Reghan Overton ’23 and Hanna Mulhair ’22 spearheaded a support group for people who experienced intimate partner violence. (Photo by Ashley DeLeon)

Jaida Luck | Staff Writer |

Reghan Overton ‘23 and Hanna Mulhair ‘22 saw a need for a support group on campus for students who have experienced intimate partner violence. They created the group after conducting a survey for their sociology class, Restorative Approaches to Intimate Partner Violence. They surveyed 40 students at St. Michael’s and found that most students said they would not trust campus resources to support them in a situation of intimate partner violence.

It’s very likely that you or someone you know has been through some kind of intimate partner violence. About 1 in 4 women and around 1 in 10 men have experienced this in their lifetime according to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC). Intimate partner violence is classified as domestic violence inflicted by a partner in an intimate relationship. It can take a number of different forms, such as physical, verbal, sexual, emotional or economic abuse. 

Two out of 10 Vermonters have experienced some kind of intimate partner violence throughout their life according to the Vermont Department of Health. 

At the University of Vermont, 200-300 students protested on Feb. 18, which was also their accepted students day. Students accused multiple players on the men’s basketball team of sexual assault and harassment, and alleged mishandlings of the incident led to a protest. The University congratulated the men’s basketball team on Instagram, and then stated that anonymous accusations are not helpful to anyone including survivors. Students felt they had been dismissed and not supported by their administration. The post was taken down shortly after it was posted.

 This issue is very prevalent in Vermont, especially on college campuses. Around 21% of college students reported that they experienced dating violence by a current partner, and 32% of college students reported experiencing this by a previous partner. The student-led protest showed this. There are many reasons why survivors don’t feel safe reporting intimate partner violence. Fear of retaliation, shame, and sometimes even feeling like it wasn’t significant enough to report are just a few. 

“Abusers control those in an IPV (intimate partner violence) relationship to utilize tactics of isolation. This isolation makes those that have experienced IPV feel they cannot talk to or relate to anyone else,” said Mark Perry, group facilitator of STEPS in Burlington. 

STEPS provides domestic violence services and support to people in Chittenden County.

“At the college level it is always particularly important to understand students are away from home for the first time. They could be navigating a first long term relationship. So understanding that the students here at St. Michaels are coming to us with a variety of different experiences and knowledge, ” said Catherine Welch, Title IX coordinator at St. Michael’s. 

Kathy Butts, director of Bergeron counseling and co-faculty advisor, noted plans for making the St. Michael’s campus safer in the future. . 

“We could certainly benefit from more of outreach and education on this topic through workshops and posters about resources. I am hopeful that this outreach can be made more available as we add new staff next year through the strategic plan,” she said.

Even at St. Michael’s, students don’t feel like they are always supported by the administration. 

“There is a severe distrust of administration, college students face a lot of obstacles when accessing services. I also noticed a lot of students might be experiencing abuse in a relationship but they don’t have the tools to identify it” Mulhair said. “Students are worried that the administration will not listen to them or take their story seriously.”

Welch explained why many people distrust the administration. 

“We see a similar issue in the community around law enforcement. We know that victims of sexual assault, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence are less likely to report to the police within our community and that’s for a variety of reasons,” she said.

There are three major resources that are confidential and open to students here on campus. The nurses and medical staff, mental health clinicians, as well as the priests within campus ministries. 

“We also offer a wide variety of referrals to off campus resources or community resources…. Connecting them with resources at Hopeworks,” Welch said.

Overton and Mulhair want to create a place where survivors can feel more supported and empowered. They want  to make students aware of the group and provide support for those  experiencing intimate partner violence on campus. 

“It’s student-led, we don’t go back to Bergeron or Title IX, we have a very strict policy, what is said in the room stays in the room,” Overton said. They emphasized that the group is not connected to faculty at all. However, they are a school sponsored group. During winter break, Overton and Mulhair received certification in  community advocacy and are qualified to lead and support students.

Not everyone knows what intimate partner violence really looks like. You may be experiencing intimate partner violence if your partner controls, hurts, berates, blames, threatens you, and or pressures you into sex or sexual situations.

Perry explained the resources that STEPS provides in situations like these.  

“We provide emotional support and can assist with emergency housing through our housing advocates, legal support with legal advocates, and also provide community outreach and support,” he said. Perry mentored Overton and Mulhair, helping them form the group. He also invited them to attend training for intimate partner violence and trauma.  

“My door is always open, I love having conversations, the most powerful solutions can come directly from students, like this student support group,” Welch said.

“Speaking out in a peer support group or calling Steps to End Domestic Violence are great ways to take control back into your life,” Perry said. 

  “It can be very powerful to speak with peers who have been through, or are going through, the same thing you are. Often, peers have a lot of experience, hope, and information to share with one another and it can be empowering,” Butts said.

 The next support group meeting is planned for  March 29 and also takes place every other Tuesday in the Center for Women and Gender at 6:30 p.m.