The University Record, October 1, 1997

Task force continues to grapple with violence against women

By Rebecca A. Doyle

A poster provided by the Family Violence Prevention Fund shows a photo of a woman cowering on the floor at the feet of a man who stands above her with clenched fists. Superimposed are the words "If the noise coming from next door were loud music, you'd do something about it."

It is this kind of public appeal that has perhaps made a difference in recognizing domestic violence as a force that must be dealt with and not overlooked.

Dan Saunders, associate professor of social work and co-chair with Patricia Coleman-Burns of the President's Task Force on Violence Against Women on Campus, described the image clearly and precisely. Talking about safety issues for women following the brutal murder of student Tamara S. Williams at her North Campus apartment, Saunders noted that in the past, police were slower to respond to calls of domestic violence than other types of assault.

Coleman-Burns, during a press conference following the murder, said that not only did police historically not respond as quickly, but neighbors were less likely to become involved.

"Historically, people would not get involved; they would see a domestic event and turn their backs," she said. That was not the case in this incident, she stressed. "What is most striking and painful about this is the young woman and the community responded in the best possible way we know of at this time." Williams tried to get help, neighbors at the North Campus apartment complex tried to help her, and Department of Public Safety officers rushed to the scene within three minutes. But it was too late to help Tamara Williams, who died three hours after reaching the emergency room at University Hospital.

The task force, formed following a roundtable discussion in the fall of 1994, has been active since 1995 in reaching out to the entire University community.

"It goes beyond the safety of the individual," Saunders says. "We are trying to change basic attitudes about violence against women." The task force has mounted a media campaign, producing cards with emergency numbers, posters, and bumper stickers and distributing flyers to all first-year students, with a special focus on the North Campus international community.

"Violence in close relationships is just as dangerous, and sometimes more so than the violence on the street between strangers," Saunders says. "Sometimes people don't seek help because of intimidation, repeated assaults and threats that keep them from getting help." He said that the North Campus area has been particularly targeted in the campaign because many of the women there are wives of international students who are not students themselves and may feel isolated from the rest of the community.

Coleman-Burns, assistant professor of nursing and director of the School of Nursing's multicultural affairs office, has been involved in the issues surrounding domestic violence for nearly 10 years. The University, she says, has given students the information they need to know about domestic violence as well as "a lot of information about all the issues we think are important for them as citizens to live a happy, productive life at the University."

"They have this information," she said. "Now, we must move to the next step, to let everybody know, particularly the young women who are involved in these situations, that they need not be silent. If they are intimidated or frightened in a relationship, they need to reach out and tell someone, and keep telling them until someone listens."

In its recent report to President Bollinger, the task force highlighted accomplishments in exploring new ways of distributing safety information to the community: training and coordination with Michigan athletes to produce posters addressing violence against women, drafting a Web page that will soon be available and distributing information to new students.

The task force also includes in its future goals identifying any gaps in current campus services to victims of domestic violence and finding ways to fill those gaps.

Safety tips for those who are threatened with domestic violence

During a violent incident:

During a violent argument, try to move to a room or area that has access to an exit. Avoid a bathroom, kitchen and any place near weapons.

Practice how to get out of your home. Identify which doors, windows, elevator or stairwell would be best.

Devise a signal or code word to use with your family, friends and neighbors when you need the police.

Identify a neighbor you can tell about the violence. Ask that neighbor to call the police if they hear a disturbance coming from your home or a pre-arranged signal.

Decide and plan where you will go if you have to leave home (even if you don't think you will need to). This should be a safe place from which you can call for further assistance.

Use your own instincts and judgment. You have the right to protect yourself until you are out of danger.

Always remember˜you don't deserve to be hit or threatened.

Safety on the job and in public:

Area domestic violence programs:

(Area code 313 unless noted.)

Statewide toll-free hotline, (800) 333-SAFE

Domestic Violence Project/SAFE House, 995-5444

HAVEN (Oakland Co.), (810) 334-1274

LACASA (Livingston Co.), (810) 227-7100

Interim House (Wayne Co.), 861-5300

My Sister's Place (Wayne Co.), 371-3900

First Step (Wayne Co.), 459-5900

This information is provided in "Domestic Violence Safety Plan," a brochure provided by the Ann Arbor Domestic Violence Coordinating Board under a grant from the Ameritech Safety Alliance.