Correction: In an earlier version of this story, The Daily incorrectly reported that the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness was founded in 2007. The Center was actually founded in 2005.
We’ve all seen it. You’re at a party, people are drinking and you see a couple slip off together, probably about to hook up. You don’t really think anything of it — that’s just the hookup culture, right? What you might not immediately register is that this situation has the potential to turn into a case of sexual violence.
According to Nicole Baran, founder and director of the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness — commonly known as “the Center” — approximately 28 percent of college students will suffer from violence related to dating and relationships, and Stanford is not immune to such incidents. In an effort to increase awareness and get that number down, Stanford has scheduled numerous informational events to get women and men to join the fight to end violence and abuse.
Take Back the Night, held on April 29, was an especially poignant vigil dedicated to raising awareness about sexual assault. Talisman belted out melodious streams of hope to victims and Spoken Word brought tears of anger to listeners’ eyes with their anecdotes of abused women and men. The group then walked around the Quad to foster a sense of camaraderie in the cause, as the glimmering candles shone as beacons of light to lead the way and the silence wrapped the marchers in a comforting and thought-provoking blanket of unity.
“Events like Take Back the Night are so powerful in bringing us together,” said Carole Pertofsky, director of Health Promotion Services at Vaden. “Seeing men and women walking together under the night sky, candles lit, in the silence was so powerful.”
Health Promotion Services is one of the many organizations on campus that deals with sexual and relationship abuse. It coordinates and cooperates with other organizations, including the Sexual Violence Advisory Board and the Center.
“Our primary goal at Stanford and in the surrounding communities is to create an effective community response to relationship abuse and sexual violence by prioritizing prevention and awareness,” Baran said.
The purpose of the Center, founded in 2005, is to manage and appropriate funding from a $200,000 Department of Justice grant that the Stanford Partnership to End Violence Against Women received the same year. Its duty on campus is to train staff in how to deal with abuse cases and appropriately respond to victims who have recently suffered abuse.
“We know that the first words out of somebody’s mouth are really important to empowering someone who’s been a victim or a survivor,” said Laurette Beeson, a sexual harassment adviser in the Graduate Life Office and co-chair of the Sexual Violence Advisory Board. “If they fear they’re going to be blamed, then they tend to not get help, so we want to make sure that [staff members] say and do the right thing, so that people know that it’s not their fault and that there are people here on campus who are here to help them.”
One of the major challenges that the Center and the other campus-wide organizations that deal with sexual violence face is the reporting of abuse cases. According to the Department of Justice, only 10 to 20 percent of all sexual violence incidents are ever reported to the police.
“Sometimes people have the misperception that Stanford doesn’t want anybody to know that this is happening,” Beeson said. “Of course we don’t want it happening! And we want to support the people who are going through it — we are not concerned about the public image of what the numbers look like.”
The taboos associated with openly discussing issues of relationship abuse are rapidly disintegrating through the efforts of the Center and other related organizations. Open discussions and understanding sexual abuse are the keys to preventing violence against women, and the organizations that deal with these sensitive issues have worked to re-socialize the campus and allow these topics to become acceptable talking points.
“Before the Stanford Community Partnership to End Violence Against Women came to campus, ‘relationship abuse’ was not a phrase, it was not something talked about,” said Ted Westling ‘11, an intern at the Center and president of Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN). “One of the great aspects of my job at the center is that I get to see students actually change their perception and understanding of relationship abuse during panels and to see ‘relationship abuse’ become a part of their vocabulary.”
The activism of men in the fight against sexual violence is crucial to the success of the movement, Pertofsky said. Because the number of male assailants at Stanford is miniscule compared to the number who oppose violence against women, the majority opposing the violence can make a huge impact by speaking out or joining organizations like MAAN, according to Pertofsky.
Although less than 5 percent of relationship abuse cases involve males as victims, Baran said, help is available for them as well.
“All of the resources we offer and the dynamics of abuse that we discuss are relevant to male and LGBT victims,” Baran said.
Bystanders also have a responsibility in these cases and can play an enormous role in preventing sexual abuse and violence.
“What do you do when you hear someone make a sexist joke?” Beeson asked. “What do you do when you see someone texting their girlfriend 500 times and asking where they are? How do you see it and label it?”
Pertofsky also gave students tangible advice for how to prevent violence.
“When students see a sketchy situation developing between two students, watch, wait and do not bystand,” she said. “If we truly understand that each of us plays a part of the Stanford Partnership to End Violence Against Women, we can make a powerful difference in ending sexual violence and relationship abuse.”