ASU aims to address domestic and dating violence

Despite an uptick in on-campus reports, the community is optimistic about the impact of efforts to decrease crime

Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.

That's the phrase painted on one of the thousands of t-shirts hanging on a clothesline at the Tempe campus every October in recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month through the ASU Clothesline Project.

“You can take the everyday lived experience of survivors and their support systems and reach out to other survivors that haven't come forward yet," said Alesha Durfee, an ASU professor of women and gender studies who organizes and facilitates the Clothesline Project at ASU. 

The project, which prompts students, faculty and community members to write messages reflecting on domestic and dating violence, is one of the many on-campus efforts seeking to spark conversation around dating and domestic violence and build a support system for victims. 

Over 9 percent of ASU students have reported being in an emotionally abusive relationship, according to a study conducted by the American College Health Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states more than 12 million women and men are victims of intimate partner violence every year.

The annual crime statistics the ASU Police Department published on Oct. 1, 2018 document the increases of reported stalking, dating and domestic violence cases from previous years. For example, there were 18 stalking incidents reported on the Tempe campus in 2017 as compared to seven in 2016 and three in 2015. 

But Lynn Spillers, victim advocate for the ASU Police Department, said the spike doesn't necessarily indicate an increase in dating and domestic violence crimes on campus. 

“There are a lot of factors that go into crime reporting and in a lot of ways it is a reflection of our society and community,” Spillers said. “I would hope that the (increase) means people are feeling more comfortable to report.”

For the second year, ASU police officers are wearing purple patches in observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month to express their support for victims and increase awareness of the social issue. 

“It’s essential as a police department that we are showing that we support someone coming forward and reporting such a crime and we will be using best practices to respond when we do get that report,” Spillers said. 

She said three years ago, ASU Chief of Police Michael Thompson started the special victims unit, which includes her role as a victims advocate. 

“Having the special victims unit shows that we identify a need to have someone specifically trained in being victim-centered and trauma informed,” Spillers said. 

While there are other on-campus resources for students including student advocates and counselors, the police department’s victims’ advocates are a confidential resource for students to explore reporting options, receive legal information and learn about what help is available.

“Having an advocate is essential to the work we do,” Spillers said. “Victims need to have a confidential resource they feel they can trust and feel comfortable talking to because as we know, victims don’t often feel as comfortable maybe talking to a police officer.”

She said the special victims unit is the primary way the police department expresses support for students and works to combat domestic and dating violence on campus. 

“We know that there is a specific and unique way to respond to victims of sexual violence or domestic violence and we come at that from a different perspective and are showing our support in that way as well,” Spillers said. 

The ASU police are not alone in observing National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 

An array of University resources, clubs and projects are drawing attention to the conversation. 

Durfee said the ASU affiliate of the Clothesline Project, which takes place across the nation, has grown to be one of the largest in the country since Durfee first offered the project to her students for extra credit in 2013. 

“I never would have imagined it would grow to be as big as it is today,” Durfee said.

She said there will easily be between 2,600 to 2,800 shirts on display this year — with statements on each — at Hayden Lawn on October 30 and 31 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In the events first year, there were under 100.

“There is something spectacular about the sheer magnitude of all the shirts,” Durfee said. “It is a tremendous outpour of support and has raised a lot of awareness about sexual and domestic violence on campus.”

As a result of the scale the project, 2018 will be the last year it will be exclusively in person. 

Durfee said the project will be made available to online and international students in future year through an online platform.

“Our goal is that people all around the world will be able to walk through the ASU Clothesline Project,” Durfee said. 

Shantel Marekera, a justice studies master's student involved in planning this year's project, said creating a space to educate, foster awareness and celebrate strength has impacted the University culture in immeasurable ways. 

“These things happen on college campuses every day,” Marekera said. “Increasing the conversation and education on campus is, I believe, the first step to reducing dating and domestic violence.”

In addition to reduction, the visibility created through the Clothesline Project and other on-campus initiatives helps students identify dangerous relationships and break out of them, she said.

"Hearing and seeing other survivors speak out about their stories helps people realize that they are not alone and their voices will be heard if they choose to speak out," Marekera said. 

This year the Clothesline Project worked with over 10 organizations, including Sexual Violence Prevention and Response, community assistants across the campuses, ASU police and even Mountainside Middle School. 

Durfee said the work ASU does to counter dating and domestic violence goes hand-in-hand with similar efforts in the community. 

"We at ASU have learned so much from the community and we can also play a role in helping their efforts," Durfee said. “I think simultaneously many people are looking to ASU for a model on how to affect real change.”

While the University’s efforts are to be applauded, Durfee said the culturally embedded and widespread problem of domestic and dating abuse is difficult to reverse. 

"I think the University is doing a really phenomenal job, but the problem itself is so immense that it is not going to be easily undone," Durfee said. 


Reach the reporter at goldham@asu.edu and follow @graceoldham123 on Twitter. 

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