New details have emerged about the tragedy of IU student Yaolin Wang’s death Sept. 30, and they paint a grim picture. Even before Wang was killed by her abuser, our University and community had failed her.
We have not, as a community, engaged in the difficult but potentially life-saving conversations about domestic abuse and relationship violence that might have helped Wang escape the man she called her “nightmare.”
We all share in this failing, but the ultimate failure is at the level of the University itself. Required by federal law to provide a safe learning environment for all students, IU has instead demonstrated a failure of leadership.
Rather than face the enormous challenge of addressing these issues, IU has engaged in — and continues to engage in — the bare-bones minimum the government requires of it — and sometimes not even that much.
While campus sexual assault, including rape, dominates Indiana Daily Student headlines, domestic abuse and relationship violence continue to quietly destroy lives. Though sexual assault and rape remain a huge problem in our community, we are at least beginning to have conversations about them. As clichéd as the term might sound, awareness of these issues appears to be increasing amongst IU students.
However, when it comes to abuse of the sort that led to Wang’s murder, our campus — and our administration — is disturbingly silent.
According to an IDS report on the abuse leading up to Wang’s death, her friends repeatedly discouraged her from calling the police for help. Her roommate reportedly told her in a message that because Wang and her abuser were “both students who have to go to school,” she should avoid getting police involved.
Her roommate’s response to the situation might appear naïve in hindsight. But, unfortunately, such attitudes and responses are all too common. Abuse is often minimized by friends and family who don’t understand its seriousness or its potential lethality.
Wang’s roommate and friends are also victims. They are now saddled with intense feelings of guilt about Wang’s murder. One of her friends, Xu Gao, has decided not to pursue counseling services because she feels that she must “have a scar to remind me not to make the same mistake again,” according to the IDS.
Nancy Stockton, director of IU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), said in the IDS that victims rarely come forward, saying, “The abuser’s control over the woman is nearly absolute.” But is CAPS even prepared to recognize and appropriately respond to abusive situations when victims do come to CAPS for help?
Having been told by a senior CAPS counselor that the individual “didn’t know” I was being abused, even after my abuser stated outright in a couples counseling session that he had hit me, I can only think that the answer is no.
We can stop this from happening again. The University must demonstrate leadership — through adequately training CAPS counselors, through working to raise student awareness of abuse and through starting and facilitating a campus-wide discussion.
No one else needs to die.
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