UI's Red Flag campaign brings awareness to dating violence


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When Jacob Oppenheimer’s fraternity brother started withdrawing from his friends and struggling with his classes, Oppenheimer knew something was wrong.

“We saw the signs, but we didn’t identify what was going on,” he said.

Oppenheimer’s friend finally admitted to him that a man was stalking him online.

Looking back, Oppenheimer, the coordinator of the Men’s Antiviolence Council in the Women’s Resource and Action Center, said he wished he had intervened sooner.

WRAC Director Linda Kroon said a third of college students will experience dating violence, which is approximately 10,000 UI students. And of those students, 88 percent of them will tell a friend. 

“Very few of us talk about it, that’s the problem,” she said.

The Men’s Antiviolence Council and WRAC partnered to hold the first Red Flag campaign at the UI. The Red Flag campaign — popping up around campuses nationwide — brings awareness of the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship.

UI students filled 348 IMU on Thursday evening for a panel discussion on dating violence, addressing a variety of issues from what constitutes dating violence to the resources available on campus and in the community.

The two groups first launched the campaign by adorning the UI Pentacrest Lawn with red flags on Nov. 1.

“They’re a visual representation of a conceptual idea of identifying what we might call red flags of unhealthy relationships,” Kroon said. “The idea was to get everyone’s curiosity started by having the red flags displayed on the Pentacrest.”

The campaign will run until the end of November. Throughout the month, UI coordinators will kick off additional events on campus geared toward dating violence.  Oppenheimer hopes to turn Red Flag into an annual campaign at the UI.

“We hope that won’t be the end of the conversation,” he said.  “We want to make sure people are talking about it.”

Oppenheimer said he thinks people often see dating violence as being physical abuse. However, he identifies dating violence as including verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.

“Traditionally dating violence has been seen purely as physical violence, of one person against another,” he said. “What we really want to say is that there are multiple plots of violence.”

Hieu Pham, coordinator and advocate for Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa, agrees that violence comes in numerous forms.

“Violence knows no race, culture, or gender,” she said at the discussion. “There are all different forms of violence.”

Based on his experience, Oppenheimer said, he realizes that people may not always know what to do, but he hopes shedding some light on dating violence will help people know how to respond.

Andy Winkelmann, an academic coordinator for athletes, said even people who have not experienced dating violence can help.

“You have to get off autopilot and starting paying attention,” he said.

Oppenheimer said college-age women are three times as likely as the national average to be victims of dating violence.

“That is a disproportionately high number,” he said.  “The numbers are way too high in my eyes.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 35 percent of women and 28 percent of men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

However, he acknowledged men could experience dating violence, too.

“I think there’s certainly a perception that men don’t see themselves as victims or if they do they rationalize it in a way,” he said.

Officials stressed the importance of knowing the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship.

“I’m not saying relationships are all roses and sunshine,” Oppenheimer said. “But there’s a difference between healthy communication and knock-down, drag-out yelling matches, or checking someone’s Facebook, or checking someone’s text messages. And unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of  conversation as to what that spectrum looks like.”

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