Panel discussion brings awareness to domestic violence


La’Miya Starnes, Reporter

UK Student Activities Board (SAB) partnered with the VIP Center and invited students to a domestic violence awareness panel discussion on Oct. 20 in the Gatton Student Center Senate Chambers.

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the discussion panel offered advice and information about on- and off-campus resources. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an average of 20 people experience physical abuse by intimate partners every minute. Therefore, more than 10 million people annually are victims of physical abuse in their relationship.

Purple is the color for domestic violence awareness, and so some women wore purple at the panel to support the movement. Panelists spoke from their profession in different fields actively supporting survivors of dating and domestic violence. Speakers included Lieutenant Andrea Eilertson of the Lexington Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, UKPD Special Victims Advocate Leigh Koetsch, UK Counseling Center Associate Director Diane Sobel and Meredith Reeves from the Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity.

The facilitator, Taryn Henning, asked questions from the perspective of violence intervention and prevention. UK offers this form of support in the VIP Center, found in the student center.
Eilertson said if anyone expresses they have experienced assault, “we are going to believe you. We are going to listen to you and tell you all the options that you have.”

The panel highlighted the stereotypical image of dating or domestic violence: a cisgender, heterosexual couple where the man is the abusive to the woman. However, Eilertson said that any liaison of LGBTQ+, any race and any gender can be a victim, and support is available to all communities.

Reeves shared how certain resources and student support roles did not exist when she was a college student. From the university perspective, Reeves said she feels it is important to talk about domestic violence so students know they are not alone. She explained that college is a lot to juggle because students are involved and have other responsibilities outside of those of a student. More than a student, someone can be a partner in a relationship, an employee or a parent.

Another question raised in the panel regarded the difference between domestic and dating violence. Domestic violence has a more legal definition: the violence would be labeled as domestic if the people involved live together, have children together or are family members. Outside of this definition, law enforcement names the violence an assault.

Dating violence can involve someone one is exclusively dating or casually hanging out with.
Sobel said that when she considers dating or domestic abuse, she has a broader perspective.

Isolation, possessive behavior, emotional abuse and verbal abuse are all considered when someone is seeking counsel during or after an abusive relationship. The panel said that breaking away and healing from an abusive situation will look different for each survivor.

The panel said that if someone wants to seek student support, there is no specific place they must start in seeking help. Instead, they recommended that people go where they are most comfortable.
Koetsch mentioned the importance of using confidentiality when sharing information about their experiences.

“Use hypotheticals like ‘a friend of mine’ or ‘hypothetically speaking,’” Koetsch said.

All advocates on the panel said they want survivors to know that they are in control of their healing journey. If someone decides they do not wish to continue with any process, they are not bound to do so.

The goal of this panel was “to make students feel less alone regarding this issue, and work to improve mental health,” according to SAB’s Instagram post about the event.

“I feel UK will 100 percent support us in a situation like this,” Emma Kinely, a senior at UK, said.

Resources in Lexington, Kentucky, that provide advocacy, safety planning and shelter options include Greenhouse17 and The Nest. Additionally, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a 24-hour call/text/chat line that is free and confidential for resources on domestic or dating violence.