A bill to reauthorize and expand upon the Violence Against Women Act is currently making its way through the United States Congress and promises to increase awareness about dating violence, stalking and domestic violence. The act would require all institutes of higher education to report these incidents in addition to cases of sexual assault and rape. While some critics may argue that this bill will simply increase paperwork for institutions, the additions will help to make college campuses safer places.
The College of William and Mary has much to be proud of in its treatment of this type of incident. The College already has documentation of these cases that can be added to reports, and the campus hosts a plethora of student organizations dedicated to informing students about how to protect themselves and what to do if they are victims of one of these incidents. At the College, this bill must serve as a reminder that even the City of Williamsburg is not immune to these issues and that our age range has the highest number of incidents of intimate violence.
The College already does a phenomenal job of promoting awareness of intimate violence. Orientation provides students information about who to contact if they feel threatened. The area that appears weakest in this education is the most obvious question: What exactly are students supposed to report?
At the College, students are willing to chalk a lot of strange behaviors up to general awkwardness, but the fact remains that if students feel violated, they need to make a report. In the same way, all students need to be educated about what to do if a friend approaches them with an incident. The College should create another website model, along the same lines as the suicide counseling model, so that students feel prepared to talk about these issues. Students need to understand how to address these issues and should know never to discourage a peer from reporting such incidents.
As the College has just hosted its first successful LGBTIQ week, education concerning these issues must acknowledge that these incidents are not only directed toward heterosexual females. The topic must be destigmatized so that everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will feel comfortable reporting incidents of abuse and violence.
The reauthorization and expansion of this bill also works to change the image of who can be a victim of intimate abuse by including same-sex couples and undocumented immigrants. While these controversial issues threaten to prevent the bill from passing in Congress, it is important to rise above petty politics in order to see the bigger picture of safety it will provide.
The Violence Against Women Act needs to pass and serve as a reminder that no matter how far we’ve come in improving safety, there is still a long way to go. Students must realize that no school, even one seemingly located in a retirement community, is ever completely safe. The College has the responsibility to attempt continuously to improve the safety of its students.
Editor’s Note: Katherine Chiglinsky recused herself from the staff editorial to remain unbiased in her reporting.