Earlier this year, a 21-year old student of the University of Washington died after she was strangled to death by her boyfriend in her apartment at University District. The accused, also a student of the same university, was high on drugs and suspected that his girlfriend was conspiring against him. It is only one of a rising number of cases of domestic violence in colleges and universities across the United States.
A survey done by a partnership of The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation in 2015 showed that one in five women say they had been sexually assaulted during their four years in college. Alcohol, drugs, casual encounters and the presence of fraternities and sororities in campus contributed to the prevalence of these incidents. Further, the Justice Department found that 80 percent of these cases are not reported. Hence, the 1-in-5 figure could be an understatement. But in recent years, victims are starting to speak out. Social media, openness among young people and awareness of their rights have helped in bringing to the fore this growing problem. Advocates are more vocal in their criticisms against how colleges and universities for inadequate or inept handling of such cases.
Domestic violence on campuses is not limited to rape or sexual assault. It includes intimidation, physical attacks, battery, psychological and emotional abuse by one partner towards another in an intimate relationship. What complicates an issue of sexual violence is whether the act was consensual, as is usually claimed by the perpetrator, or if it was done forcibly or while the victim was incapacitated. The consequences are dire for the victim. Many drop out, out of frustration and humiliation, especially if the case is not handled well by the school. Oftentimes, victims suffer physical injuries that require treatment and mental health problems related to the violence they have been subjected to. A domestic violence attorney says some victims die at the hands of their partner as in the case of the UW student.
Making a traumatic situation worse for the injured party are law enforcement authorities who are perceived to be lenient towards offenders. The judge in the trial of Brock Turner, a Stanford University student convicted of three counts of felony assault and rape on an unconscious woman, sentenced him to only six months in prison. He was released after serving three months. Prosecutors had recommended six years in prison for the student athlete.
Men and women are supposed to be protected by Title IX, a federal gender equity law that requires reporting of all sexual assault cases from schools. But in 2014, 55 institutions of higher education were investigated for possible violations of this law, according to the White House.
But things are looking better. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, signed into law by Pres. Obama, has a provision called Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SAVE.) Effective July 1, 2015, it calls for schools to report yearly all incidents of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking that occur on campus. This includes acts of violence against gender and national origin. It also mandates schools to provide victims of domestic violence with clear options on reporting to campus officials and the local police department.
School authorities now have a clear guideline to handling domestic violence on school grounds and students feel safer. The amendment bodes well for putting a stop, or reducing, such incidents on campus.