BY CAROLINE STREETT
Gull Life Editor
Every minute in the United States, 20 people are victims of intimate partner violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In light of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Office of Institutional Equity, Multicultural Student Services and the Salisbury University Women’s Forum assembled a panel of women to speak out on the topic of IPV.
The overall goal for the panel was to engage the campus community in a conversation about IPV in hopes to raise awareness, discuss prevention and protection and highlight support and resources available to survivors.
Dr. Elsie Walker of SU’s English department and chair of the SU Women’s Forum began the panel by sharing that her mother was a survivor of domestic abuse. Walker emphasized the importance of listening and participating in a dialogue on domestic violence.
“My mother survived, and I hold her up as an example of triumph, but I also often wonder about the time she spent day by day in those nine years,” Walker said. “I can’t help wondering if she would have escaped sooner if more people had listened to her.”
The panel consisted of representatives from a number of different outlets, including representatives from the Wicomico County State’s Attorneys, representatives from the local Life Crisis Center, representatives from the SU Police Department and more.
The first panelist, Eileen Gilheany of the school of social work, put together a visual presentation and talked about the need to make a difference, as well as the advances we are making as a society to get people involved in the issue at hand.
Gilheany highlighted what she believes to be positive news that the Center for Disease Control thinks that violence should be looked at as a health issue.
When it comes to this concept of involving domestic abuse and IPV into the medical field, professor of nursing at SU Dr. Michele Bracken voiced her research on domestic violence and revealed that she is trying to incorporate aspects of IPV awareness into her teachings.
“I think we need to teach our nursing students, from my perspective, to relate better – relate with these human beings because we are all human,” Bracken said.
In Bracken’s research, she found that the number-one reason for people leaving abusive relationships is fear. Bracken speculated that it is also because of this fear that many do not speak up.
Bracken believes that if medical professionals take this issue more seriously, then patients who are victims of abuse will feel more comfortable in coming forward.
Director of the SU Counseling Center Dr. Kathleen Scott was surprised by the incidents of sexual violence that occur on campus and she aims to help the SU community become more comfortable in talking about the abuse.
“I am frequently shocked and saddened by things that I hear occurring student-on-student, and incidents of gang rape and stalking and needing to keep tabs on people at time … all of these forms of violence and sexual assault exist among students on this campus,” Scott said.
From 2016-2017, SU’s counseling center had 566 clients seek the counseling center for its services. 35 percent of those students had experienced some form of abuse or harassment in their lifetime. 22 percent had experienced unwanted sexual encounters in their lifetime.
In comparison to these numbers, Lt. Sandra Bradley of the SU Police Department revealed that in the 2016-2017 Annual Report, zero cases of domestic violence were reported and only twelve cases of dating violence were reported, which Bradley believes sheds a light on the apprehensive nature of the victims.
“These are significant numbers. That might not be why they came into the counseling center, but it’s part of their history and something that they’re living with and it’s something that can inadvertently affect other relationships down the road,” Scott said. “It’s something that we want to pay attention to and steer people in the direction of being able to get the proper assistance and healing.”
According to Scott, members at the counseling center are often labeling things for students for the first time, because students don’t necessarily see these actions as abuse or assault until they describe the actions aloud.
In working with victims of IPV, Scott revealed several main tactics in which to approach the situation. The first thing Scott emphasized is how critical it is to believe someone when they claim they are a victim.
“It’s very difficult for people to acknowledge some of the things that have occurred to them, and so it’s critical that we honor that and take them seriously,” Scott said.
Another element to take into account when dealing with victims is reassurance. Scott urges people to encourage victims that they are not to blame because that’s often what perpetrators want the victim to believe.
A final word of advice from Scott is to have patience with victims. She highlighted the fact that victims often tend to go back to abusers, and it’s a pattern and it’s part of the dynamic for the victim wanting to believe that all is well.
The audience of the panel consisted of faculty, staff and students, and the remainder of the meeting was left open for any questions that audience members might still have following the speakers.
Freshman Teneyah Toussaint attended the event out of curiosity and the want to understand such an under-discussed but prominent issue.
“I really think it’s important for people to come here because I asked around if people wanted to come, and they feel like because they’ve never been in a domestic violence relationship that it doesn’t affect them,” Toussaint said. “But I feel like it’s a good thing to understand because you never know if it might happen to you or somebody that you love.”
The Executive Director of the Life Crisis Center Abigail Marsh J.D. centered her speech on informing the audience that domestic violence and IPV know no demographics and they happen to people of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, races, ethnicities, sexes and sexual orientations.
Marsh J.D. emphasized that the Life Crisis Center has all of the necessary resources to provide support, including licensed counselors, a legal staff and options of safe shelter.
Marsh J.D. believes that the biggest change we as a society can make in this culture of domestic violence and abuse is to change the community focus.
“Stop focusing on the victim, stop blaming the victim, stop trying to find out why the person isn’t leaving. What we need to do is focus on bad behavior, and we need to say, ‘Why are you hitting, shaking and doing this controlling behavior to someone that you love?’” Marsh J.D. said.
“Essentially, we’ve taken the abuser out of the situation. We forgot about the person who did the abuse, and if you don’t focus on that, you can’t change anything, because what we really want to do is change the bad behavior and make the bad relationship a good relationship.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, the following resources are available:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
24/7 Life Crisis Line: 410-749-HELP
Salisbury Counseling Center: Guerrieri Student Union, Room 263. Open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Featured image by Emma Reider