According to the White House task force against sexual violence, one in 10 women will be assaulted by a dating partner in college. To take action against these forms of violence, the Red Flag Campaign, VCU’s Wellness Resource Center and the Richmond YWCA are collaborating to raise awareness on campus.
Since its inception in 2010, the Red Flag Campaign has worked alongside the VCU Wellness Resource Center and VCU Police. The campaign’s focus is on educating the public on the signs of an abusive relationship, and what students can do to prevent them.
According to a report by the Department of Education, three forcible sex offenses were reported on the Monroe Park Campus in 2013. In contrast, the University of Virginia had 27 such offenses reported, and Virginia Tech had 12.
Relationship abuse is still a topic of importance at VCU, however. In an attempt to recognize the issue and bring it into the public eye, Red Flag volunteers will place markers in the grass around academic buildings and student dormitories.
The flags signify suspicious attributes in a relationship that should caution that abuse could be taking place. Such behaviors include drug and alcohol abuse, physicality that leaves a member of the relationship feeling threatened or fearful, attempts at isolation from friends and family and attempts to coerce one party into sexual acts even when they’re undesired.
Tremayne Robertson, the violence prevention health educator at the VCU Wellness Resource Center, works personally with some of the victims of intimate partner abuse on campus. He said he values programs focused on the education of sexual and intimate partner violence.
“We’ve seen more students coming into the office that are aware of how to be active and empowered by standards and bring some of the things back to us that we’ve tried to teach them,” Robertson said.
He said there has been a shift in that education from victim-blaming to a more universal understanding of the issues at stake with partner violence. He said the emphasis has now become bystander intervention — encouraging people to intervene in a relationship where they feel uncomfortable with what is transpiring.
“Now we’re telling everyone, males and females, that everyone can be a victim of violence. We all have an obligation to make sure, by the way of bystander intervention, that we all are actively looking for folks that are trying to take advantage of our peers on campus,” Robertson said.
The Wellness Resource Center continues to serve as a medium for victims of violence in finding solutions for unsafe relationships and circumstances. In instances that the center’s employees perceive an immediate threat, they work with the VCU Police Department to handle the cases and ensure privacy.
The Richmond YWCA has also partnered with VCU’s Institute for Women’s Health in putting on a series of seminars entitled “Empowerment Through Education.” The series features speakers from VCU Student Health Services, Medical Center and School of Social Work.
“These are conversations that a lot of people might not be willing to have and I’m really proud that the YWCA and VCU are willing to go there,” said Rachel Soloman, the development and communications specialist for the YWCA.
“They’re bringing attention to issues ranging from how a forensic nurse reacts to a case of intimate partner violence in an emergency room, to how issues of intimate partner violence and domestic violence affect couples that are LGBTQ.”
The Richmond YWCA has also organized independent events to raise awareness for domestic violence. The organization’s recent “1,000 Notes of Hope” campaign distributed blank letters around Richmond. People are encouraged to take the notes and write optimistic messages on them, then hide them around the city.
“A lot of our work revolves around really heavy issues that we do want to bring awareness to,” Soloman said. “But the 1,000 Notes we’re promoting is a sort of connectivity and promotes healthy relationships.”
According to Soloman, the program has gathered attention from different institutions, businesses and even the local government. She said the notes are being widely distributed, and the program has gathered an enthusiastic response and an increasing number of participants.
“People really do anticipate a lot of the domestic violence events to be kind of unapproachable, difficult to talk about. This is something that kind of eases people into having the conversation,” Soloman said.