“Why talk about domestic abuse?” Megan Gergen, training specialist at Domestic Violence Child Advocacy Center (DVCAC), asked a room full of 50 college students on Tuesday, Dec. 3, one of the busiest weeks of the academic year. Clearly, the topic was important enough to draw this big of a crowd, but why? Gergen answered the question herself, “because it is extremely prevalent.”
This is true on a national scale. On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States—more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year. But, domestic violence is even more prevalent in younger age groups. Females ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced the highest rates of intimate partner violence.
Because of this, two organizations on campus, Period @ CWRU and Sexual Assault and Violence Educators (SAVE), decided to partner with the DVCAC. The three organizations met at SEXPOpalooza, an event put on by SAVE, back in September. While Period centers around menstruation, SAVE around a safe-sex environment and DVCAC around domestic abuse, all three organizations are centered around a common theme—education. Tuesday night, at their event Menstrual Manipulation, all three organizations helped each other to achieve this goal by hosting guest speaker Megan Gergen.
After creating an understanding of the importance and prevalence of domestic violence, Gergen took a step back to define what domestic violence is.
“It is power-based,” she said. “It is when people intentionally cause harm in relationships.”
Gergen went on to clarify that domestic abuse is not necessarily physical, but also verbal, emotional, financial and sexual. She also clarified some common myths about domestic abuse.
“Domestic violence is not an anger management issue,” Gergen said. “People who make that choice to abuse are already good at managing that anger. They save that anger for when they get home.”
Going off of this idea, Gergen emphasized the intentionality of domestic abuse. It is not an accident, but a choice of who to hurt. Similarly, Gergen confronted the myth that alcoholism and drugs are an excuse for abuse. She used phrases she has heard many times.
“He only hits me when he is drunk.”
“He only hits me because he stopped drinking.”
“He only drinks because of me.”
These phrases show choices, not obligations. They are making a choice to drink, a choice to abuse. Gergen emphasized the importance of victims not blaming themselves.
Another interesting aspect of abuse relevant to college life that Gergen talked about is snap maps. Gergen asked the group of 50 students how many had their Snap Map location turned on in the Snapchat app, and about half raised their hands. Then, she gave an example situation. Say you were in a bad relationship and broke up. Of course, you stopped that person from being able to see you on Snap Map. But, that person asks a friend to see their phone, they find you on there. Suddenly, there they are, at the door. Technology has changed, making it easier for stalking to occur. This adds a different awareness that college and high school students need to have.
In the end, the question came down to what can we do? How can we help? Sydney Washing, a fourth-year nursing student and vice president of Period, listened with this mindset.
“As a nursing student, I’m always thinking ‘help people, help people,’” she said.
Gergen opened this session of the conversation by saying, ”If you don’t know, don’t make it up. But it is really easy to listen.”
She also goes into the phrasing to use when friends are talking to you about domestic abuse. Instead of asking, “What did you do?” ask “What happened?” Instead of saying, “I understand,” say “I hear you.” These small changes help people feel more comfortable that the person they are confiding in is not victim-blaming them. Gergen also discussed facial expressions. Displaying surprise or disgust on your face can also be harmful, and it is best to keep a neutral face. These changes, while small, make a difference.
As a professional in this field, Gergen emphasized that, “I’m not an investigator, my job is to believe.” That mindset dictates how she helps. She is not the police. She is not a savior. She is an advocate who is there to provide all the help she can. Gergen also made clear that you do not need to be a professional to have these conversations. You just need to be a listener and remember to take care of yourself and your own needs.
While Case Western Reserve University has many resources available to students who are experiencing abuse, the DVCAC has trained professionals such as Gergen whose sole job is being surrounded by this kind of trauma and educating about it. You can call their hotline for help with your own situation, advice on how to help a friend and interest in all the services DVCAC provides, such as a shelter, support groups and more.