AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – On October 14th The Means Report honored Domestic Violence Awareness Month with an episode, but it quickly became clear that there was so much more to discuss. Dr. Allison Foley graciously agreed to return to the show to go deeper into this important discussion, from defining what domestic violence is to the fact that it’s not just a women’s issue.
Brad Means: Allison Foley is here to guide us through all of it. Allison is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Augusta University. You were just here, so thanks for coming back. I do appreciate it.
Dr. Allison Foley: Thank you.
Brad Means: And I wanted to pick up on something where we left off last time, it was about your students and the concerns that they have, because your answer did surprise me. I thought you were going to say nobody in college is worried about abuse or violence, it’s just a happy, great, peaceful time. What are you picking up from those kids in your classroom and on campus when it comes to domestic violence issues and concerns?
Dr. Allison Foley: Well, one of the things that we spoke about related to this last time was my comment that I’ve had so many students disclose their history of intimate partner abuse to me, more than any student has disclosed any other kind of criminal victimization. A lot of those students, ’cause I’ve been at Augusta University for 12 years now, and when we were ASU we had even more non-traditional older students, so a lot of those disclosures came from women who were non-traditional students who had been previously married and their marriages were abusive. But what we see these days at AU, more students report sexual harassment and other kinds of sexual misconduct than intimate partner abuse just because they’re less likely to live with a partner so they’re more likely to be having the dating violence. So that can be a little bit different when you’re not living with that person. But they are certainly dealing with, the younger students are a little more similar to our highschool students out there, right? And they are more knowledgeable I think of the definitions of abuse and the definitions of even sexual abuse and sexual assault than they ever have been, and so they’re concerned about, they’re able to notice those red flags, but they’re concerned about how many red flags is enough red flags to break up, to leave.
Brad Means: Right, and that’s what I wanted to ask you about today. And let’s start with the sexual harassment aspect of all of this. Who’s harassing them? Their employers or their boyfriends or both? Or others?
Dr. Allison Foley: Yeah, it varies.
Brad Means: And so, what do they do, just come to you and say, I need to speak to you about something, and then they just open up?
Dr. Allison Foley: Usually when students disclose to me and often other faculty, it’s past tense, it’s something that they have been through previously, not something that just happened to them. But sometimes when it is, sometimes they do disclose to faculty when it has just happened, and it can be harassment from an employer, it can be harassment from a professor, it can be harassment from a coworker, or just other students.
Brad Means: What do you do? What do you tell them?
Dr. Allison Foley: Well, we are required to tell them that we have to report this to the authorities at the university, and that they’ll have the option of really going forward with prosecuting that internally. They’ll have the option to go seek counseling within or outside the university. They’ll have the option to report to police or not as long as it’s not a situation where it’s very clear that the perpetrator poses an ongoing threat and could threaten other students.
Brad Means: Do you think that our society has grown and evolved in the sense that we don’t tolerate domestic violence as much as we used to? It seems, if I had to guess, in the past 40 years-ish, that it really has come to the forefront, where before that it was very secretive.
Dr. Allison Foley: Yes, yes, absolutely. I think we are seeing an increase in reporting that I think we can’t be completely sure the role of the Me Too movement, but it’s completely reasonable to assume that the increased disclosures around when the Kavanaugh hearings were taking place last year, during the Me Too movement, we see that now in our official crime data. We see that in official reports that the American Association of Universities surveys that they do about sexual harassment and sexual misconduct and domestic violence of college students. So people are more likely to admit that it’s happening to them and people I think are more likely to condemn it certainly more than 40 years ago. But we do see some evidence, especially with young people, and this is probably true for most people, too, that they downplay their own experience, and they think, my situation isn’t that bad, my situation isn’t that big of a deal, or nobody’s gonna believe me, but other people are being believed.
Brad Means: Go back to that red flag way of looking at things, if you will. How many flags does it take before you say this is legitimately serious?
Dr. Allison Foley: Right, right.
Brad Means: You know what I mean? Like an argument.
Dr. Allison Foley: That’s such a good question.
Brad Means: But an argument between couples wouldn’t cross that threshold necessarily, a non-physical argument. But when do you say, you know what, no. This is turning into something bad? Or does it just vary too much?
Dr. Allison Foley: I think it does just vary. I think it does just vary. I’ve had some of my students who have disclosed to me, you know, every victim when they recover and they survive this sort of abuse they will be able to identify, “You know, it really changed me.”
