By Crystal Nwachuku, SWHR Science Department Intern
Over the past few decades, college-aged women have come a long way in achieving education equity. While female students are now the majority population on college campuses, they still face unique challenges: women aged 18 to 25 suffer the highest rates of domestic violence.
While sexual assault on college campuses has become highly publicized, domestic violence is often forgotten. Defined as violence used to gain power or control over an intimate partner, domestic violence can take on many forms including physical, psychological, verbal, financial and sexual abuse.
Compared to men, women are much more likely to be victims of domestic violence. Those who do suffer from the abuse are more likely to experience frequent headaches and difficulty sleeping, both conditions that directly diminish student performance.
So, what are college campuses doing to prevent and better handle this issue?
There are several laws in place including the most widely known, Title IX, a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. In short, Title IX is meant to prevent hostile environments like those created by domestic violence.
"Title IX is a broad law," said Kristin Eliason, senior staff attorney at the Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC). "It's very strong but has obvious limitations. Every school is different, so it would be great if there was more specific regulation."
"Often, a student will make a complaint to her school's Title IX office and the school will issue a mutual protection order," Eliason said. The abuser is prohibited from contacting the victim and the victim is prohibited from contacting the abuser. Essentially, the victim is being punished the same as the abuser, even though the victim has not done anything wrong.
"It's important that campuses are careful not to punish the victims," Eliason said.
She also recommends that campuses implement "bystander intervention programming" during campus orientations to educate students on domestic violence and what to do if they witness unhealthy dating behaviors. These actions range from outright physical abuse to obsessive behaviors including stalking. In the past decade, online abuse through social media, email, and texting has become common in abusive relationships, especially those involving college students. While these behaviors are certainly alarming, a 2014 study showed that many students do not see dating violence as a serious crime. If implemented during campus orientation, this preventative programming would educate students early on and provide information on where to turn for guidance if needed.
NVRDC, for example, can assist in obtaining civil protection orders, represent students in court, or arrange for alternate accommodations if the victim and abuser live in the same dorm. This organization serves victims in the D.C. Metropolitan area and is just one example of the hundreds of resources available to victims of domestic violence.
Dealing with domestic violence, in addition to the day-to-day stresses of college life can have dire consequences. Not only can this trauma negatively impact mental health and student performance, but there is also a laundry list of long-term effects of domestic violence. For example, women who experience domestic violence are twice as likely to develop chronic diseases as women who haven't experienced abuse. Insomnia, headaches, fatigue and hypertension are just a few of the chronic conditions that abused women have increased risk for developing.
With the abuse starting at such an early stage in life, college women are at especially high risk for developing such conditions in relation to their experience with domestic violence. The trauma not only affects these women during the abuse, but also has long-term, chronic effects that can impact their health in the future. College campuses need to do a better job at educating students on the risks of domestic violence and work towards creating an environment that is safe for all.
The Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR) is partnering with the Verizon Foundation to publicize the alarming link between domestic violence and chronic diseases through the Beyond the Bruises campaign. Urging the public to look "beyond the bruises" of domestic violence, the campaign highlights the link between domestic violence and the onset of chronic disease.
Visit swhr.org to learn more about Beyond the Bruises and how you can help raise awareness of the link between domestic violence and chronic diseases.