University students still report violence

Survey data show domestic violence continues to affect University students.

Meghan Holden

A purple flag to honor those who have died this month as a result of domestic violence hung in the window of the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education last week.

As part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the University is leading efforts on campus to try to decrease relationship violence among students — violence that’s stayed at a steady level in recent years.

Domestic or relationship violence involves causing or threatening physical harm or abuse to a partner in an intimate relationship, according to University policy.

This year, 34 Minnesotans have died as a result of domestic violence.

Last week, Danita Brown Young, the University’s vice provost for student affairs and dean of students, wrote an email urging students to reach out for help if they or someone they know is experiencing relationship violence.

“It does not have to end in despair; it does not have to end in a negative way,” Brown Young said in an interview. “There is hope that things can get better; a change can occur [and] we are here to help.”

In 2013, nearly 21 percent of female college students on the University’s Twin Cities campus said they’d experienced domestic violence within their lifetime and more than 10 percent said they were victims in the last year, according to the Boynton Health Service’s College Student Health Survey.

Nationally, one in four women have been abused by their partner, according to a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2010, nearly 26 percent of female students on the Twin Cities campus said they’d experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, and 14 percent said they’d experienced it in the last year, according to the BHS survey.

Earlier this month, University student Anarae Schunk was found dead after last being seen with her ex-boyfriend, who had physically abused her in the past, according to her friends.

Charges haven’t been filed in Schunk’s death, but the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women included her on its list of Minnesota deaths in which the suspected, alleged or convicted perpetrator is or was an intimate partner or spouse.

Although discussions of relationship violence usually focus on female victims, University leaders want to make sure men aren’t forgotten, Brown Young said.

“It’s not really just about gender,” she said.

The Boynton survey found that about 12 percent of male students experienced domestic violence within their lifetime, and about 6 percent were victims in the last year.

The 2010 BHS survey found that about 13 percent of male students had experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, and 8 percent had experienced it in the last year.

Nationwide, one in seven men are physically abused by their partner, according to the 2010 CDC report.

Katie Eichele, Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education director, said that recently there’s been an increase in men who have come to the center after being harassed, stalked or abused in opposite-sex or same-sex relationships.

Men in opposite-sex relationships may be less likely to report cases of domestic violence, however, because they fear they won’t be believed, she said.

“It’s important to realize that both domestic violence and sexual assault hurt all genders,” Eichele said.

University policy defines sexual assault as attempting, executing or threatening sexual contact with another person without that person’s consent.

In 2010, about 23 percent of female students and about 5 percent of male students said they’d experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, according to the Boynton survey of the Twin Cities campus.

Students who believe they or someone they know might be in an abusive relationship are encouraged by the University to seek help at the Aurora Center.

On average, it takes a person about six to seven attempts to leave their abusive partner, Eichele said, so it’s important for people who are trying to help to be patient.

“We are here for you. It’s even okay if you’re not ready to take the next step, whatever that may be,” Brown Young said in the email. “We will still be here for you and will help when you’re ready.”

Dave Golden, director of public health for Boynton Health Service, said it’s discouraging that recent rates of domestic violence among both female and male students were similar to the 2010 survey results.

Domestic violence significantly impacts students, he said, and victims are more likely to have lower grade point averages and higher rates of mental illness.

“This is something that it seems like should be completely preventable,” Golden said. “Nobody should have to live that way. They’re numbers that we really want to see come down.”