Assault in college life

This should not be a problem anymore.

We should have traveled a long way beyond Biblical times, when women could be stoned to death for prostitution or adultery.

Today, at least in the United States, such behavior is inconceivable. Progressive young women assume they can curl up on the couch at night without worrying that their next-door neighbor is using his partner as a punching bag.

Yet, here we are. Domestic violence may have crept underground to avoid public outcry, but it still lurks in the hallways of suburban homes and behind closed doors in college dorms around the nation.

At some point in her life, one out of every four women will be verbally threatened or physically abused. With her new bruises, she joins the vast ranks of domestic-violence victims. In college, students might hear the stories at orientation or during a violence-awareness week.

Yet as survivors warn audiences with personal stories, the words seem to wash right over listeners. Perhaps we grow numb to avoid thinking about the numbers. According to the National Organization for Women, roughly four women die every day in the United States at the hands of abusers. These statistics should give students pause, but the majority look at the speaker standing before them and think: “Poor woman – but that will never be me.”

Maintaining such naivete is extremely dangerous because it refuses to acknowledge that sexual assault and relationship violence are part of the college experience for countless women.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of death to women worldwide, and yet it feels like society has swept the issue under the carpet before everyone took a good look.

Women’s Aid, a prominent victims’ support organization in Ireland, reports that domestic violence kills more women from the ages of 15 to 44 than do cancer, road accidents, war and malaria combined.

Nevertheless, despite the efforts of legions of women’s advocates, loved ones still suffer violence at the hands of partners every day.

In 2000, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimated 50 percent of women could be affected by domestic violence.

At college, domestic violence is the angry elephant in the room that no one wants to mention. Outside of domestic-violence-awareness offices on campus, you probably will not hear groups of students talking about the issue.

Even though students should know better, it is still easier to believe the stereotypes, that domestic violence happens to impoverished, alcoholic housewives, not college students with the world waiting for them.

Think again. In an extensive study by the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, researchers found that colleges with 10,000 students could experience approximately 350 rapes per year. The majority of victims reported that partners or friends were the perpetrators.

Unfortunately, limitless opportunities exist for women to be assaulted in the university community. Forget about the nervous walk across campus after midnight: Women may find themselves fighting off zealous partners behind closed dorm doors, in back rooms during Greek Row parties, and inside private student apartments.

Throw the ubiquitous presence of alcohol into the mix and combine these factors with the vulnerability of new students to further complicate the problem.

This is the ugly side of the independence college students receive after they leave home: It’s no safer out here than anywhere else.

Something has to change, but large-scale outreaches often prove unsuccessful by the time students reach college. Undergraduates and grad students simply have too much going on for any campus group to capture their attention en masse.

Instead, domestic-violence education needs to start sooner, even as early as junior high school. If we are old enough to talk about sex, we are also ready to learn about domestic violence.

Mandatory domestic-violence education would serve a twofold purpose: teach students to protect themselves in the future, and initiate public dialogue about sexual assault and relationship violence.

Until we feel comfortable speaking openly about abuse, we will never be able to confront the issue, to call for tougher sentencing and stronger protection of victims.

The passage of centuries has not changed the fact that our friends and relatives still live in fear. It’s time we start talking.