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A panel of experts spoke at a University of Delaware teach-in and listening session, which was held on Tuesday, Oct. 19, after a recent incident of gender-based violence that deeply affected the UD community.
Gender-based violence is a pervasive national problem that can be considered a public health crisis, but it can be curtailed if individuals and communities work together to educate themselves, raise awareness, develop effective prevention policies and take appropriate action.
That was the message delivered by a panel of experts at a University of Delaware teach-in and listening session, held Tuesday, Oct. 19, after a recent incident of gender-based violence that deeply affected the UD community.
The event, which was announced last week in President Dennis Assanis’ letter to the University community about finding a path forward in addressing this issue, was designed to educate and hear the concerns and experiences of those attending. Hosts were Jennifer Naccarelli and Angela Hattery, both faculty members in the Department of Women and Gender Studies and co-directors of the department’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence.
“This did not just happen; gender-based violence can be prevented,” Naccarelli said in introducing the program, speaking of the Oct. 8 incident in which a female student was attacked in an off-campus apartment. The alleged assailant, also a UD student, has been arrested and separated from the University and is barred from campus.
Naccarelli and Hattery called the attack “horrendous” but said it was unfortunately not unusual, as gender-based and intimate-partner violence is all too common in communities and on campuses across the country. As a society, they said, “we need to stop glorifying gender-based violence and excusing the behavior of perpetrators.”
Prevention must take place at multiple levels, they said, as we all examine relationships and friendships and learn more about what can be done to ensure everyone’s safety.
Hattery pointed out that abuse isn’t only physical but can include other controlling actions that can impact a victim long after physical injuries have healed. She discussed the term “coercive control,” a form of domestic abuse or intimate partner violence that a perpetrator uses to gain control by eroding a person’s autonomy and self-esteem through such actions as intimidation and threats.
Panelist Sue Ryan, executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, called intimate partner violence a public health crisis. She cited statistics that one in five women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, with young women ages 16-24 experiencing nearly triple the rate of such violence as the national average. In Delaware, she said, the number of reported criminal incidents of domestic violence last year was 11,281.
“This is not an individual problem or a relationship problem,” Ryan said. “It’s a community problem [and] we must rally resources of the University, the county and the state” to combat it.
Other panelists, many of them faculty members in women and gender studies who conduct research on the subject, spoke about a variety of aspects of gender-based violence, including the role played by society in the different expectations it assigns to boys and girls and the disproportionate impact of such violence on the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.
Emerald Christopher-Byrd, assistant professor of women and gender studies, said there are many reasons for this greater impact, including family loyalty, lack of resources and distrust of law enforcement, and she also noted the media’s tendency to focus their coverage on incidents involving white victims while often ignoring the many (BIPOC) women facing the same experiences.
“Those who are silent must have a voice,” Christopher-Byrd said.
As a group, the panelists praised and thanked the UD students whose protests immediately after the Oct. 8 incident called on the University to increase awareness of the issue of gender-based violence and ensure a safe community.
“Your raised voices got us here today,” said Marie Laberge, associate professor of women and gender studies, who advocated a public-health approach to the issue, identifying risk and designing and then assessing programs to prevent violence. “We need to do more, and we can. Because gender-based violence is preventable.”
The panel was followed by numerous listening sessions in which students were encouraged to share their thoughts, experiences and ideas for improving safety. Topics included fraternity and sorority leadership and learning, UD’s mandatory educational programs, Office of Student Conduct policies and processes, Office of Equity and Inclusion sexual misconduct policies, violence among and engagement with BIPOC, how gender-based violence affects the LGBTQ community, survivor space, masculinity on campus and campus crime responses and prevention.
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“Although we’re working hard to prevent it, it does happen,” said panelist Angela Seguin, Student Wellness and Health Promotion’s assistant director of victim advocacy. “When violence happens, it is never the victim’s fault.”
Numerous resources exist on campus to help victims, she said, listing three confidential resources as possible starting points for those seeking information and support:
Next up: Student Life and SOS are sponsoring a new monthly series of restorative circle conversations. The first, addressing intimate partner violence at UD, will be held at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 26, in Room 101 of the Wellbeing Center at Warner.
The Center for the Study and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence is an interdisciplinary, feminist, intersectional collaborative that integrates scholarship with community activism.
It focuses on study, prevention and support for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, human trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence.
The center is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Women and Gender Studies, which offers an academic concentration and a minor in domestic violence prevention and services. The program combines coursework with practical experience and trains students to become advocates for domestic violence survivors.
Article by Ann Manser; photo by Evan Krape
Published Oct. 20, 2021