By Joe Bailey, Staff Writer–

October marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and with it came an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to learn about gender equity issues and their related resources.

Title IX is a 1972 federal law that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Many issues fall under the purview of Title IX, with consent, stalking, sexual misconduct, and relationship violence chief among them. Support programs at UTC handle different reports in ways, ranging from providing counselling sessions, all the way to freely offering survivors of domestic violence a temporary place to live for up to two weeks.

UTC’s Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Rowland said that the university’s goal is to provide students a place where their studies and learning go unimpeded. For her, the month provides a time to spread helpful information about gender equity issues which interfere with the function of the school and the development of students. 

“It is important to get the word out there,” Rowland said. “Having a month that’s dedicated to it is pretty important because 1-in-3 students will be impacted by relationship violence during their lifetime. So it’s a huge number and it’s starting in younger and younger relationships.”

Rowland said that, because of this, she wishes students were taught about relationship violence more in middle and high school. In Tennessee, she said that K-12 schools discourage discussions of sex, which in turn rules out talking about consent and sexual assault. 

Methods for building healthy relationships are lacking in this department as well, even for the ones that are non-sexual. Rowland said she would prefer it if students were more aware of these things before coming to university.

As far as actually dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault, Rowland said, “I go at this from a bystander perspective because I don’t ever want to tell someone who is a potential victim what they should or shouldn’t do. I give options. In cases of sexual violence and relationship violence, someone’s power and control is being taken away, so we try to give that back to them. But I will say, if someone had a friend who had experienced dating or relationship violence, the first thing would be to, again, not tell them what to do. Give them options.”

And students have a lot of options. Rowland said that they can choose to report to the university, report to the police, both, or neither. Confidential options include Survivor Advocacy Services in the Center for Women and Gender Equity which helps students get orders of protection through the court, or no-contact directives on campus.

“After telling them their options, I would say don’t ask questions.” Rowland said. “Let the person talk with you about what they want to talk about. Affirm what they are saying. What we know is that the first report that somebody makes kind of sets the trajectory for their recovery. They may not tell anyone else again if, when somebody reports to a friend, that friend says to them, ‘I don’t believe you,’ or somehow implies that it’s their fault.”

Rowland said that it usually takes someone between eight and nine attempts to leave an abusive relationship, in part because of manipulation from the partner, but also because of safety concerns. The most dangerous time for someone in this type of relationship is when they are trying to leave.

“In 2013 I think we had 19 total reports of sexual misconduct, relationship violence and stalking. In 2018 we had 221. You would think that it’s bad to have an increase. It’s not. So what we know is that these types of incidents happen in massive numbers, just in society in general, so having a really small reporting number is actually bad. What it shows is that more people know how to report, know where to report and feel comfortable doing so, which is actually really positive.”

With awareness on the rise, the network of support at UTC came together this month to raise it even higher. The end of the month is by no means the end of the discussion, and resources at the Center for Student Wellbeing, Center for Women and Gender Equity and the Title IX Office are as available as ever.

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