Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Violence Against Women at College? Something to Worry About

By: Allyson Bach, Political Planning and Action Intern at the National Women’s Political Caucus

AI am a college student, a young woman, and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the most at risk of being raped. Wait, what?

It’s easy to think: “No way, I’m the exception. I play it safe when I go out. I know how to protect myself at parties: I always pour my own drinks, hang with a group, and stay away from the creeps. I’ve stuck to these guidelines and so far, I’ve been just fine. I have nothing to worry about.”

Wrong. I may not have been a victim and I may be lucky enough to never be a victim but that certainly does not suggest that I have “nothing to worry about.”

Sexual assault can happen in many ways; it happens not just physically but technologically and emotionally as well. Over half of all rape and sexual assault victims are females younger than twenty-five but, due to concerns about privacy or being blamed for the assaults, less than 20% of on campus and off campus assaults are even being reported to the police. These victims are our peers, our friends, and our sisters. In fact, the assaulters are no strangers to us either – 84% of raped women admit to knowing their attacker, with 57% of those rapes happening on dates. Yes, these numbers are shocking but this is no time to simply feel sorry for the victims or for ourselves.

What’s worse than pity is society’s blame. “It is YOU who put yourself in that compromising position or YOU are the one who prompted that moment for vulnerability – it is YOUR fault.” It is easier to blame the victim than to acknowledge society’s wrongdoings. Accusations that violence is a direct result of poor decision making and actions feeds into society’s decision to ignore the issue of violence against women by refusing to take responsibility. This ignorance undermines a victim’s chance for rehabilitation since 60% of sexual assault victims report that none of their friends knew how to help them. As friends and sisters of these victims, young women need to take on society’s responsibility in our own communities, which mean our college campuses.

The ignorant are not the blissful; rather, they become the victims. As young females, it’s important to stay informed about the protection from violence that can be available to us. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides such protection for not just women but the entire community and assistance for victims of crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. VAWA was originally passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice since then, once in 2000 and again in 2005. Since its implementation VAWA has provided legal assistance programs for victims and created new programs to meet the emerging needs of communities, including much-needed programs at college campuses, working to prevent violence.

VAWA, unfortunately, expired in 2011. I started my first year in college this past year – my community, my own campus, my peers and I have been left vulnerable for over a year.

I lived in safe dorm. My floor was quiet and never unusually disruptive. I had two residential advisors who both took shifts to patrol the floor to ensure everyone was in safe hands. They made it seem as if we had nothing to worry about. It was a friendly environment, trust filled the air.

Again, according to the Department of Justice, 60% of sexually violent acts against women most often take place in the residence of the victim. Now, looking back, the cavalier atmosphere of my dorm residence may have put me and my peers at a greater risk for sexual assault. The welcoming environment and the naivety of my peers and I would have easily allowed for potential perpetrators to develop friendly relationships with us and put us at a great risk for being assaulted, by allowing access to our own personal living quarters. Statistics from the same study done by the Department of Justice continues on to report that 31% of sexually violent acts takes place in some sort of living quarters, and with women under the age of 25 being the most risk for sexual assault, college dorm rooms may not be as safe as we perceive. 

What is worse is that I wandered at nights going from one fraternity party to another, thinking that I was doing everything right to be safe – that I was just fine. Those were selfish thoughts because even if I ended each night returning back to my dorm room safely, other girls, my very classmates, may not have. Over 10 of rapes on college campuses take place at fraternity houses. In most likelihood, violence against my fellow peers occurred as I carelessly partied the night away.

This ignorance, this hesitation, and this self-blame needs to stop. By reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, the critical issues of sexual assault on college campuses will once again be addressed in the limelight. VAWA will require our colleges and universities to record and report dating violence on campus as well as ensure victim’s safety by requiring schools to create plans to enforce protective orders and notify the victim of their rights.

It’s time to voice your concern on your own campus and help reauthorize the bipartisan Senate-passed VAWA.  If we work together, we can stop violence against women.

Violence is Violence, No Matter What Gender

Guest blogger: Samantha Aster, NWPC Legal Intern

After reading comment sections and posts responding to articles on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, it seems that one of the most prolific criticisms of the act is that it focuses solely on women. Many ask why women are singled out as a protected group when men are the recipients of domestic abuse, too. Some go further, suggesting a Violence Against Men Act.

Why does VAWA focus on women? Because up until the last 150 years or so, women were considered the property of their husbands, fathers, and brothers. And as property, women did not have very many legal rights and protections. Men could do as they pleased with the women in their households, including physically and sexually abusing them. While there has been some progress, the government has been slow to act on increasing certain protections for women. For example, the first federal law making marital rape a criminal act was not passed until 1993. And even still, many states have exemptions from prosecution for husbands who rape. Today, women continue to be the most frequent victims of domestic and sexual violence. VAWA was passed to help a group that has historically suffered violence combat continuing and future abuse.

