The XX Factor

Next Up for Feminist Activists on Campus: Dating Violence

The Clery Act requires universities to publicly disclose the number of incidents of domestic violence and stalking on campus.

With all the success feminist activists have had drawing attention to the problem of sexual assault on campus, the next big move appears to be doing the same for the problem of dating violence. As reported by Feministing, student activists have been documenting universities they believe are failing to adequately report incidents of intimate partner violence among their student population. A new provision of the Clery Act, which was added during the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, requires universities to publicly disclose the number of incidents of domestic violence and stalking on campus every year, but the activists found at least 20 schools that haven’t done so. (Some are already responding to the campaign and trying to fix the situation.)

Perhaps more troubling is that the statistics at some schools that do report are clearly all wrong. Dana Bolger of Know Your IX explains at Feministing:

Still other colleges (including my own alma mater Amherst College, which disclosed 0 reports of dating violence and 1 report of domestic violence; and the University of Mississippi, which disclosed 0 reports of dating violence and 9 reports of domestic violence on a campus of some 20,000 students) are publishing numbers so low, it’s clear the school has made the process of reporting violence so burdensome, confusing, or unknown that survivors don’t feel safe reporting at all. (In general — and perhaps counterintuitively — the lower a school’s reporting numbers, the less safe the campus; in contrast, higher reporting numbers suggest a school is taking survivors seriously, prioritizing students’ safety over the institution’s reputation, and making the reporting process known, accessible, and trusted.)

While the image of college dating is one of a carefree hook-up culture, the truth is that the college years are a particularly high risk stage of life when it comes to intimate partner violence. Various surveys show that women in their late teens and early 20s are the most likely to experience dating violence. While not all of them are in college, quite a few are, meaning that universities are well-positioned to reach out and offer help to victims. They just have to take the initiative.

Of course, there’s more to fighting dating violence on campus than adhering to the Clery Act. The Science of Us reports that SUNY Delhi responded to a rash of stalking cases on campus by creating BronchoCHECK, a program that teaches bystander intervention and has workshops on what healthy breakups look like. While it’s still unclear whether a program like that can dissuade possessive and violent young men from acting out, what it can do is help potential victims see the signs of dating violence early on and get help before things get out of hand. Bystander intervention can help students recognize when friends are entering into unhealthy relationships and give them the tools to step in. 

Hopefully, this nascent push to address dating violence on campus will take off, because there’s a great opportunity here. A lot of young people don’t necessarily understand that persistent and jealous behaviors are troubling and not “romantic,” and intervening early to teach them the red flags for domestic violence—and to help those who have become afraid of their partners—is far more important than addressing the non-problem of “hook up culture.” It couldn’t hurt to educate school officials, either, so that when victims come to them for protection from a stalker, they are in a good position to listen and to help.