Domestic violence as prevalent for college students as sexual assault

On Black Friday, Nadia Ezaldein, a University of Chicago student, was working at a Chicago Nordstrom when her ex-boyfriend entered the store, found her in the accessories department, and shot her to death. It was her 22nd birthday.

A day earlier, on Thanksgiving, Shannon Jones, a student at Cornell University, was allegedly strangled to death by her boyfriend during an argument. Police described the murder as a “domestic incident.”

The two cases are not the only abusive relationships to end in the death of a college student in recent months. In October, Cecilia Lam, a San Francisco State University student and advocate for the prevention of domestic violence, was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend. Last month, Diamoney Greene, a student at the University of South Carolina, was killed by her boyfriend. Both killings were murder-suicides.

While not currently at the forefront of a national conversation, domestic violence remains as prevalent an issue among college students as sexual assault. One in five students has experienced domestic violence — a statistic that directly mirrors the U.S. Department of Justice’s findings on student victims of sexual assault (though some have contested those findings).

As with cases of sexual assault, most incidents of domestic violence go unreported, meaning the number is likely much higher. College-aged women experience a higher rate of partner violence than any other age group, according to the Justice Department. Thirteen percent of college women say they have been stalked, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Of college students who have been sexually assaulted, 35 percent of them were assaulted while on a date.

Six in 10 acquaintance rapes on college campuses occur in dating relationships.

That’s why preventing nonsexual partner violence is often approached in the same manner as preventing sexual assault on college campuses, said Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the American Association of University Women. In fact, many prevention methods for sexual assault, she said, are based on methods previously created for preventing domestic abuse.

“It’s all on a continuum,” Maatz said. “When we’re talking about sexual assault, we’re basically talking about violence against women. And attempting to prevent that is a holistic approach that starts with sexual harassment and goes through sexual assault and even murder. When we talk about these things, we have to talk about them on this continuum.”

Maatz admitted, however, that domestic violence is often less discussed than sexual assault on college campuses, even as more and more colleges are wrestling with how to prevent violence against women.

“It would be fair to say that we don’t really hear as much about domestic violence, but there are really proactive steps being taken now to address that oversight,” she said.

In October, the U.S. Department of Education published its final rules to implement changes to the Clery Act under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. The new regulation now requires colleges to compile statistics not only for cases of sexual assault, but also for incidents of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.

Colleges must include in their annual security reports a statement of policy and procedures for dealing with these crimes. Also new to the final version of the rules is a requirement for colleges to record incidents of stalking based on the location of where either the stalker first began stalking or where the victim first became aware of it. While men can be victims of dating violence, the overwhelming majority of victims are women, making the a lack of proper prevention of partner abuse a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Many colleges have counseling and support services for students who are victims of domestic violence, as well as partnerships with local domestic violence shelters. South Carolina promotes bystander intervention through its Stand Up Carolina initiative. The University of Chicago, where Ezaldein was studying law, organizes several domestic violence awareness campaigns and events through its law school, including the Domestic Violence Project.

In just the last month, colleges have punished several students — many of them athletes — who have been charged with or accused of domestic violence.

In November, the University of New Mexico suspended a women’s basketball player after she allegedly threw a knife at her boyfriend during an argument. Later than month, the University of Michigan dismissed a student from its football team after he was arrested on domestic violence charges. About a week later, a University of Minnesota men’s basketball player was arrested for domestic assault. That same week, a Western New England University football player was suspended after allegedly fracturing his girlfriend’s skull.

“A lot of this is empowering survivors to know what they can do and to report these crimes, but frankly a lot of is providing appropriate deterrents,” Maatz said. “Having an abuser write a book report is not going to encourage survivors to come forward. They need to know that violent people cannot continue to be violent with impunity. There has to be some price to pay.”

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected. It originally identified Diamoney Greene’s alleged killer as a University of South Carolina student, he was not.

Inside Higher Ed is a free, daily online publication covering the fast-changing world of higher education.

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.