Brad Means: Sure, when they look back.
Dr. Allison Foley: Yeah, ’cause hindsight is 20/20, right? But I’ve had students say, “I really knew that it was a problem “and I had to leave when he kicked my dog.” So when it’s not just me, it’s somebody else is being affected, or kids, or just when it became physical for the first time. But in terms of the red flags, the actual risk factors that should signal to somebody, “This is escalating and it’s going to get out of hand,” extreme jealousy is one that’s really significant, and it’s actually more significant of a predictor of attempts at lethal violence for same-sex female couples than it even is, I mean it’s still a risk factor for heterosexual couples too, but that’s something that people really need to take seriously and be willing to say, when this person is being controlling and very jealous, very possessive of you, nobody can tolerate that.
Brad Means: You know, you have the Me Too movement, you have the growing prevalence of the LGBT community, and with that you have more reporting of domestic violence issues that impact those groups and one of the things coming out of the LGBT reporting is that there’s a lot of abuse when it comes to, not just physical, but threatening to out a partner, or saying that a partner isn’t really a true member of that community. Does that kind of fall under the emotional abuse category which can affect people no matter their station in life, right?
Dr. Allison Foley: Yes, absolutely.
Brad Means: And that’s still domestic violence.
Dr. Allison Foley: Yes it is. Yes, yeah, absolutely. Emotional abuse has psychological effects on individuals and it has social effects in terms of isolating people, and a lot of times that’s intentional. But it’s something that is often overlooked because we do have this tendency not to act until it gets physical, and until the physical abuse impacts not just the victim but somebody else around them too.
Brad Means: I hope people won’t wait until it goes that far because as Allison mentioned, just that emotional abuse can be a huge indicator of worse things to come. When we come back, what about guns? What role do they play when it comes to domestic violence? I can tell you that the studies show that if there’s a gun in the house it’s not a good thing. So we want to talk about Allison’s take on that. We also want to take a look at the resources that are available to help our victims of domestic violence. We want to raise as much awareness as we can here on the Me Too movement.
Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. We are continuing to talk about domestic violence during October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with Allison Foley, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Augusta University. Allison, do you ever hear from male students or men period about domestic abuse. We know it impacts both sexes.
Dr. Allison Foley: We do. Not often. Me, personally, not often. I’ve had a few disclosures over the years from men, and it’s usually been sexual abuse as a child or child abuse from a parent when they were a child.
Brad Means: You mentioned the Me Too movement getting so much attention during the Kavanaugh hearings and when there’s something that’s noteworthy nationally, but when that spotlight is turned off, does the movement lose momentum? Do we see less reporting, less talk about it?
Dr. Allison Foley: I don’t know about any fluctuation.
Brad Means: You haven’t noticed anything.
Dr. Allison Foley: No.
Brad Means: People are still into the Me Too movement.
Dr. Allison Foley: I think so, but we are just within the last two months and in some cases just this month we have had 2018 data, crime data, released, and survey data released. That might have caught the end, would have caught the end of 2018, so it’d be interesting to see what we learn about 2019 at this time next year.
Brad Means: You know, one of the most important things you all have done historically on your campus is the Take Back the Night event and the t-shirts that are displayed with messages from victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Does that help encourage people to come report for the first time?
Dr. Allison Foley: Yes, yeah, I believe so. In October too we have the Safe Home Survivors Walk, also. The tricky thing about understanding the impact of awareness events or prevention education seminars, or series or programs or something like that is if you build it, they will come. So if you are teaching people the true definition of abuse and providing them the information on what to do when it happens to them or someone they care about, they’re more likely to report. So then we see an increase in reporting the more active we are. So it kind of makes it look like those events, those attempts aren’t having an effect, but they are.
Brad Means: It makes you want to have more of them.
Dr. Allison Foley: It’s a good thing that people are reporting, which is not to say that everyone who reports has a wonderful experience after they disclose, after they call the police, or anything like that, but it’s known, and it’s out there, and it helps everyone understand that this still happens, it still happens all the time, and any level of victimization is too much victimization.
Brad Means: You know, research has shown that if there’s a gun in the house it’s more likely to be used in a domestic violence situation, and also more likely to have deadly consequences. What can be done about that? When you start talking about anything that has to do with guns, it gets real tricky.
