One USM student who attended last week’s dating violence forum on the Portland campus was not there to listen to statistics. She is one.
“I decided to come because I’m in the same situation,” said the sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous. A week earlier, she filed a protective order against a male who had been harassing her.
She didn’t care about hearing numbers, she said, but learning about what resources were available to help friends in similar situations.
Sponsored by the USM Police Department, the forum featured five speakers involved in the legal and counseling aspects of dating and domestic violence. A discussion followed with the two dozen or so audience members.
In her opening remarks, USM Police Chief Lisa Beecher said there has been an increase in reports of dating violence on campus this year.
The department, she said, does not believe there is more violence occurring, but that more people are coming forward to report it. When asked how significant is the increase in reports, Beecher said it’s still a low number.
There were five forcible sexual assaults on campus in 1999, according to statistics in USM’s Safety and Security Information Report. There were three in 1998 and one was reported in 1997. Nationwide, 1.3 adult women are raped every minute, according to the National Victim Center and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center.
As the Executive Director for Family Crisis Services, Lois Galgay Reckitt represents 3,700 women and just under 100 men in two Maine counties who have been victims of domestic and dating violence. Her organization provides emergency shelters, outreach advocates and a 24-hour hotline for victims.
“It’s no surprise to anybody that there’s a rape problem at every university in this country,” said Reckitt, who is also an adjunct professor of biology at USM.
Two speakers at the forum discussed the legal process. Anne Berlind, assistant district attorney for Cumberland County and a member of the office’s domestic violence unit, explained different charges, their penalties, and how protection orders work. Steve Nelson, assistant to the vice president for the Office of Community Standards, described the jurisdiction his office has over dating violence and protection orders. His office deals with violations of the student conduct code.
Janis Mallon, senior clinical psychologist at USM Counseling Services, described resources available through her office.
Jim Daniels, manager of Sexual Assault Programs for USM Police, is assigned full-time to investigating on-campus dating violence. Investigations rely less on victim testimony today, he said, in case victims aren’t comfortable testifying. Officers are trained to be more cognizant of witnesses and of evidence at the scene such as an overturned table or chair that might help illustrate what happened.
Daniels declined to discuss the number of cases his office gets that are not included in the Campus Safety Report.
“It’s kind of an individual thing,” he said, in reference to victims choosing whether or not to press formal charges.
The event was organized by Detective Ron Saindon. He said it was an effort to be proactive. If dating violence is “being underreported . because people don’t understand the system, [the forum] may bring more cases to light,” he said.
The anonymous student who filed the protection order said after the forum that the way the services were described matched her experience.
What they said is really what they do, she said.
Still, she thinks that dating violence at USM is being underreported.
“You don’t really hear about it on campus,” she said.
Staff writer Chris Baker can be contacted at: [email protected]