An NBC10 anchor and local abuse shelter education coordinator teamed up to discuss dating violence and domestic abuse at a campus event.
The issue of dating violence and domestic abuse is seldom discussed publicly. For many victims, it’s a personal subject. Some Temple students, however, attended an event last week at the Student Center to share their personal experiences and give encouragement to other abuse victims.
About 50 students and faculty members attended the event “Talking Frankly,” hosted by the Dean of Students Office. The hour-and-a-half talk, led by Tommie Wilkins, director of training and education at Laurel House domestic abuse shelter in Norristown, was highlighted with a special appearance by NBC 10 anchor Tracy Davidson.
The two discussed dating and domestic abuse and how to handle situations of abuse, along with personal stories of how domestic violence affected them.
“I grew up with domestic violence, so I witnessed it for a long time, the control that somebody can have over another person,” Davidson told the audience.
Unfortunately for many in situations similar to Davidson’s, the problem of abuse can follow its victims into their college years. Recent data on college dating violence and abuse from the National Center for Victims of Crime indicates that 60 percent of acquaintance rapes on college campuses occur in causal or steady relationships. The report says of all documented cases, 54 percent of dating violence victims stay in physically abusive relationships.
Wilkins identified the cycle of violence as a three-step process that most couples find themselves in during their relationships: a tension-building phase, then a violence and abuse phase, followed by an apologetic honeymoon phase. She said each step of the cycle develops over time and may reveal itself in subtle ways without others suspecting anything. The cycle only ends when someone involved in it takes action to end it, she said.
“The abuser is not going to let it go,” Wilkins said. “If it’s the abuser ending it, it will end in death.”
During the discussion, an open forum was provided for students to ask questions. Some took the opportunity to open up and share their own stories of how dating abuse affected their lives. One student was overcome with emotions when she recalled instances of emotional abuse and bullying she suffered from acquaintances on campus and how her boyfriend ended up being the one person she could lean on through rough times.
“He knew how to take the emotional abuse that I felt from this school and hold me. All I wanted was someone to hear me and understand what I was going through,” she said.
Sexual crimes do not seem to dominate the crime statistics at Temple, which generally sees high numbers of robberies, thefts and aggravated assaults. According to figures from Campus Safety Services’ 2009 Annual Security and Fire Safety report, there were four documented cases of forcible sex offenses last year on Main Campus. That number decreased by 71 percent from 14 cases reported in 2007.
Wilkins explained that no matter what type of relationship it may be, the issue of dating and domestic abuse all boils down to a single issue – the power of control.
Wilkins said the power of control stems from the past and ultimately affects most relationships in the future. She added the most common way of thinking of most abusers have a lot to do with taking advantage of power they never had.
“Even though I grew up in a great home, somewhere in my life I felt powerless and out of control,” she explained. “This relationship is how I get that control back.”
Wilkins and Davidson teamed up on behalf of Laurel House, an independent nonprofit organization that provides shelter, medical care and legal advocacy, plus a free 24-hour help hotline for victims of abuse.
After the discussion, students were offered resources for abuse prevention. Several on-campus clubs and organizations, including the Health Education Awareness Resource Team provided assistance and literature on the topic.
Among others, one small organization with a big presence at the event was LIFT. As part of a larger group, the National Student Partnerships founded by college undergraduates in 1998 to work side-by-side with low-income community members and college students, LIFT at Temple handles issues like poverty, healthcare, employment and education.
Student volunteer Trang Pham said her organization is also dedicated to helping victims of abuse.
“We’ve seen a couple of times when our clients come in with bruises, and we just want to know how we can help them and how we can bring up the topic without making them feel uncomfortable,” she said.
Although the event was primarily geared toward females, as they more often find themselves in abusive situations, several male students and faculty members joined the conversation as well.
“There are women out there who are physically and psychologically [abusive] to their boyfriends and husbands,” Wilkins said. “It’s no longer a gender issue where there’s this big guy beating up poor, helpless women. There are some scary women out there.”
Sergei Blair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.