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Report cites progress, needs in partner-violence policies

Published 3:52 pm, Friday, July 18, 2014
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As dating violence and sex assault on college campuses become increasingly crucial issues nationwide, many Connecticut colleges and universities are taking action to prevent these crimes -- but so much more can be done.

That's according to a report released Thursday by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The coalition sent surveys to 25 Connecticut institutes of higher learning, asking them about their policies on intimate partner violence, sexual assault and other forms of abuse.

Of those, 22 schools responded, and many of them did have policies on intimate partner violence. But many of those policies "were missing key elements," said coalition Executive Director Karen Jarmoc.

For instance, she said, many school policies do not contain information on less discussed -- but still damaging -- forms of abuse, such as emotional abuse or technological abuse. The last is particularly important in a world where texting, social media sites and other forms of technology are such a part of daily life, Jarmoc said.

"This is a really pressing issue," she said. "There are all these mechanisms that exist now for harassment."

One in three

Campus violence has been a hot-button issue of late, partly because of how common it is. A 2011 poll from the national domestic violence advocacy group Break the Cycle showed that one in three college women nationwide report having been in an abusive dating relationship and one in five report actual physical abuse, sexual abuse or threats of physical violence.

The coalition report also comes in the wake of the Obama administration's release of a list of 55 U.S. colleges and universities under investigation for mishandling sex-assault complaints. The list, released in spring, included the University of Connecticut. Jarmoc said the coalition's project, which launched in the fall, wasn't spurred by the list, but the release of that information was one of several recent actions meant to highlight or combat campus violence.

In May, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation requiring Connecticut colleges and universities to, among other things, establish campus resource teams made of at least one individual from the local sexual assault crisis service center and one from the local domestic violence center. The legislation, which takes effect Jan. 1, raised questions about the guidelines campus have about intimate partner violence, Jarmoc said.

She said that although she knew many colleges in the state have policies on dating violence, "we really didn't have a precise idea of what those policies looked like."

A mixed report

Of the schools responding to the Connecticut Coalition survey, Jarmoc said nearly all had some guidelines on intimate partner violence, but only 15 of the 22 had separate policies on the subject. Most of those policies included statements on the confidentiality of victims, the prohibition of partner violence, and definition of partner violence.

While nearly all the policies included definitions of intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual assault, only a handful defined other forms of abuse. Only five policies contained a definition of technological abuse and four contained a definition of emotional abuse.

That's a concern, because intimate partner "violence" isn't always physical, said Rebecca Beebe, research scientist at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center's Injury Prevention Center in Hartford. Beebe also contributed to the report.

"Most of the time, abuse is in the form of controlling behavior, and that doesn't always get the attention it deserves," Beebe said.

The report also found that only six of the responding schools had a formal partnership or agreement with a local domestic violence agency, though 19 of the schools said there is a designated staff member who refers victims to the local shelter.

Another gap existed in the area of violence-prevention education. The majority -- 19 -- of the schools sponsored dating-violence prevention and awareness activities, but only 13 schools said they offered bystander education, which trains students on how to respond if they witness or suspect abuse.

The report didn't identify any of the participating schools by name, Jarmoc said, because the intent wasn't to single any place out.

"We felt that this wasn't about `You're doing good and you're doing bad,' " Jarmoc said. "It was a statewide assessment."

Aware of the problem

Though the report is mixed on how well the state's schools are doing, staff at some local universities said preventing intimate partner violence is a priority.

At the University of New Haven, students do receive bystander training when they arrive on campus, said Leila Dutton, an associate professor in the UNH criminal justice department. She said the school doesn't have a separate intimate partner violence policy, but it does have a policy that addresses partner violence, sexual assault and stalking -- and emotional and technological violence are at least addressed in that policy, though not explicitly defined.

Dutton said this is an issue that's of major importance to the campus.

"We know that the rates of sexual assaults and rape have not decreased over the years," she said. "The statistics do indicate that this is a significant issue among college students."

Others university officials were less specific about what they offered, but still insisted violence prevention is a priority.

"Intimate partner violence is a critical issue on college campuses, covering a wide spectrum of behaviors," said Thomas Pellegrino, Fairfield University's vice president for student affairs, in an emailed statement.

"In that respect, we are recognizing that this issue is not unique to older adults who are married or living together," Pellegrino's statement said. "At Fairfield, we train and educate around intimate partner violence in various areas, including specifically at orientation, in our first-year experience program, and with employee training. Our policies do contain provisions defining and prohibiting intimate partner violence. For college students, it is important to recognize that while intimate partner violence can include acts of sexual violence, such as rape, it can also include a whole host of other acts and behaviors."