Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence
Note: This article discusses domestic violence against women, but please note that individuals of all genders can be in abusive relationships.
I have yet to hear of a college that doesn’t warn women about the “1 in 4” of them who will be sexually assaulted during their years on campus. What I’ve heard less of, even from my own campus, is the number of women who will experience intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence. This is described by The Justice Department as: “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This is something I know personally.
The Day Of
I remember the day so clearly. It was the Sunday before finals week started and a group of us were studying in one of the academic buildings on campus. My friend Kelly* and her boyfriend Ryan* were studying in a room separate from the rest of us because they had a final in the same class. They wanted to be able to talk while the rest of us needed quiet, so the rest of us sat in the room next door.
We were used to Kelly and Ryan screaming at each other. They were both incredibly vocal people so their fights always reached excessive volumes. It didn’t surprise us when something had them both raising their voices, shouting curses and inaudible phrases. The dispute seemed to go on for longer than usual, so I suggested to my friends in the room with me that we go check on them. Ultimately, we decided that we should just leave them be. What a mistake that would turn out to be.
The next thing we heard was what sounded like a desk had been thrown against a wall. Silence. We all looked at each other and I went to see what had happened in the room next to us, but all of their things were gone and they were nowhere to be found.
I didn’t hear from Kelly for two whole hours. That’s when she told me that Ryan had thrown her into the wall so hard that it knocked her out. She ended up going to the hospital because the force had also severely damaged her shoulder. Thankfully she lived close to campus so her mother was able to bring her. Ryan had also poured his drink over her laptop which destroyed it.
For the next hour or so, I spent my time updating the rest of our roommates and trying to convince Kelly to report the incident to Public Safety. Around 11pm, I convinced her to go with me and she spent the next four hours retelling her story, saying it was true, then saying she was lying over and over again. It’s not uncommon for domestic violence victims to be in denial or experience guilt when telling their stories. Eventually, the Captain said they would have to put her boyfriend in jail for the night. A panic attack sent her over the edge and she demanded that they take her home. That was the last time I saw or heard from her for a week.
Kelly ultimately decided to bring charges against him through the school and through the town. The town came through relatively quickly, and Ryan ended up taking a plea deal where he would pay for her new laptop and deal with other consequences.
Our school, however, was less promising. All parties involved, including me and the other friends with me at the time, told our side of the stories to the school’s prosecutor along with a few others. During my entire interview it seemed to me that they were looking to find something that would make this incident Kelly’s fault.
“Did she incite this? Did you hear what she said? Did you know if she lashed out at him? Did you know that she threatened him? Could she have spilled the drink on her own laptop?”
I kept repeating the fact that I had only known him to start fights, that I had seen suspicious bruises on her before this incident, that the threat was an excited utterance because she was physically injured and emotionally distraught. And why would anyone pour a drink on their own laptop that they need for school? They thanked me for my time and that was the last I spoke to them.
A decision from the school didn’t come until we had finished the spring semester. Kelly had taken off the spring semester because she couldn’t handle being on campus with Ryan after what he did to her, and we didn’t blame her. We also feared that he or his friends would retaliate against us because we had been making sure that she didn’t let him get away with his actions. Then, the school’s decision came.
To paraphrase, the school said: “we have not found the accused to have broken our institutions code of conduct, specifically intimate partner violence. There is not enough evidence to prove that he has caused emotional or physical damage to the defendant.”
There is not enough evidence to prove…
I can still feel my heart sink. What more evidence could they have needed? The hospital records? They had that. Our testimonies that this was not that first time he had been violent towards her or someone else? We gave those. The completely damaged laptop? Of course, they had that too. A guilty plea? The town had that from Ryan. He pled guilty to the town that the crime was committed in. Furthermore, the night this happened he told a campus officer that he did, in fact, throw her into a wall “like a dart.” But still, our college had decided that they could not hold him responsible for any of this.
The college’s code of conduct for sexual harassment and intimate partner violence outlines that property damage and physical injury will not be tolerated under any circumstance, but the exact opposite was shown here. Kelly was in a sling for a week because of the injury to her shoulder cause by Ryan throwing her into a wall. Kelly’s laptop was destroyed when Ryan poured his drink on it and yet there is not enough evidence to prove that the code of conduct has been broken. There was no justice, just the precedent that victims of domestic violence would not be protected. That their abusers would get to continue their education at school and the victim could either deal with it or transfer. My best friend chose to transfer because our college chose to not protect its students, and she felt unsafe. And her ex-boyfriend gets to live his life like none of this ever happened.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence please visit this site.
*Names changed for the protection of the individuals involved