Opinions on abuse slow to change

The Columbus Dispatch – October 6, 2007

Some organizers would be discouraged to learn that a year-old campaign to help make college students aware of the dangers of relationship abuse hadn’t significantly changed opinions.

But not the organizers of the “It’s Abuse” campaign at Ohio State University, who say the results of their second online survey prove it can take years to change attitudes and even more time to change behavior.

“If it was so easy, Coke and Pepsi wouldn’t have commercials on TV every night,” said Martin Saperstein, whose public-opinion research firm conducted the surveys for the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence and Ohio State.

The fact that “not much changed in a year,” Saperstein said, supports organizers’ theory that emotional, physical and sexual assaults are such a big problem in the world and on college campuses that it will take a culture shift to solve.

“Women ages 16 to 24 years old experience the highest per-capita rate of intimate violence — 16 out of every 1,000 women — and are among the most vulnerable,” said Karen Days, the coalition’s president.

Though one in three OSU students surveyed reported having been ridiculed, pressured into having sex or hit, kicked or choked, relationship abuse is not a problem limited to the Columbus campus.

“This is an issue on our campus as it is on all campuses,” said Louise Douce, director of OSU’s Counseling and Consultation Service.

The difference, she said, is Ohio State is taking a leadership role in teaching college students that is isn’t OK to be abused and to seek help.

The surveys asked students how concerned they are about abusive relationships in relation to other societal problems, as well as whether they or anyone they knew had experienced violence in a relationship.

About 7,600 students of the more than 45,000 contacted by e-mail responded to the latest survey for a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point. Nearly 7,000 responded to the first survey.

“The simple fact that more students filled out this last survey is an indicator that the campaign has raised awareness and interest,” Douce said.

With a few exceptions, the students’ answers closely mirrored the responses of those who took the survey in ’06, Saperstein said, indicating the students probably answered truthfully and were representative of the larger student body at OSU and its four branch campuses.

The Internet plays a prominent role in the campaign, which is centered around a Web site — www.ItsAbuse.com, in addition to a referral line: 614-223-1111.

Of the students who responded, 30 percent said they have experienced extreme jealousy from a partner; 30 percent have been routinely ignored; 15 percent have been pressured into sex; and 11 percent were physically abused.

More students this year reported they would go to a residence assistant in their dorm or police if they saw someone being abusive.

Organizers plan to continue to spread the word through blogs, contests, presentations to student leaders, rallies and street theater performances, as well as the creation of an advisory council.

After expanding the effort at OSU, the coalition would like to introduce the campaign at another Columbus-area university. The group is still trying to determine which campus to work with next.

“We’d like to start a national movement with Ohio State University and other central Ohio colleges at the center,” Days said.