When asked about Dating Violence Awareness Month, Seth Oldham, director of student affairs, said:
“Let’s face it: dating violence and sexual assault are issues that make us feel a little uncomfortable. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them.”
Dating Violence Awareness Month began on Monday, Feb. 13, when Dr. Sherry Dellinger, assistant vice president of student affairs, gave a talk on how students can determine whether they have healthy or unhealthy dating relationships.
Future events include a talk by Maura Preszler, founder of Made In His Image, entitled “Finding Yourself Before Your Husband” on Wednesday, Feb. 22.
In addition, four community members will be giving presentations and answering questions about any topics associated with relationships on Monday, Feb. 27.
As a campus counselor, Mary Armstrong, LPC, LCDC, also has plans for DVAM.
“I’ll place pamphlets from the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center and other agencies out in the open so people don’t have to schedule an appointment,” Armstrong said.
She says she will do this because she knows a stigma surrounds the Counseling Center, but anyone who enters her office will be reassured by the warm lighting of the room and calmed by the balance of open space between its two comfy chairs.
Armstrong even has an Hoberman sphere toy that her visitors can expand and close to divert their nervous energy as they talk about their struggles.
“Society often asks what the victim did to bring attention to herself or, sometimes, himself,” Armstrong said. “[They ask questions like] what were you wearing? What were you doing? Were you drinking? Perpetrators do not look for specific conditions or characteristics, but for weakness and access. It’s not about [having sex with] the ideal woman. It’s about power. Rapists who are interviewed want to have power and control, and sex is their weapon of choice.”
Armstrong spoke about how sexual assault can also happen in the context of long-term relationships.
“[Sexual assaults occur] mostly [as part of] a luring process through Tinder or other hook-up apps,” Armstrong said. “But sometimes even a lure for employment turns into something else. A majority of these incidents don’t happen in parking lots or bars. Most of them happen in homes, [and] contrary to what society believes, sexual assault also takes place in long-term relationships.”
Armstrong offered practical advice regarding safety.
“Always be aware of your surroundings,” Armstrong said. “When you’re walking somewhere in the dark, place your car keys in your hand. Have an escort and don’t take risks. If you go out at night as a group, go back as a group. Knowing how to say no is also important. Behaviorally rehearse how to get out of a situation.”
Armstrong encourages any victims of sexual assault to use the resources of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center and RAINN.org.
“It is grim, but there is hope. Some [victims] have become motivated enough to tell their story, and some have renewed their relationship with God,” Armstrong said. “Some have felt healed and restored afterwards.”
DVAM will officially conclude with students having the opportunity to finish the phrase “Love is…” on a notecard which will be displayed in Haggar during the week of Monday, March 6. Oldham hopes this project will encourage people to continue an open conversation about these issues.