What is domestic abuse? Is it exclusively physical violence? Is it considered domestic violence if one person verbally manipulates or criticizes the other? Physically follows them? Demands oversight of their social accounts?
Students and faculty at Bellevue College are now pondering those questions through a growing partnership with local domestic violence organization LifeWire. As the college grows, the two entities are pushing more people to be active bystanders in cases of sexual assault and dating violence.
“As the institute is set to break ground on their first residential building on campus, being equipped to handle cases of domestic violence and sexual assault is a priority among faculty, staff and administrators,” LifeWire spokesperson Samantha Tripoli said.
The partnership evolved from guest lectures that LifeWire has conducted in the college’s public health and sociology classes and with Running Start students. That work will continue, with additional quarterly training sessions being introduced for others on campus.
“In most of these sessions, by the time we’re done, kids would come up to us to talk about concerns they have about their or a friend’s relationship,” said LifeWire Social Change Manager Ward Urion, who added that not every unhealthy relationship is abusive.
One in five college students have experienced dating violence by a current partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That’s not limited to physical abuse — sexual assault, stalking, physical, verbal and financial abuse are all considered aspects of domestic abuse. On a campus with roughly 35,000 students, there are bound to be victims of domestic abuse and witnesses.
Staff members have reported possible cases of stalking, students being sexually groped and other concerning incidents in which they didn’t know how to intervene.
Bellevue College faculty has reported success with LifeWire’s tips to disrupting concerning situations. Just after the start of school, one librarian reported seeing a male student become aggressive towards a female and interrupted the situation by telling the female there was a problem with her account. Once the student was in her office, the librarian was able to offer resources.
Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that dating abuse during youth can have long-term negative impacts. Broaching the complicated subject of dating violence is beneficial at this age, Urion said, because students often don’t have the logistical challenges that can keep people tied to an abuser. Educators have to be careful, though, because those people can feel every bit as critical, he added.
“If you’re here to get an education, this is part of it,” he said.