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UMW combats dating violence

The Univeristy of Mary Washington issued to the following press release today:

A student club at the University of Mary Washington is leading an effort on the Fredericksburg campus to raise awareness of dating violence on college campuses.

This week, Student Anti-Violence Educators (SAVE) launched the Red Flag Campaign, a nationwide movement to combat dating violence. The group lined Campus Walk with red flags and  posted fliers throughout campus that address emotional abuse, coercion, excessive jealousy, isolation, sexual assault, victim blaming and stalking. 

Women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest per capita rate of intimate partner violence, according to figures supplied by the Red Flag Campaign. 

 “We’re so susceptible to that violence,” said Shelley Hillberry, president of SAVE.  “It doesn’t have to be this scary thing, it can be changed.”

She hopes the campaign will help open discussion on campus, saying dating violence is “not a taboo topic.”

As part of the campaign, male students, faculty and staff have signed pledges vowing not to commit or condone violence and then sealed their pledges with their handprints on posters. Other supportive posters display the handprints of men representing various sports, clubs and academic societies.

Hillberry said SAVE’s goal is to provide peer education and to train students to actively listen and follow appropriate protocol with fellow students who may have experienced violence. She said many victims are more likely to talk about it with friends than report it to the police.

SAVE was founded in 2009 by junior James Sennett and alum Hassan Abdelhalim after two high-profile assaults occurred on campus.  Sennett’s inspiration for the club was a similar organization at the College of William & Mary.

Hillberry also was impacted by the assault, while she was working as a volunteer victim advocate with the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault.  The assault proved to be an “awakening moment” for her, as she was determined to make UMW students aware of useful tactics to combat dating violence and recognize its prevalence on college campuses.

Both Sennett and Hillberry were honored in Washington, D.C. earlier in the semester by Vice President Joe Biden for their efforts against dating violence.

Since SAVE debuted at UMW, the group has thrived as an advocacy group for students as well as a promoter of national initiatives, such as the Red Flag Campaign and the White Ribbon Campaign.

Senior Shannon Harris, who has been involved with SAVE since it began, said Red Flag week helps raise awareness of not only dating violence, but also recognition of the club on campus.

“We’re actually here, we are a legitimate resource and we want people to use us,” Harris said. “In the past, we had no resources for them.”

“I feel like we’ve made a pretty substantial impact,” Sennett said.  “It’s the stuff that comes after an attack, that people don’t see, that makes a difference.”

Other events for the week include:

  • On Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m., a film screening of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” followed by a panel discussion in Dodd Auditorium. The event is sponsored by SAVE and the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault.
  • On Thursday, Oct. 28 from noon to 4 p.m., a Pledge Tree in front of Lee Hall will allow students to sign pledges to “say something” to stop dating violence.  Free cookies and hot chocolate will be provided.
  • On Friday, Oct. 29 from noon to 4 p.m., the “Clothesline Project” will be on display in front of Lee Hall as a “testimony to the problem of violence against women.”  It will be hosted by the Rappahannock Council on Domestic Violence.