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Survivors, advocates gather to educate community on domestic violence

A graphic stating, “October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.” The purple ribbon symbolizes awareness of domestic violence and is one of the most recognized symbols of the movement. The lotus flower often is associated with domestic violence, purity and healing. // Graphic by Hannah Quinton

Content Warning: This article contains language that may be triggering or traumatizing to some readers. CW: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to shed light on resources and support for survivors. Western Washington University made efforts toward advocacy by pushing for awareness around domestic violence and ensuring  students can get the help they need on campus. 

Domestic violence is a significant issue among individuals on college campuses or of college age. According to a study by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 29% of college women report having been in an abusive relationship and 58% of college students reported having a friend they knew to have been in an abusive relationship. 


“Domestic violence is any behavior that limits the freedom of their intimate partner to live their lives being in a relationship,” said Susan Marks, director of Bellingham Whatcom County Commission of Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Warning signs of domestic violence are often hard to identify, and in some cases, it could be years after the relationship ends before a survivor comes to realize that they were in a domestic violence situation.

“It's all the myriad of ways that one partner controls, courses and manipulates another intimate partner," Marks said. "It can be physical violence, psychological-emotional abuse, stalking, sexual violence, coercion and harassment.” 

Elizabeth Montoya, a communications coordinator at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said some of the reasons for the increased risk of domestic violence among young adults and students could be attributed to experimentation with drugs and alcohol, as well as isolation from family, which increases their vulnerability, making it more difficult to identify abusive situations.

Cameron Webster, who is now 20, is a survivor of domestic violence. Her relationship began when she was 16. 

“I didn’t realize the abuse was abuse because it wasn’t physical at first," Webster said. "It was raising his voice and financial manipulation. I didn’t fully accept it was abuse until I started going to therapy and talking about it. I thought it was all normal.” 

Her relationship eventually spiraled into physical violence from her abuser, Webster said.

Webster suffers from chronic recurrent multifocal osteomyelitis, an auto-immune disorder that targets her bones and causes pain upon contact. Her abuser took advantage of her auto-immune disorder, using it to inflict pain upon her.

“I hate my homecoming pictures,” Webster said, due to the visible bruises on her arms. 

With the abuse starting so young and a lack of community to support her, Webster became isolated. An abuser secluding their victims from friends, family and support is another tactic used by abusers and is an experience shared by many survivors of domestic abuse. Webster said her mother noticed the bruises and took action to try and end the relationship once the pandemic began, however, she often would go back to her abuser.

“People should know it is normal for victims to go back to their abuser. It doesn’t make you weak. It is almost like a drug,” Webster said.

Shirt close up

A shirt saying, “I am not what happened but what I chose to become'' from the Clothesline Project underneath Western Washington University's Library Skybridge on Oct. 13, 2022. Western hosted the Clothesline Project in support of domestic violence survivors who created a visual demonstration of their experiences. // Courtesy of Western's Counseling and Wellness Center


Western has promoted an array of resources for October and throughout the year.

Diedre Evans, a confidential survivor advocate at Western, said a lot of domestic violence goes unreported. According to a study done by Connections for Abused Women and their Children, 44% of domestic violence cases go unreported. The Survivor Advocacy Services, a resource on campus, aims to bridge this gap. 

This resource is cost-free and ensures confidentiality to students on campus. Advocates will reach out and share all relevant options for survivors. Students are then assisted in accessing resources like safety plans and support groups. Survivor Advocacy Services will also help navigate the medical, educational and legal systems, as well as maintain ongoing emotional support.

Western began participating in the Clothesline Project in  spring 2017. It aims to be a visual representation of survivor testimony. This year, survivors gathered to share their stories on Oct. 27 at Western by writing on a shirt and hanging it up on a clothesline under the Library Skybridge for all of campus to see. 

”I think the Clothesline Project can decrease the feeling of isolation by giving survivors the opportunity to see they are not alone in their experiences,” Evans said.

Education plays a significant role in combating domestic violence. While many domestic violence programs do prevention training in schools, the programs are not required or mandated, Montoya said.

On Oct. 5th, Western offered staff and faculty educational training on how to identify domestic violence, and students were welcomed to attend. Within this training, staff from the Civil Rights and Title IX office covered employee reporting requirements and how their office can support those in a domestic violence situation. 

“If we want to decrease domestic violence, we need to think about prevention,” Montoya said. “We need to educate and learn about healthy relationships. Learn about strength, resilience and respect.”


Education goes much deeper than resources.  Re-educating people to recognize red-flag behaviors is a way to help prevent domestic violence from occurring, said Montoya.

It is important to look at the bigger picture of the abuse rather than snapshots, said Montoya. Context, intent and effect are incredibly important to identifying abuse. For example, an abuser can threaten and degrade, affecting the survivor to fight back. Without context, the survivor can become the abuser. 

Understanding the physical and mental signs of abuse is key. This can be a range of things, from bruises to being withdrawn emotionally from friends and family. Domestic violence is almost always missed when the abuse is not physical, said Marks. 

“Stressors like mental health, substance abuse, those are not things that cause intimate partner violence, but they certainly can impact the severity of domestic violence, or the ability of someone to engage in it,” Marks said.

Starting education with children is incredibly important in being able to recognize red-flag behaviors earlier on, Montoya said. Early education can teach an awareness hoped to reduce potential victimization, thus preventing the root of the issue. Providing kids K-12 with examples of healthy relationships is the best way to combat future trends of domestic violence.

Being able to recognize that a friend or family member could be a potential abuser is very difficult. Many people do not want to admit to themselves that their loved one is capable of and intentional with the abuse they exert, said Montoya. 

“On a larger scale, our society excuses domestic violence in a lot of ways," Montoya said. "It excuses casual sexism and gender oppression. It often doesn’t respect people coded feminine in relationships.” 

People outside of the domestic violence relationship have a hard time believing people's lived experiences, said Marks. Many survivors who come forward often feel like people minimize their stories. 

“It is important for younger girls especially to know that they are not alone, and educating them on abusive behavior can help prevent future trauma," Webster said. 

Education and spreading awareness is incredibly important. By shedding resources, Webster believes that you could prevent future kids from experiencing domestic violence.

“I was so young, I didn’t know right from wrong," Webster said. "I didn’t use resources until I realized it was abuse.” 

Clothesline Project

Fifteen shirts hung up underneath the Western Washington University Library Skybridge for the clothesline project on Oct.13th, 2022. This event was started in the spring of 2017. // Courtesy of Western's Counseling and Wellness Center


Tl’ils Ta’á’altha Victims of Crime Program

(360) 325-3310

Teen Dating Violence Hotline

1(866) 331-9474 • Text LOVEIS to 22522

The NW Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse

(206) 568-7777 • P.O. Box 18436, Seattle, Wash. 98118 

Survivor Advocacy Services at WWU

(360) 650-3700 • Western Washington University Old Main 585B 

Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Services

24-Hour Helpline: (360) 715-1563

Lummi Victims of Crime (LVOC)

24-Hour Helpline: (360) 312-2015 • Walk-ins available 8 4:30 p.m. at 2665 Kwina Road Bellingham, Wash. 98226

Hannah Quinton

Hannah Quinton (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year planning on going into journalism/public relations with a minor in international business. Outside of reporting, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading and yoga. She can be reached at

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