With the recent tragedies that have occurred on campuses as a result of domestic violence, now is a good time for schools to evaluate or re-evaluate their institution’s readiness and response capabilities to threats and incidents of domestic violence.
Recent studies have found that domestic violence is one of the major causes of injuries to females and as many as 1 in 3 homicides are domestic related. Not to mention the fact that an individual living in an environment of domestic threats and domestic violence suffers immeasurable emotional and psychological trauma.
Campus environments have traditionally been “soft targets” and perpetrators of domestic assault may use this as an opportunity to gain access and commit acts of violence. By adhering to these “five strategies,” campus safety personnel can “harden” their campus and create a safer environment for students, staff and faculty.
Campus safety personnel and campus administrators must accept the fact that the perpetrators of domestic violence may attempt to enter the campus to confront, harass and / or harm their domestic partner. Potential victims of violence may have no set routine of their activities throughout the day or evening, but the domestic violator will probably know exactly what hours the potential victim is on campus and exactly where they work or attend classes.
Many campuses are “open campuses” where individuals can enter without being challenged. The domestic violator is often keenly aware of the campus and its vulnerabilities. Additionally, the “threat” to enter a victim’s campus or workplace to attack or harass, may become an important part of controlling the victim through threats and intimidation.
As with most other safety programs, being prepared and ready to respond is paramount. Institutions that take the time to prepare and train for emergencies are more likely to respond correctly, expeditiously and lessen the impact of the incident.
The most important components of being prepared are 1) qualified personnel, 2) physical design 3) continuous training based on proven procedures, and 4) a commitment of the campus leadership to insure that the first three components are present.
It is important to note that “qualified personnel” are not just campus security or campus police. Administrators that adhere to the outdated perception that the campus security or a police presence are all that is required to insure campus safety are doomed to fail. The old adage, “when seconds count, the police are minutes away” could not be more true when speaking about incidents of domestic violence. All campus personnel must be watchful and aware of suspicious persons, aggressive behavior and potential violent situations and report this to campus authorities immediately.
Campus safety in the form of physical design cannot be over emphasized. Doors that lock quickly from the inside, blinds that close, public address systems, intercom or siren systems, and exterior doors that can be secured quickly in case of a campus lock down, to name just a few, can mean the difference between safety and tragedy.
Continuous training based on proven procedures is an immeasurable component of success in a campus safety program. This training should be as realistic as possible. Security and Staff Response, Lockdown Drills, and Evacuation Drills should be performed as often as possible with all major players; campus security force, students, staff and faculty. Discussions and tabletop drills are certainly important, but nothing develops strengths and exposes vulnerabilities as does hands on training. (3, 4)
Every campus should have a comprehensive education program discussing the subject of domestic violence. Several comprehensive studies estimate that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. (5) Students, staff and faculty are certainly not exempt from this sobering statistic. Additionally, students who live on campus may become the victims (or perpetrators*) of domestic violence themselves.
A Campus Domestic Violence Education program should include; basic domestic violence information, domestic violence recognition, and where individuals can seek help if they or someone they know is the victim of domestic violence or the threat of domestic violence. Employee Human Resources and the office of Student Services should keep readily available domestic violence “where to turn” informational brochures, pamphlets, and a list of campus, law enforcement, and community services. They should also maintain updated website information with important information and “where to call” numbers for domestic violence shelters, counseling and other assistance.
Many campuses have had huge successes with Domestic Violence Educational programs and anti-violence programs that are scheduled in conjunction or partnered with local, state or national domestic violence awareness and other anti violence or victims rights campaigns.
Campus domestic response will usually take place in two forms: 1) potential threats of violence, or 2) an actual violent attack or confrontation.
Potential Threats: Campuses should foster an atmosphere of trust so students and staff feel comfortable letting others, particularly administrators and safety personnel (police or security) know of domestic situations that have been or have the potential to become threatening. When an individual has been or feels threatened, campus authorities should become engaged and work with the potential victim in developing a safety plan. An important point to remember when responding to potential threats is “an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.”
An adequate safety plan should include, but is not limited to, alerting security, increasing patrols around the victim’s workspace, classroom or campus residence. Disseminating a photo, physical description, vehicle information and other important information about the potential domestic violator to campus police, security and other affected parties. The potential victim may also be provided a security escort, safer parking, given a special security hotline number, and as mentioned earlier, information on domestic violence, assistance with obtaining a restraining order, and where to turn to seek additional support and assistance. It is advisable to encourage the victim to contact law enforcement. Most law enforcement officers are well trained in domestic response and are able to refer the victim to community based, non-profit programs for assistance and support.
Violent Attack or Confrontation: The first rule to remember when any violent attack occurs on campus is that the physical safety of persons is the number one priority. Campus police and security personnel must have comprehensive training in responding to violent attacks and dangerous aggressors. All campus personnel should be trained to not hesitate to call emergency personnel and seek safety. The “run, hide and fight” video is an excellent resource in responding to active shooters and violent aggressors. Unlike a random shooter, the perpetrator of domestic violence is usually seeking one specific individual, however, anyone that gets in his or her way is also at risk.
When emergency responders arrive, they will usually move quickly to address the immediate threat. All individuals should listen to orders given by law enforcement and comply immediately. They should let the officers see that their hands are empty and make no sudden movements. Individuals that witnessed the act or have knowledge of the incident may be asked to give statements.
After an incident, particularly a violent incident, the campus will go into the “recovery mode” until campus life and activities return to normal. Campus police and security will usually de-brief administrators as to what occurred, lessons learned, recommendations, and what will follow from a law enforcement and possible arrest and prosecution perspective.
In the aftermath of a violent incident, students and staff may be confused, scared or grief stricken. The sooner the campus responds to these issues the better. Group meetings, campus social media, and other campus forms of communication may be used to address concerns and quell rumors. In some cases, grief counselors may be used to speak with students or staff, either in a group setting, or individually. This is also an excellent opportunity to reinforce the campus Domestic Violence Awareness or Anti-Violence Program.
College, universities and other schools are not immune from the threats of domestic violence. However, by being aware, prepared, educating staff and students, responding correctly and swiftly and taking the steps to recover campuses can reduce the opportunity for these incidents to occur and lessen the impact when and if tragedy does strike.
Note: TitleIX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) contains specific requirements that all individuals (victims and accusers) involved in cases of, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault or any other Sexual Misconduct be “accommodated.” Refer any specific inquiries to the college or university Title IX coordinator for direction and clarification.