Domestic abuse more than a big-city problem

Vanessa Marcano

Vanessa Marcano

Emily Silverstein was a compassionate and socially-minded 19-year-old anthropology student at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania when she fell victim to relationship violence. Her ex-boyfriend, 21-year-old Kevin Schaeffer, stabbed and strangled her before killing her in April 2009.

“He never physically abused her ? until that evening. But there was one of the warning signs: he’d always threaten to kill himself if she broke up the relationship,” said Emily’s father, Robert Silverstein. “He was constantly using that as a manipulative tool.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, for every day in 2005, an average of three women were killed by their partners. In 21 percent of college relationships, one of the parties involved is being abused, the research shows.

And the issue of relationship violence is not just a problem on the national level. It hits Brookings, too. About 470 individuals received personal attention at the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter and more than 1,000 crisis calls were received between 2007 and 2008, according to the shelter.

“Though people are aware of the problem, it’s one of those things we like to believe does not happen here,” said Christi Garst-Santos, the adviser to Campus Women’s Coalition and board member of the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter. “It happens more frequently than people are aware.”

It is in this context that, on Sept. 12, the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter will be hosting its third annual Cycle to Stop the Cycle fundraiser, with a goal to raise $10,000. The bike ride is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. from the Brookings Chiropractic Center, with registration starting one hour before the ride. Three circuits – three, 24 and 40 miles respectively – will be open to bikers of all levels.

The registration fee is $35 for individuals and $65 for families, which riders can raise by finding supporters willing to pledge donations for their participation in the event. SDSU students will get $5 waived off their registration upon presenting their student ID. Participants who manage to raise the largest amount in pledges will be eligible to win prizes such as free massages donated by Brookings Chiropractic, a GPS system or a bike donated by Sioux River Bicycles & Fitness.

“Our individual and business donations have been down significantly, resulting in cuts in some of our grants,” Niki Hoese, associate director of the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter, said. “So the money we raise will make up for the differences of where we are lacking.”

The Brookings shelter seeks to care for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. It is open 24 hours and provides emergency shelter, crisis counseling and legal advocacy, such as assistance with protection orders and companions for victims who need to visit an attorney or go to court, Hoese said. All services are free of charge.

“There is always someone physically at the shelter, so we do not have to call anyone outside if we get a crisis call or if someone needs to stay with us; we are one of the only shelters of our size that still does that in our state, and we need funds to keep this going,” Hoese said.

The shelter also serves as a rape crisis counseling site, where sexually assaulted victims can obtain assistance.

Liz Jeppesen, a junior art education major and president of CWC, said volunteers from the organization will help out at the fundraiser.

“The event raises awareness that domestic abuse does happen, and that there is a place to go in Brookings if a person is being abused,” Jeppesen said. “It is much harder to leave an abusive relationship if you don’t know where to go.”

The CWC is also planning a self-defense class with the SDSU Police Department to help empower people against dating and domestic violence, Jeppesen said.

“Victims should know that there are people out there who support and care about them. People in abusive relationships often forget they are worth something, that there are others who can help them,” she said.

A father’s mission

After his daughter’s tragic death, Silverstein launched, a project to prevent others from falling victim to dating violence by increasing awareness, encouraging young people to recognize the signs of relationship violence and asking for help when necessary.

“I saw much information about domestic and teen dating violence, but no resources for college-age students,” said Silverstein.

The Dating Pledge is a non-confrontational way to approach the subject at college campuses nationwide, Silverstein said.

“My goal is for every college and university to have a program for dating violence,” he said. “I’d like to see schools distributing information to students, something they can put in their wallets and have local contacts for help.”

He also recommended that colleges raise awareness so people will identify the possibility of a dangerous relationship, said Silverstein.

“My advice to colleges is to establish an active program against dating violence,” he said. “Students are away from home and need to know where to turn to if they face a potentially dangerous relationship problem.”

His organization is currently carrying out efforts to encourage teens and college students across the U.S. to take the Dating Pledge as part of the National Dating Challenge campaign, which outlines four relationship principles: always treating one’s partner with respect, never physically, sexually or verbally hurting one’s partner, not being controlling or manipulative and always taking responsibility for one’s actions.

“Respect is such a crucial ingredient to every relationship we have with anyone,” said Silverstein. “It is the essence of non-violence.”

Silverstein’s organization hopes to share 1 million dating pledge cards by April 9, 2010. These cards are available for free to all who request them from the Web site. The first target date for the National Dating Challenge is Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace.

“If I can help raise awareness so other young people will not be endangered, then I feel there is a meaning and purpose to my life,” said Silverstein.

Dating violence facts

Data indicates that almost one-third of college-age students report dating violence by a former partner, and 21 percent by a current partner.

On-campus sources available: ? Counseling services:Wellness Center? SDSU Police Department, 688-5117 Online sources on relationship violence: ?

#1.881541:3126767200.jpg:Abuse.CMYK.jpg:Photo Illustration:Ethan Swanson