The University Record, March 26, 1996

Task Force on Violence Against Women outlines steps taken

By Mary Jo Frank
University Relations

Co-workers and classmates often are unaware of the plight of women around them who are entangled in abusive relationships, says Debra Cain, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Aware ness Center (SAPAC).

However, an abusive husband, boyfriend or "ex" can be as dangerous to a woman's health and well-being as the stranger who stalks or commits other acts of violence and the effects of abuse often spill over into work or the classroom, notes Daniel G. Saunders, associate professor of social work.

Cain and Saunders are co-chairs of the Task Force on Violence Against Women on Campus, which has been working since January 1995 to increase awareness of the many ways that violence against women manifests itself in the University community.

"We need to think about violence in the broader context. Whether it happens on campus or in our lives outside of work, violence affects how we perform as students, faculty and staff," Cain says.

Curbing violence against women is an important component of the Michigan Agenda for Women, launched in April 1994. In the first-year progress report on the Michigan Agenda, released last summer, President James J. Duderstadt wrote: "Violence against women on campus is a serious problem that interferes with students' ability to fully utilize the resources of the University and with faculty and staff members' ability to contribute fully."

The task force, which was appointed by the president and reports to Vice Provost for Health Affairs Rhetaugh G. Dumas, has been asked to assess the nature and scope of the problem of violence against women, develop and propose corrective actions, implement actions that are approved by the administration, monitor progress, and propose additional remedies, if necessary.

According to the task force's initial report, which was issued earlier this year, "the ultimate goal is to change campus culture so that violence against women will no longer be accepted, thus making the campus environment safer and healthier for all women in the U-M community: students, staff, faculty and their family members."

The task force concluded that "women at the University of Michigan would benefit greatly if we could increase the safety of all women students, staff, faculty, and their family members whether on campus or at home, by creating a community free from all forms of violence against women. These forms of violence include sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, stalking, threats of violence, and other abusive behavior. Moreover, by increasing the safety of women, the entire campus community will benefit."

The task force said that in addition to providing a campus that is physically safe, the U-M needs to look at ways to change some of the attitudes that condone or perhaps even encourage acts of violence against women. It concluded that education is an essential element of any attempt to address the problem.

A number of steps already have been initiated or implemented. These include:

 

Adding information about violence against women in Housing leases.

 

Increasing the number of hours devoted to teaching in the Medical School about violence and women.

 

Writing letters supporting the suspension of a student who wrote and sent a sexually explicit and threatening e-mail message about a female student.

In addition to collaborating with Ann Arbor's Commission for Increasing Safety for Women, the task force and its 12 subcommittees are working closely with individual campus units to focus on areas of concern.

For example, the Media/Public Relations Subcommittee is concentrating on increasing community awareness. Sub committee Chair Elizabeth H. Hall says that information posters about violence against women will be posted in all U-M buses by the end of spring term. The posters are similar to those used on Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses.

In the works is a 1997 edition of the English Composition Board-sponsored publication PRISM, which will focus on violence against women. PRISM features writings by faculty, staff and students throughout the University. The publication is expected to stimulate widespread discussion and education about the topic.

Task force recommendations for a violence prevention and education program for student athletes and a dating/domestic violence prevention program are being implemented by SAPAC.

Another subcommittee is focusing on the unique needs of international students.

Saunders says the task force also is working on a new campuswide document that will include current laws and campus policies dealing with violence against women, prevention strategies and local resources available to women in vio lent relationships. The information already is being used to update the Department of Public Safety's "Campus Safety Handbook."

"We found definitions are not consistent and there are gaps in existing campus manuals. Some manuals might have a section on sexual harassment but not on domestic violence," notes Saunders.

The task force also is developing a survey dealing with violence against women. In addition to increasing awareness, results could be used to evaluate existing services, to look at risk factors, and to gather baseline information to test the effectiveness of new programs, he explains.

Duderstadt and Dumas are pleased with the task force's progress.

"This has been a very hard-working and intensely committed task force. Members have given considerable time and energy to problems and to issues related to violence against women," Dumas says.

Noting that the task force's final report is due this summer, Dumas says, "It is my hope that various sectors of the University community will carry it forward."