How Campus Public Safety Departments Can Be Agents of Cultural Change

Relationship violence among college students happens with remarkable frequency, but campus public safety practitioners can do much to address this issue, both on campus and in our surrounding communities.

Imagine a pot of boiling water. Now place a raw carrot into that pot. Within a few minutes, the carrot reacts by becoming limp and soft, losing its strength. Imagine that same pot again, but this time, you have a raw egg. Placing the egg into the boiling water will cause the egg to harden in time, losing its fluid form and flexible nature.

Finally, imagine you put into that boiling water a coffee bean, but unlike the carrot and the egg, the bean responds to the boiling water very differently. Whereas the carrot and egg are affected by their environment, the coffee bean actually changes its environment and changes it completely to something good… coffee. Moreover, the longer the bean remains in this environment, the more change it creates.

Think of this boiling water as relationship violence, with the carrot being the victim and the egg being victimizer. The good news here is that the coffee bean is the campus public safety department.

Campus-law enforcement and security leaders find themselves in a highly visible environment where enormous expectations and demands intensify every day to create greater safety on America’s college campuses. Although there is a tendency for institutions of higher education to focus on incidents involving would-be attackers whom we do not know and who are from off-campus, there is a far more prolific threat to our colleges and universities: relationship abuse.

Every day, millions of our best and brightest young people attend colleges and are involved in a variety of relationships. Within many of these relationships – be they romantic, platonic, familial or professional – are active and ongoing levels of violence.

Many Students Come to College with Histories of Abuse
For the college campus of today, casual acquaintances form quickly, and in many instances evolve into dating relationships. We know that students today arrive at college in a far more sophisticated frame of mind with respect to relationships, particularly romantic ones. Many of our students also arrive with a history of abuse from past romantic relationships and, unfortunately, parents. By the time many of these students begin the next phase of their academic journey, they have already been the target of various forms of physical, emotional and sexual abuse or other forms of violence. Others may also have been perpetrators of abuse (as well as victims) before they ever arrive on campus.

Despite this grim reality, there is reason for us to be hopeful because we see an opportunity. College relationship violence may be the area where campus law enforcement can contribute the most to making our communities and our world safer. We can be agents of change by adopting proactive strategies to identify relationship violence at its earliest stages and mitigate the opportunity for it to become a part of someone’s life.

RELATED VIDEO: How to Address Relationship Violence with K-12 and College Students

We need to recalibrate our focus on campus violence. We need ongoing, active and candid dialog about the risk of relationship violence, and we must provide collaborative programming that provides actual solutions and resources for students who are facing this type of abuse. Relationship violence is among the most pervasive and harmful threats to our students, and if we do not commit ourselves to addressing it more completely, it will most certainly continue to grow within our communities at an alarming rate.

We Know Much More about Dating Violence Now
Recently, one of the most comprehensive, sources of research-based information and programming evolved from Pamela Lassiter-Cathey and Dr. Wind Goodfriend’s Institute for the Prevention of Relationship Violence (IPRV), an organization located on the campus of Buena Vista University in Iowa.

Led by their extraordinary work in the forthcoming book, Before the Boil: The Early Warning Signs of a Potentially Violent Relationship, the authors have advanced our ability to understand what have become very familiar conditions and warning signs that ultimately evolve into volatile – and in many cases, highly dangerous – relationships. Check out the authors’ 14 signs of an aggressor’s behavior here.

Their research has produced a comprehensive, well-tested list of relationship dynamics, which, according to IPRV, offers a much more complete assessment of a relationship. Using a scale of one to 10, this assessment focuses on 14 related but independent areas of an aggressor’s behavior.

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