Every year, Montclair State documents the crime statistics for the previous year according to the Jeanne Clery Act, but this year’s report marks the first time that those numbers include reports of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.
These statistics are now included due to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) amendments to the Clery Act, the law which mandates that all institutions receiving federal financial aid must publish campus safety information and follow certain basic procedures in emergencies.
The VAWA amendments became effective in July 2015, meaning that Montclair State was required to include reports of domestic and dating violence as well as stalking in their report of the previous year, 2014.
The statistics show that there were 11 reports of domestic violence, four reports of dating violence and three reports of stalking at Montclair State in 2014.
According to Captain Kieran Barrett, spokesperson for the University Police Department (UPD), “Stalking under [New Jersey] law is defined as purposefully or knowingly engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress.”
While many students are likely aware of what stalking consists of and how it is different from other crimes, the qualities of and differences between domestic and dating violence may be less straight-forward.
“Domestic violence is a companion law to other offenses, such as assault, sexual assault [and] harassment among others, that is committed against another [person who] may be a spouse, in a dating relationship, within a household or is a relative,” Barrett said. “A companion law adds certain protections as well as stiffer penalties than the underlying offense.”
Dating violence, then, is what Barrett called a “subset” of the larger crime of domestic violence. While dating violence only occurs among those who are considered to be in a dating relationship, domestic violence can take place between individuals in any kind of established relationship, whether they are friends, siblings, roommates, dating, married or connected in some other way.
Barrett said that incidents between roommates in residence halls often contribute to the numbers for domestic violence reports, considering that roommates are classified in the statute as being capable of domestic violence.
In terms of how these reports compare to the years previous, Barrett said, “Comparatively, these numbers remain largely unchanged from year to year, but we can see years where people are more apt to report incidents and there can always be fluctuations plus or minus. 2014 remained similar to 2013.”
Students Ashley Fleming, Marlene Cerqueira and Michael Benavides all agreed that these additions to the Clery Act are positive, since they make students more aware of what happens on campus.
“It’s always good to know what’s around and what could happen to you when you’re on campus,” Benavides, a freshman business major, said.
Cerqueira and Fleming felt it was especially important that these reports are collected in one annual list through the Clery Act statistics, since students don’t always stay on top of campus crime or check their emails about events that occur on campus.
Including these numbers in the Clery Act is part of the VAWA’s overall goal of raising awareness about violence against women and trying to prevent it actively by altering criminal justice practices and providing support to victims of violence, according to the White House’s official website.
At Montclair State, however, trying to prevent these forms of crime does not stop at offering annual statistics. There are several programs available at Montclair State that provide students with information about what these types of violence and abuse constitute and what to do if you are experiencing or know someone who is experiencing these issues.
“In addition to outreach education at such platforms as orientation and social media, the Dean of Students’ Office maintains a Bystander Intervention Program that educates community members on what actions to take when someone they know is being abused,” Barrett said.
There are also two group therapy options for student survivors of violence through Counseling and Psychological Services. Dr. Lisa Weinberg and Dr. Jennifer Vogel-Davis co-facilitate the Women’s Empowerment Group, which acts as a type of therapy, support group and educational opportunity all at once, as well as a partner program with Prepare, Inc. which teaches self-defense to women and also includes a group therapy component.
“The [self-defense] program helped women to experience a decrease in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms and an increase in interpersonal self-efficacy and self-defense,” said Weinberg.
When it comes to supporting someone who has experienced violence, Weinberg said, “The best way for someone to support a survivor is to listen to her story and believe her story and it’s helpful to ask the survivor what kind of help [you] can provide and then work with them to connect them to the appropriate resources.”
Barrett agreed that the possibility to make a difference in the life of someone abused can also be in the hands of students. “We must also recognize that each person has a responsibility to their safety and the safety of others,” he said. “It cannot just be the police, the university or a program. If you know somebody that is in an abusive relationship, see what you can do to help. You may just be the link for them becoming a survivor.”