A glass vase decorated with curled red ribbon sets on a table in the rotunda of the UNC Charlotte Student Union during the busy lunch hour. Resting inside the waterless vase, are not a dozen long-stemmed roses, but a bouquet of bright red flags – each with a hand-written warning sign about what’s often found in an abusive relationship.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s also the time when universities across the country launch the Red Flag Campaign, a public-awareness initiative that spotlights dating violence on college campuses.
The campaign, launched in 2006 by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, educates the college population on signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships.
UNCC joined the program last year.
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In its first week, signature red flags canvassed the college campus to initiate a conversation among students. Other programs follow in the weeks afterward.
“I think intellectually people know what’s healthy and unhealthy, but it’s different when you’re in a relationship,” said UNC Charlotte Health Education Specialist Jenny Cook.
One out of every five college relationships is considered abusive according to “Violent Behavior in College Student Dating Relationships,” a study from C. Sellers and M. Bromley that appeared in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice.
“Obviously the physical signs are the most common ones,” said Cook. “But not being respectful of that person, isolating that person from their family or friends, trying to control things like money or wanting all their passwords to their Facebook and Twitter…those are signs, too.”
Cook, who runs the Red Flag Campaign on the UNCC campus, said the university also offered other events this month.
In the campus movie theater, a program called “Red, Green, or In-Between” showed clips of character relationships in popular television sitcoms, music videos, and films, and asked the audience whether they depicted healthy or unhealthy scenarios.
“It was easier to find abusive clips,” said Cook. “We were having a harder time trying to find the healthy-relationship clips.”
Plenty of examples exist in reality lately. Last month, State University of New York at Brockport student Alexandra Kogut, 18, was found dead in her dorm. Her ex-boyfriend, Clayton Whittemore, 21, is charged with her murder.
In 2010 University of Virginia student Yeardley Love was killed in her off-campus apartment. Her boyfriend, George Wesley Huguely, was found guilty of murder.
The Red Flag Campaign aims to educate not only those in abusive relationships, but also bystanders who may witness them.
“Maybe you have a friend who is being abusive, or you have a friend that’s in a relationship that’s abusive. You’ll be able to see some of those warning signs and know what you can do to help,” said Cook.
Stocked with dozens of blank red flags and a handful of Sharpie markers, Cook solicited students passing by in the rotunda to write on a flag what they believed were the signs of abusive relationships.
“Isolation from friends,” wrote one person. “You don’t have to grab and shake me,” wrote another.
“It’s just like in any community,” said Cook, of the occurrence of domestic violence on a college campus. “It’s just as prevalent here as it would be in the Charlotte. We’re not immune to any statistics you see.”