December 1, 2014

Cornellians Address Stigma of Reporting Sexual, Domestic Violence

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By SLOANE GRINSPOON

In light of recent local and national events — including the death of Shannon Jones ’15 last week — members of the Cornell community say they are seeking to reduce the stigma associated with reporting incidents of domestic and sexual violence.

A campus-wide discussion titled “Status of Sexual Violence at Cornell,” which was planned by Yamini Bhandari ’17, vice president for outreach and women’s representative for the Student Assembly, will be held Wednesday. It will feature speeches from University officials, including Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88 and Mary Opperman, vice president of human resources and safety.

Bhandari said she hopes that the event will stimulate productive dialogue on campus about domestic violence as well.

“The purpose of this event is to provide a space for collaboration between organizations and to set goals for the Cornell community at large on the issue [of Domestic Violence],” Bhandari said.

As women’s representative for the S.A., Bhandari added that she seeks to raise awareness and find solutions to issues that affect women.

“More recently the focus of this position has become sexual and domestic violence on campus,” she said.

For example, the Cornell Women’s Resource Center provides resources to all students affected by domestic violence — including friends of victims — according to Laura Weiss, an associate dean of students and director of the center.

“This may include … helping a student to plan out a conversation he or she wants to have with a friend they are concerned about, to connecting students with the right on-or-off campus resource to find emergency safe housing,” Weiss said.

She also said she is a confidential source for students seeking “information, options and resources related to Title IX issues, including domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual harassment.

The Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, an off-campus resource for victims of domestic violence, also offers free counseling every hour of the week via a hotline, according to Heather Campbell, executive director of the center.

Last Thursday, police say Shannon Jones was murdered by her boyfriend, Benjamin Cayea, in what appears to be a “domestic incident.”

Campbell said she believes Jones’ death will affect many members of the Cornell community and said she encourages any affected community members to reach out for help.

“This is a tragedy that impacts Shannon’s friends and her family, but it also ripples out to the whole community,” she said. “[We] really encourage people to reach out to support if they need it.”

Though the Advocacy Center provides counseling to thousands of callers each year, Campbell said they hope to expand their reach to include domestic violence victims who are scared to report their abuse. According to Campbell, domestic violence is “incredibly underreported,” both on campus and nationally.

“We think only about 35 to 40 percent of incidents of domestic and sexual violence are ever reported [nationally],” Campbell said.

Campbell also stressed the importance of bystander intervention in preventing domestic violence.

“We’re all bystanders in one way or another. I think there is a role that everyone can play in intervening, if we’re concerned about safety,” she said. “It’s about knowing where to help [and] speaking up when you see people blaming victims or excusing abusive behavior.”

Campbell added that Cornell students may hold the misconception that domestic abuse does not occur within their demographic.

“I think there’s a real, enduring myth about domestic and dating violence. I think there’s myths that it doesn’t happen to young people,” Campbell said. “I think there are myths that it is less likely to happen to people going to prestigious Ivy League colleges.”

Through her work, Campbell said she has seen that women in their teens to late 20s are at an increased risk to suffer from domestic violence — though many of them do not realize it is a widespread problem. Men are also victims of domestic abuse, she said, but at a lower rate.

In light of Jones’ death, Campbell said she hopes the local community will raise “conversation and awareness about domestic violence, about violence against women, about what our community is or is not doing to support victims and prevent abuse.”

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