Violence Prevention Symposium shares resources for victim empowerment

The Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services, with the support of the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) and Ramapo College, hosted the second annual Violence Prevention Symposium on Tuesday. This year’s theme was “Power-Based Violence, A Look Into College Life” and centered around legal resources available to victims of domestic violence and how it can play out on college campuses.

Kat McGee (left) is Ramapo’s director of Title IX, ADA and Compliance Training. Photo by Matthew Wikfors

Panelists included assistant director for the Center for Student Involvement and OVP coordinator Marie-Danielle Attis, members of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office, and resource centers healingSPACE and the Center for Hope and Safety.

“It’s sad that we have to talk about victims of domestic violence because there shouldn’t be any. But the only way we’ll be able to accomplish this is by having moments like this, symposiums like this,” said Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton in his opening remarks. Cureton also served as a panelist, and the idea of engaging and educating people through discussion was a recurring topic throughout the night.

New Milford Councilman Matthew Seymour served as moderator and began the evening’s conversations by focusing on the legal side.

Assistant prosecutor Lee Schaer talked about the two types of relationships most relevant to college students that fall under the umbrella of domestic violence: dating or former dating relationships and people who live together or previously lived together. She said there is extra legal protection in place for victims in these types of relationships because the “attacker is someone who knows them” and may have access to personal information which makes the situation more dangerous.

A big point of discussion during the night was also the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA) in New Jersey, which can protect victims of sexual assault who do not fall under the legal protections of domestic violence. Victims of sexual assault can file for a protective order from the court under SASPA, which prohibits the people who harmed them from having any further contact with them. This can be done without having to go forward with an investigation or prosecution.

“A lot of sex crimes are secret crimes,” said Sgt. Melissa Cullen of the Special Victims Unit of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office. She explained how the Special Victims Unit can aid a victim if they wish for an investigation and the resources available as evidence is gathered to build up a case. Resource centers like healingSPACE can also provide victims with a sexual violence advocate to help comfort and guide them through the process.

Violence Intervention Prevention Peer Educators are available at the OVP to answer questions about affirmative consent and sexual violence. Photo by Matthew Wikfors

Seymour shifted the discussion to domestic violence on college campuses, starting with resources available.

“The one I’m most proud of is our peer education program… it just works really well when our students are talking to their peers,” Attis said. She also discussed Title IX resources and resources from community partners that are available for students as well.

Panelist Onya Brown, associate dean, Title IX Coordinator and head of the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council at Felician University, talked about how other factors like ethnicity and a student’s own socioeconomic status can play a factor in the decision to come forward and report their sexual assault or domestic violence incidents.

Since Felician is a Hispanic-serving institution and a majority of students there are people of color, Brown said their distrust of police, the criminal justice system and authority figures can make it difficult to help victims. Brown said she tries to meet students where they are at by spending time in areas where students frequent and through events like the Red Flag Green Flag campaign, where students list healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors on green and red flags to hang around campus for visibility.

An important aspect of domestic violence on college campuses the panelists discussed was stalking in college relationships. Retired N.J. Superior Court Judge Ronny Jo Siegal defined stalking as “any pattern of behavior where one specific person is insistent and persistent on retaining access to their victim.” The panelists then discussed different forms stalking can take like unwanted gifts, texts or phone calls and showing up where the victim works.

Further topics of the night included bystander intervention and red flags for relationship behavior. “I want you to know that the judiciary, as well as every panelist here who represents an agency is here for you… so you’re not alone,” Siegal said in her closing remarks.

Featured photo by Matthew Wikfors