Are You at Risk for Violence at Your School?

Are You at Risk for Violence at Your School?

Violence in colleges and universities is prominent in the news now, especially with the recent shooting at a college in California by a former student. There is also a video that is going viral, which documented a student at Florida Atlantic University who lost control during a class and went on a tirade, which included screaming and slapping another student. While these events have captured our immediate attention, there are other forms of violence that are predominant among students on college campuses. And the potential for acts of violence is not just limited to students who attend a traditional college. Online students may be at risk for a different, but no less disturbing type of assault – cyber violence. It is important for students on-ground and online to be aware of potential risk factors, as a means of remaining safe while they are on campus or interacting with others in an online class.

Students and On Campus Violence

According to a 2004 report by Linda Langford, Sc.D., Preventing Violence and Promoting Safety in Higher Education Settings “there are many types of campus violence””including rape, assault, fighting, hazing, dating violence, sexual harassment, hate and bias-related violence, stalking, rioting, disorderly conduct, property crime, and even self-harm and suicide.” Langford discusses the origin of violence on campus and indicates that there isn’t a single cause that can be readily identified and instead, “researchers have identified many determinants, including both individual characteristics and attributes of campus and community environments.”

Langford summarized these characteristics and attributes. In a campus community, the following are examples of possible influences:
“¢    ”Individual factors, such as student, faculty, and staff attitudes and beliefs about violence; skills for negotiating conflict.
“¢    Interpersonal or group processes, such as group norms regarding appropriate behavior; responses of bystanders to violence” (Langford, 2004, p. 3).

Langford concludes that early intervention and prevention are necessary for a school’s approach to managing the risk for violence. It is the attitude about preventing violence, not the attitude towards violence that is important. In addition, all students, faculty, and staff need to be aware of the expectations for conduct on campus and they should be familiar with the support services that are available. This includes mental health services and services that provide support for victims of violence.

News and Resources for Students on Campus

A news report on Inside Higher Ed discussed a recently proposed bill, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act or Campus SaVE Act (S. 834/H.R. 2016), which would require colleges to “track and report claims of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking on campus.” It was introduced to the Senate on April 14, 2011 and the House of Representatives on May 26, 2011. The purpose of this bill is to update the Jeanne Clery Act, which was formerly known as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990. While this federal law has been amended since that time, it is believed that the most pressing issues on campus now are not fully addressed. The Campus SaVE Act is meant to “empower colleges and universities to better prevent and respond to a full spectrum of sexual violence including domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in addition to sexual assault.”

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also addressed the growing problem of sexual violence on campus as “19 percent of women (nearly 1 in 5) report experiencing sexual assault while in college.” The perpetrator of the violent acts is often someone the victim knows and the violence often occurs when women are in vulnerable circumstances. In 2011 the HHS issued a challenge for the development of apps that would “empower young adults to prevent abuse and violence.” The purpose of this campaign was to help “teach peers how to identify these circumstances and intervene before an assault occurs.”

In the following video, Secretary Sebelius of HHS discusses the Apps Against Abuse Challenge

There were a total of 32 submissions for the Apps Against Abuse Challenge and the winners were OnWatch and Circle of 6. OnWatch includes a series of apps that establishes a support network and a direct connection to campus security and 911. Circle of 6 allows students to keep their support circle informed of their whereabouts and their location is updated by GPS. The following video demonstrates the features of Circle of 6.

For additional resources related to the prevention of violence on campus, Washington State University has put together Prevention Websites & Links, which includes the following:
“¢    American Association of University Women, a non-profit organization promoting education and equity for women and girls.
“¢    Security On Campus, Inc. a national non-profit organization devoted exclusively to providing services to the victims of violence on college campuses and to educate students.

Online Students and Cyber Violence

Cyberbullying is defined as “bullying through email, instant messaging, chat room exchanges, Web site posts, or digital messages or images send to a cellular phone or personal digital assistant (PDA).” In Cyberbullying Goes to College it was noted that cyberbullying among teens is the most prevalent form of bullying and that there are few studies available on bullying among adults. One of the reasons for the absence of studies is the lack of reports, which is often attributed to adult victims who are often too embarrassed to report the incidents.

However, the problem exists and is documented through websites such as Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA). In the most recent report for this website (2011 Cyberstalking Statistics), there were 305 documented cases of online crime. For those reported cases, 74 percent of the victims were female. In addition, 35 percent were between the age of 18-30, 33 percent were 31-40, and 32% were age 41 or older.

Cyberbullying has a direct impact on educators as well. Only three states have anti-bullying laws that protect teachers. However, there are 49 states which have anti-bullying laws that protect students. The Cyberbullying Research Center has put together a complete list of State Cyberbullying Laws, which indicates if there are criminal and school sanctions in place.

In Cyberbullying on the Internet, published by Bully Online, the number one rule for addressing cyberbullying is: “don’t respond, don’t interact and don’t engage.” The second recommended approach is to keep all abusive emails. The following steps are provided: “create a new folder, perhaps called “˜Abuse’, and move hate mail and flame mail into this folder. You don’t have to read it. When the time comes to take action, this folder of hate mail and flame mail is your evidence.”

In Report Cyberbullying, the following steps are provided to as recommended steps for taking action:
“¢    Don’t respond to and don’t forward cyberbullying messages.
“¢    Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times, and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred. Save and print screenshots, emails, and text messages. Use this evidence to report cyberbullying to web and cell phone service providers.
“¢    Block the person who is cyberbullying.
“¢    Report Cyberbullying to Online Service Providers
“¢    Report Cyberbullying to Law Enforcement
“¢    Report Cyberbullying to Schools

As a college student, it is necessary to be aware of the potential that exists for violence to occur on campus and online. This does not mean you should live in fear; however, you can take proactive steps and be prepared – especially if you are a student living on campus. In addition to knowing the risk factors, be familiar with resources available through your school and what to do if you should become a victim or witness a potential situation. Online students are also at risk for cyber violence and I encourage you to talk to your instructor any time you have questions or concerns. There are no quick solutions to resolving these issues; however, what you can do is to become knowledgeable about the potential risks and find resources.

Have you been at risk for any form of violence on campus or online? Share your strategies for prevention via Twitter @DrBruceJ.

Photo © Ikon Images/Corbis

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