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News Clips 10/21/2013
FSU aims to stop sexual, dating abuse
Source: Tallahassee Democrat, 10/21/13
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By Jennifer Portman
Sexual and dating violence is a pervasive problem on college campuses, but studies show students don’t always know the signs of an unhealthy relationship — and are unsure how to get help.
Florida State University’s Institute for Family Violence Studies is trying to change that.
This semester, the institute launched the FSU Toolkit on Healthy Relationships, a one-stop, free online resource for students to learn about healthy relationships, sexual violence, dating abuse and where to go for help.
“We know one in five women are sexually assaulted or experience an attempted sexual assault in college,” said project coordinator Ember Maselli. “We have all these great resources on campus and in the community, but nationally students are saying they don’t know how to get help or how to help their friends.”
Last year, five forcible sex offenses were reported to FSU Police, but the statistics only hint at the extent of the problem.
“In crime-prevention circles, it is widely accepted that sexual violence is one of the most under-reported crimes,” said FSU police spokesman Maj. Jim Russell. “Only about 10 percent of incidents of sexual violence are actually reported.”
A 2011 national poll found more than 40 percent of college women said they experienced violent or abusive dating behaviors and nearly one in three said they had been in an abusive relationship. Nearly 60 percent of those college students surveyed said they had a hard time identifying dating abuse and didn’t know what to do to help someone who was the victim of dating violence.
“They are real issues and they are hard issues for students to navigate,” said Associate Dean of Students Adam Goldstein, a supporter of the toolkit’s evidence-based approach. “This was a well-thought-out approach and effort to connect with issues that students of all ages struggle with.”
So far, the website, which includes a health-relationship questionnaire, has about 200 unique visitors, Maselli said, a number she expects to increase. Posters promoting the toolkit are on every dorm hallway and have been circulated to many campus organizations, including health services, student affairs and Greek life. As part of the promotion effort, the flier is included in every new student information packet given to freshmen, sophomores and their families.
“We are really trying to make sure everyone is able to see it. In a dream world, this would be something every student takes when they come in,” Maselli said. “A website is not going to be able to find all the nuances in any relationship, but we can say we are concerned about you and encourage you to talk to someone.”
Amber Washington, director of FSU’s Women’s Student Union, said the toolkit is an important step in the effort to end sexual and dating violence on campus.
“We know there is plenty of more work to be done, but at least there is an easy and accessible resource available for students to seek accurate and reliable information at any time in private or open.” Washington said.
The website, designed to be as inclusive as possible, also includes special topic areas for veteran, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
Maselli said overall the toolkit is not intended to assign blame, but to enlighten and educate. All users remain anonymous.
“We really just want to focus on preventing violence from happening and supporting victims afterward. It can be difficult in a large group, like a university environment to say I was sexually assaulted and not have people take sides,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know texting your partner 17,000 times in a week to see where they are, what they are doing, who they are with is not necessarily healthy.”
University administrators and the campus community have been staunch supporters of the effort, she added.
“We know that FSU does a great job at addressing this and their support has shown that,” Maselli said. “People know it’s a problem on college campuses and it’s something that needs to be addressed.”