Dr. Allison Foley: I know it does. I know it does, and I’ll say a dirty word in a minute.
Brad Means: Well you say it, and then do we just wait until the first offense and then say, now you may never have a gun again. How do we get it out of their hands before that offense is committed? What are your thoughts?
Dr. Allison Foley: Oh, gosh, well, um, woo, I don’t know about that part. I think that we need to cultivate a culture that is less reliant on guns to solve people’s problems for them. That can help, cultivating a culture of non-violence and mutual respect for other people. Non-violent conflict resolution, that can help.
Brad Means: That’s mom and dad’s job, right?
Dr. Allison Foley: Oh, that’s mom and dad’s job, that’s the school’s job, I mean, that’s everybody’s job, that’s what I would say. It’s gonna be difficult to keep fire arms out of people’s hands who are going to use them for bad later on, but we can certainly do better to reduce abusers’ access to firearms, I mean it is, anybody who is court-ordered, has a court protection order against them from their abuse victim, usually they’re not allowed to be in possession of a gun. If they’re participating in a batter-intervention program in most states, like ours, we’ll call ’em Family Violence Intervention Programs, they’re not supposed to have a gun. That’s part of the state requirement for programs to require of the participants, and it’s against federal law for even misdemeanor domestic violence offenders to possess or purchase a gun. But how do you actually make sure that they don’t have them? We aren’t routinely going in and confiscating, there’s the dirty word that sets people off. Police aren’t confiscating those weapons, we’re telling them, “You have to give this stuff up.”
Brad Means: So it’s one thing to just say, “Because you’re an offender you can’t have this anymore,” versus going, “Oh, you do have it, “I’m gonna take it from you.”
Dr. Allison Foley: Exactly.
Brad Means: Do you think the criminal justice system over all is doing enough to deter domestic violence, and if not, what more can be done? Are punishments tough enough?
Dr. Allison Foley: I don’t think punishments are tough enough at the misdemeanor level, no. I think that there’s this tendency to think, “Well, if it really does get worse, “then the person will catch a felony eventually “and then we can do the real punishment.” Certainly Family Violence Intervention Programs do change some people, certainly, but others it’s not effective, and we need to be more focused on prevention. I would say we do need to stiffen punishments at the misdemeanor level. We need state law that mirrors federal law. In Georgia we do not have a state statute that actually mirrors the federal ban on misdemeanor domestic violence offenders from having guns. There is a state bill that’s been written, it’s been introduced in spring, so that might go somewhere. And we need to assess people’s risk for future domestic violence offending at all points in the system and talk to their victims and do risk assessment with the victims, and that needs to inform what we do with the offenders.
Brad Means: What about external factors that might lead people to be violent, movies, video games, anything you’d like to see in those areas where we dial it back a little bit?
Dr. Allison Foley: Sure, I would love to see it dialed back a bit. But I don’t, I also–
Brad Means: It’s not likely, is it?
Dr. Allison Foley: No, it’s not. I think that we all need to be mindful of just how violent, just how prevalent violence is in our media, both in fictional form as well as on the news. But we also need to be mindful that young people are educated on what the signs are, educated on what domestic violence is. We need to intervene with kids who witness it and experience it young, and we need to really prioritize that ’cause it does increase their risk both of becoming victims or of becoming perpetrators. Having really negative attitudes about women, having really traditional gender role ideas, those are also risk factors too, and those are things we can teach our kids.
Brad Means: Probably last question. Are you seeing any abuse through social media? Or at least early indications that abuse is imminent? Because there’s a lot of bullying going on online.
Dr. Allison Foley: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Brad Means: ou see it at the college level?
Dr. Allison Foley: I see it at every level. I see it at every level.
Brad Means: So you’re with me. You think we should get rid of social media. We should make it go away, right? Just hit the delete button. Learn how to just have conversations with each other like this, but that’s never gonna happen. But you’re right, I do. Not to put words in your mouth, but you’ve said in the whole interview, we need to do more as a society to help everybody have better outcomes. Allison Foley, I knew our time would fly by. We dedicated an entire Means Report to you. We need to do two Means Reports with you, but I appreciate what you’re doing. You’re doing your part, and thank you for that.
Dr. Allison Foley: Thank you.
Brad Means: Absolutely, Allison Foley, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Augusta University.