October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a designated time to spread awareness about interpersonal violence, support survivors, and advocate for policy change. According to Denver’s National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in nine men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking.
This month is especially relevant to the CU Denver community, which recently suffered the loss of Katherine Pivoda, a beloved student, faculty member, and alum who was senselessly killed on Sept. 29 during a reported domestic violence incident.
While it may not always be as obvious as a black eye, domestic violence still happens within all communities, which is why this month is so critical in offering support and helping to educate community members on healthy relationships and warning signs, said Megan Cullen, director of the Phoenix Center at Auraria, which provides free and confidential resources and assistance to Auraria campus students, faculty, and staff who are survivors of interpersonal violence.
“The importance of this month and our center, more than anything, is to make sure folks know they aren’t alone,” Cullen said. “Experiencing violence makes people feel like they are. And they aren’t. We are here.”
Campus Resource Dedicated to Interpersonal Violence Survivors
Barb Paradiso, the late director of CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs’ Center on Domestic Violence, founded the Phoenix Center at Auraria 11 years ago following the death of Abigail Robertson, an MSU Denver student who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. The devastating tragedy showed a critical need for a safe place and interpersonal support services on the Auraria campus.
Today, the PCA serves all CU Denver, MSU, and CCD students, faculty, and staff, free of charge. The PCA is funded by grants and student fees, which are $3 per student per semester. Services include a 24/7 confidential crisis hotline, crisis counseling, assistance with reporting to school and/or law enforcement at a survivor’s request, safety planning, court accompaniment, emotional support, and more. The center also provides courses on sex education and healthy relationships for each university, student clubs, and campus organizations, as well as awareness raising events and campus policy guidance.
Leading up to October, for one of the center’s largest awareness events, Cullen and her team in late September covered the lawn of the campus Plaza with 12,000 flags and signs that pay tribute to victims of domestic violence and shed light on warning signs, such as jealousy, isolation, and nonstop texting/calling.
To put it into perspective, the Auraria campus community has 43,000 members, which means, according to national statistics, roughly 15,000 have or will experience some form of interpersonal violence, Cullen said. “These red flags represent every potential survivor on our campus,” she added. “We want people to get the assistance they need, whether that means leaving the relationship or helping people stay safer in the relationship.”
If You See Something, Say Something
Though National Domestic Violence Awareness Month takes place each October, Cullen hopes people start thinking about it year-round. Now is especially important, since data shows the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the severity of domestic abuse in part due to stay-at-home orders and added isolation from society.
“We have seen a rise in acuity. What people are experiencing is worse, and what people are needing is more,” Cullen said. “We are here to remind everyone that just by existing, you deserve love, care, and respect.”
Cullen said a common question may be, “Why don’t they just leave?” She emphasized that it’s not that simple. Leaving can be the most dangerous time, as the perpetrator’s loss of power and control can send them into a tailspin, putting the survivor at higher risk. And, in many cases, the survivor loves the person and wants to be with the person they fell in love with. The PCA is available for support in navigating these situations and helping a survivor find ongoing care and a safe community. Cullen encourages those who might suspect interpersonal violence taking place to take a bystander approach: if you see something, say something. Start by asking the person if they are OK.
Upon request, the PCA offers a workshop called Supporting Survivors to provide guidance to individuals on how to support those experiencing violence. Its website also offers a number of resources, from guidance on reporting to victim’s rights.
Aside from education and prevention efforts, one of the PCA’s main goals is to support and advocate for Auraria campus members who are here to get an education or perform a job, which can be unbearable with the added stress of interpersonal violence. At the request of the survivor, PCA’s victim advocacy services provide support in requesting class and work accommodations and attending court appearances.
“Trauma doesn’t like to stay in this little bubble that only exists from 5 – 6 p.m. on Tuesdays,” Cullen said. “It impacts everything. That is the nature of trauma. If someone has experienced enough pain by the time they get here, we must help mitigate other consequences.”
Domestic Violence Resources & Hotlines
For CU Denver Students, Staff, and Faculty:
- Phoenix Center at Auraria, Tivoli Student Union, Suite 227
24/7 Crisis Helpline: 303-556-CALL (2255); drop in hours (no appointment needed) Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
For Denver Residents:
- SafeHouse Denver
24-Hour Crisis Line: 303-318-9989
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
24/7 Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (7233)
About CU Denver’s Center on Domestic Violence
The Center on Domestic Violence (CDV) in CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs is one of the only education and advocacy organizations housed within a university. The CDV serves victims and survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) by supporting solid leadership, advancing innovative research, and nurturing community collaboration. CDV also offers a Program on Gender-Based Violence (PGV), which provides gender-based degree concentrations at various academic levels, including a Certificate in Gender-Based Violence Studies.