Community targets domestic violence | NIU and DeKalb join to raise awareness

By Jessie Kern

DeKALB — The onset of October, which has been designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month since 1989, has prompted NIU to coordinate events in hopes of educating the campus community about the prevalent issue.

Students are invited to participate in NIU and community-hosted events this month to lend their support in raising awareness about domestic violence, as it does exist in DeKalb and on campus.

Julie Metz, medical and legal advocate for DuPage YWCA, said domestic violence is described as abuse within the home between relationship partners, family members or roommates. Domestic violence comes in the form of physical, sexual, emotional, economic and psychological abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s website.

“I think it’s really easy if it’s not happening directly to you to turn kind of a blind eye to the bigger issues in our society,” said Lynnea Grace Erickson Lasowski, director of Communication and Prevention Services at Safe Passage, which has a confidential address to protect victims of domestic violence.

There were three reports of domestic violence and 31 reports of dating violence in 2016 on and around NIU’s DeKalb campus, according to the 2017-2018 Annual Safety and Security Report.

NIU has initiated Got a Minute?, a series of presentations focusing on coping with domestic violence as a victim or bystander, in support of the month’s awareness initiatives.

The Affirmative Action and Equity Compliance office is hosting Come On! Be an Active Bystander as part of this series from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 18 in the Holmes Student Center, Heritage Room.

The final event for Got A Minute? will be from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 25 in the Holmes Student Center, Heritage Room. During this presentation, representatives of Safe Passage will share information about the community resources they provide to students.

Safe Passage, DeKalb’s only domestic violence and rape center, has a 24-hour hotline available for all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and those who know the victims and are seeking advice or counseling.

Safe Passage hosted an art viewing, survivor speak out and vigil Oct. 2 at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 615 N. First St., to help spread awareness about domestic violence in the community.

Jennifer Calderon, junior communicative disorders major, said she thinks NIU should do more to spread the word about the events officials are hosting for Domestic Violence Awareness month.

“I feel like it’s a really sensitive subject to talk about, so it’s not something that they want to plaster everywhere, but it’s something important and something that they should be willing to talk about openly,” Calderon said.

Lasowski said Safe Passage is available to help the college community in any way possible.

“We’re happy to come speak with any college groups that are interested in having us come out and talk about our services or what domestic violence and sexual assault look like; what signs to look for, how to get help, how to help a friend,” Lasowski said.

Safe Passage offers prevention education, much of which is specific to college students. The organization also provides outreach programs on campus, Lasowski said.

These programs help educate the community, which is vastly made up of college students. It includes prevention programs, professional training and presentations to provide information about the service itself, how an individual can help a friend and what domestic violence looks like.

“During Domestic Violence Awareness month, it’s really important to remember that it’s not a victim’s fault,” Lasowski said. “It could just as easily happen to you as it could happen to anyone else, so it’s really important for us to support each other and be there for each other because you never know when you could need those kinds of services and that kind of support.”

Metz said it’s also important to listen with empathy if somebody discloses that they’re a victim of domestic violence.

“Trying to force them to do anything or give advice in that situation is not generally going to work out well,” Metz said. “People aren’t going to follow the advice; they’re going to do what they’re going to do, and that can be really difficult, and it hurts and it sucks to watch your friend do that. But just being as understanding as possible and listening to them is the best thing that anyone can do for a friend.”

Domestic violence victims have to decide when they want to reach out for help, which can be difficult because they’re also being subjected to manipulation, control and fear by their abuser, Metz said.

“So if somebody does decide that they would like to report, or maybe not report, but at least get out of that situation, NIU has Victims Advocacy, which runs out of NIU’s counseling center now, for people to report and have counseling if they’ve experienced sexual assault, they’ve experienced domestic violence,” Metz said.

Lasowski said it’s critical to know domestic violence has a presence in DeKalb and at NIU, and it can happen to anyone.

“Be aware of what’s going on in your community,” Lasowski said. “Look at the ways that your campus is or isn’t handling domestic violence cases because we know dating violence goes on on college campuses a lot.”