The issue is about privilege and a sense of entitlement that some men have,” said Gruelle. “It’s an issue where men think they are masters of the castle and get to call the shots. Men are violent to women because they believe they have the right to be violent and society gives them that right.” She posed the question: “Why do men feel like they can control, harass and intimidate women?”

According to Gruelle, some people wait until a woman has a visible injury like a black eye or a broken nose to speak up, and even then they try to find ways to justify it.

Gruelle said that the typical response among people when asked about solutions to domestic violence is, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

According to Sarah Holmes, the assistant director of student and university life for diversity, it’s not that simple. She said that for some, leaving might result in some women losing their money, children, pets or possessions. Holmes encouraged to log on to Twitter and search #whyistayed to see all of the diverse and deeply personal reasons women choose to remain a part of an abusive relationship.

“Everyone has their own complicated and important reasons for not leaving an abusive relationship,” said Holmes.

Matthew Perry was the first male employee in the state to work for the Family Crisis Service hotline and has been working to end violence against women since 1999. Perry said that apart from all the financial and social reasons women choose to stay, the majority of women stay because they don’t want to be killed. According to him women are 75% more likely to be murdered if they try to leave an abusive relationship.

“Men have yet to listen to women when they’ve been pleading for thousands of years, ‘don’t kills us, don’t rape us,’” said Perry. “I don’t speak for women; I speak next to them.”

“It’s a product of human conditioning,” said Kelsey Michaud, a sophomore theater major and women and gender studies minor. Michaud said that she unfortunately does know individuals affected by what she called “a bigger problem than most people realize.”

According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV), over 37,000 hotline calls were placed in the first six months of last year. Of all assaults in the state of Maine last year 47.4% were attributed to domestic violence and 5,593 arrests were made for that crime.

“Domestic violence is a big problem in Maine,” said Holmes. “A lot of people are impacted by this kind of abuse, but it’s not just individuals who are affected; it’s also their friends, family and peers.”

Holmes said that there are victims of relationship-related violence on USM’s campus, and she’s done a lot of work over the past four to five years making sure there is help and resources available to them. Some aid includes talking to a counselor or an advisor as well as calling an anonymous hotline that’s posted in campus bathrooms.

“We can combat this problem through education,” said Holmes. “We all know someone who’s been a victim of domestic violence.”

Perry agrees.

“If you can give information and talk about it [domestic violence] early, that’s prevention” said Perry. “I firmly believe it’s every person’s role in the community to help end the abuse.”

Students from the women and gender studies department frequently discuss gender based violence and its impact on communities, according to Kate Zema, a student in that major.

“We’ve been talking about issues in current events like the Ray Rice incident,” said Zema. “I’ve been focusing specifically on sexual assault and consent education.”

“We do learn about domestic violence and discuss it on a regular basis,” said Michaud.

On a national scale, the number of women killed from domestic violence since 2001 is 11,766, more deaths than those killed in terrorist attacks and battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama recently stated that these statistics are “totally unacceptable,” and launched a new, star studded online campaign called “It’s On Us,” which urges viewers to stop being bystanders to the problem and become part of the solution. USM is committed to this cause.

For students on campus that may be affected by this national problem, aid and counsel are available through an anonymous hotline at 1-866-834-4357.

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