Experts offer insights as Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins


Beth Starling, [email protected], Contributor

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins in October, UNC Asheville and Helpmate provide resources to students who may be experiencing intimate partner abuse. 

“One incident is one too many,” said UNCA Title IX and Clery Act coordinator Heather Lindkvist. 

Title IX is a civil rights process, Lindkvist said. Title IX refers to the federal civil rights law congress passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. Lindkvist said anyone who works with her office is entitled to equitable, unbiased support, investigations and processes.

Congress passed the Clery Act, named after Jeanne Clery, in 1990, when a fellow student raped and murdered Clery in her dorm room in Pennsylvania in 1986. The Clery Act requires universities to report crimes that occur on campus and publish an annual security report.

“My office is about securing a safe, secure and inclusive living, learning and working environment,” Lindkvist said.

The Title IX office provides resources and supportive measures for students who experience any form of sexual violence or intimate partner violence. Lindkvist said increasing awareness of the signs of abuse can help stop the behavior.

“Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors that reinforce power and control in a relationship,” said Alice Beecher, youth outreach specialist for Helpmate of Asheville. 

Helpmate, located at 35 Woodfin Street in Asheville, provides services such as a 24-hour hotline, safety planning, education, emergency shelter, counseling, support groups and court advocacy to survivors of intimate partner violence.

“One prevalent and unfortunately growing trend is digital abuse,” Beecher said. 

A survior of digital abuse may experience coercion by a partner to access their social media accounts and texts, which is a violation of privacy and autonomy, Beecher said. 

“Specific to college students, trying to control somebody’s class schedule or what kind of clubs or social activities somebody engages with. Trying to prevent somebody from studying or completing academic classes is really common,” Beecher said. 

Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Kelly Brahy said abuse can be psychological and manifest as being overly controlling, constantly wanting to know someone’s location, who they are talking to and how they spend their money.

“It can display itself in such a manner as downgrading someone’s appearance, how they perceive themselves, taking them away from their friends-meaning wanting to spend every waking hour with them and making the individual feel guilt for wanting to have their own time,” Brahy said.

A cycle of abuse starts with an abusive incident of any form that rocks the relationship, which is followed by a honeymoon period of the abuser trying to mend the relationship by apologizing and perhaps buying gifts, Brahy said. 

 “The honeymoon phase will be followed by a phase of increasing tension where folks often describe the sensation of walking on eggshells,” Beecher said. “They’re nervous about that person’s mood changing.” 

Another abusive incident usually follows the honeymoon phase. If the abuse goes on for a long time and the victim becomes more isolated from outside support, the honeymoon phase goes away and the cycle escalates to just bouncing between the tense phase and the abuse phase, Beecher said.

“One huge risk factor is whether or not your partner drinks or uses substances,” said Pamela Laughon, associate professor of psychology at UNCA. “That would predict abuse would increase.”

Laughon said warning signs of escalation are increases in physical aggression and the abuser asserting more control and monitoring their partner more often. The risk of escalation increases if the abuser is mentally ill or has a lower IQ. 

“The chance of potentially lethal action on the part of the abuser increases dramatically by 75% when someone makes the decision to leave,” Beecher said.

Beecher said Helpmate uses a lethality assessment questionnaire for their shelters to evaluate risk. Some questions on the list ask about threats made to the survivor, threats of suicide, employment status, if they’ve ever tried to choke the survivor or if they own or have access to a gun.

“They need to be able to facilitate a plan to get away,” Brehy said. 

Along with safety planning, the Title IX office located at 112 Highsmith Union provides academic accommodations to students experiencing intimate partner violence. Lindkvist said her office can communicate with faculty to arrange for accommodations such as extensions on assignments.

“Sometimes students have to withdraw,” Lindkvist said.  “Part of what I can do is help facilitate withdrawals without it affecting some areas of their academic performance.”

The Title IX office can issue a co-contact order, which goes to both parties and prohibits direct and indirect contact through third parties and includes social media. 

In situations where it’s been reported and observed that there has been physical violence, the no-contact order is not issued at the discretion of the survivor but is issued as an institutional directive through the Title IX office due to the impact it can have on the broader community, Lindkvist said.

“I do facilitate conversations with university police. An individual can speak with university police anonymously without providing identifying information so they can learn what options are available for them, like protective measures,” Lindkvist said.

Lindkvist said the Title IX office can provide residential accommodations and emergency relocation housing if someone is feeling unsafe in their residence hall. She also said university police can issue a ban letter against someone who is considered a threat, which would require filing a police report.

A ban letter from the university police can prohibit an individual from being on university property or can prohibit a UNCA affiliated individual from accessing specific university properties, such as academic buildings or residence halls. A violation of a ban letter results in arrest, Lindvist said. 

“The Title IX office is our main resource,” Laughon said.

Laughon said friends of survivors of intimate partner violence can be supportive by being good listeners and being non-judgemental.

“You’d be the person that would be the person that would go with them to the magistrate, go with them to the Title IX office, just staying on top of it without the lecture,” Laughon said. “Just really supportive listening is about all you can do and being really patient with the idea that they are going to have to come to this in their own way.” 

Beecher said survivors of abuse face a lot of judgment. She said being an active listener, being non-judgemental and continuing to be a presence in the survivor’s life can be helpful. 

“It’s really vital that anybody that’s a friend to a survivor tries to empower that person to make the choices that feel right and feel safe for them,” Beecher said.


Correction made on Oct. 4 regarding the actions the Title IX office and campus police can take.