But the Violence Against Women Act is not entirely gender specific. The spirit of VAWA is to help all victims of violence, and the bill gives prosecutors and police tools to help them, regardless of gender. Male victims who contact VAWA-funded groups are granted the same advocacy services as female victims.  Male and female victims have the same access to pro-bono legal services. VAWA increased resources for families who deal with domestic abuse, which helps both men and women in these families. In 2005, VAWA was expanded to fund and provide sexual assault programs that better meet the needs of male victims. And these protections work well for men: since the law passed in 1994, the number of men killed by an intimate partner has decreased 57%. These are just some examples of how men and women are protected under VAWA.

Ultimately, these criticisms of VAWA are unfounded. While VAWA was originally passed with the idea of helping women, the act actually works to combat violence against both sexes. VAWA must be passed in a way that maintains the important protections that already exist for both men and women. Domestic violence affects us all, so it is time for Congress to pass VAWA and protect us all.  

Class Matters: Why VAWA Needs To Be Re-Authorized

Guest blogger: Danielle Marryshow

As a college student, I must be especially careful in my own relationships because victims of teen and college dating violence, according to the Center for Disease Control, “may also carry patterns of violence into future relationships” as a result of their experience. As a child of domestic violence, I am more likely to exhibit increased tolerance for violence in my own relationships. As such, I must be especially careful not to fall into a “pattern of violence”. If violence is not prevented early, it is even harder for victims to escape their abuser—even if they want to.

The complexities of domestic violence hit me one day in November. I was leaving my work-study job to get to class. As I stepped out onto the street, a woman yelled out to me. In a shaking voice, she told me that she was attempting to get to a battered women’s shelter. She informed me that she was pregnant, her husband had locked her in a closet for the last three days, and she needed money to get a cab, as the shelter was not accessible by public transportation. She repeatedly kept assuring me that she wasn’t crazy, while looking around her suspiciously as if he were right behind her.

            I knew she wasn’t crazy, because I recognized the look in her eye. It was the same look I had seen on my mother’s face. It was the same look my mother had seen on my grandmother’s face. The look was one of fear.

            The bipartisan, Senate-version of the Violence Against Women Act must be re-authorized for several reasons, but one of the most important is its provision to ensure safe homes and economic security for victims. Though all women benefit from these programs, women from lower socio-economic backgrounds especially benefit from the added security.

            The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act revises eligibility requirements for transitional housing grants to specify that any victims of domestic violence are eligible. This would help make it easier for women to escape abusive relationships, by removing the risk of homelessness. These grants would allow the woman I met to have more time after leaving emergency shelter to find permanent housing.

            They also allow battered women to leave all at once, and catch their abuser off-guard rather than leave in stages and invite further danger. In fact, leaving in stages is only possible when, as in my mother’s case, you have a strong support system of people helping you escape the dangerous situation.

When my mother began divorce proceedings, my mother, father, brother and I continued to live under the same roof for several months while she found somewhere to live. Had my grandmother not decided to stay with us and my future stepfather not made himself a presence, we would have been in much more danger than we were.

            Many battered women aren’t that fortunate. Many women’s abusers have isolated them from their family and friends, leaving them utterly dependent. In order to leave, they often have to leave when their abuser is asleep or away and all at once. Transitional housing is necessary so that they have the time to secure permanent housing and get on their feet.

            The transitional housing grants aren’t just used for housing alone. They are also used for support services for victims to secure employment such as counseling and training. This is critical, as many victims are financially dependent on their abuser.

            The woman I ran into illustrates that problem. She was so financially dependent on her husband that she didn’t even have the $10 it cost to take a cab to the shelter. Guaranteeing the relative financial security of victims is crucial to getting them away and keeping them away from their abusers.

            My mother, in contrast, had a very good job and made a comparable amount to my father. She had her own bank accounts and assets her in name. Because of her financial independence, the added risk of not being able to support us if she left was nonexistent. When we finally did leave, she was certain that she would be able to find housing that she could afford and that she would be able to support us financially.

            The Violence Against Women Act has several provisions that help abused women (and men) get away from the terror that has consumed their everyday lives. The section that helps women secure homes and employment are critical in increasing the number of women who successfully make it out of an abusive relationship.

            Class should not be a prerequisite for safety. It is the government’s responsibility to make sure that its citizens are as free from harm as possible. Since 1994, the United States government has been committed to doing just that.

            The act expired in September 2011. For almost a year, these protections and many more have not existed for battered women. Women have had to consider the fact that by leaving they could become destitute. Many will make the calculation that they cannot afford to leave—when they really can’t afford not to.

Without its swift re-authorization, thousands of women will be trapped in relationships where they are physically and emotionally abused every day. As the House and the Senate square off, many more women will die in these toxic relationships. It is imperative that the House adopt the “gold-standard” Senate-version of the reauthorization, and help women create lives for themselves and their children, free from abuse.