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  • Writer's pictureEmilie Surrusco

VAWA and domestic violence on college campuses

Believe it or not, Congress is still fighting over the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a ground-breaking piece of legislation that, even for our current do-nothing Congress stuck in partisan gridlock, should be a no-brainer. Yet, here we are, with less than two weeks to go before the August recess, and battered women’s shelters and other crucial service providers for victims of domestic violence around the country continue to wait for Congress to act. If only the violence would wait too.

One provision that must be included in the 2012 VAWA re-authorization would provide for and promote awareness of victims of domestic violence on college campuses. VAWA was first enacted by Congress in 1994 – the year that I was raped in my off-campus apartment by my college boyfriend. I was 20 years old and a college junior. We had been together for more than a year at that point and the abuse had been going on for almost as long. What happened that night in the off-campus apartment we shared with his best friend was the first time the abuse escalated to where I can now say definitively in hindsight, that I was raped.

A few days after that incident I went to my college’s dean of housing and asked to be transferred to a dorm on campus. My boyfriend rarely let me go anywhere by myself anymore so he was with me when I paid that visit to the dean. I couldn’t explain why I so desperately needed to move. I remember holding back tears as I tried to plead with the dean with my eyes. He never even looked at my face as he told me in a harried, condescending tone that I had signed a contract to live in an off-campus apartment that was owned by the college, and he as my landlord wasn’t about to let me off the hook. I could feel my boyfriend smirking behind me. I turned and walked out of that office and never again tried to get help from anyone else on campus. I’d like to believe that if that dean had the training and awareness that has been brought to college campuses today by VAWA, he would have acted differently.

I can only hope that the next 20-year-old college student – who tries tentatively, furtively and yes, in her own way, desperately, to get help – is not turned away. The only way to be sure what happened to me never happens again is for Congress to include protections for the millions of women on campuses across the United States who are victims or at risk of becoming victims of domestic violence or sexual assault in its final re-authorization of VAWA.

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