The death of 18-year-old Alexandra Kogut at the hands of her boyfriend has made national headlines and sparked discussion about the need for increased awareness for domestic violence.
Kogut’s body was discovered in her dorm room at the State University of New York at Brockport, where she was a freshman. Authorities say that Kogut was beaten to death by her 21-year-old boyfriend, Clayton Whittemore, who has been charged with second degree murder in the case. Whittemore admitted to killing Kogut but is pleading not guilty in the case.
Kogut’s Sept. 29 slaying came two days before the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Some people at Ohio State, like Amy Bonomi, an associate professor of human development and family science, said students need to be more aware of the prevalence of domestic violence.
“Many students feel that it could not happen to them, and that they may have had one or two friends that have had some experience with dating violence, but they may view that as an exception, when we are seeing a more common pattern in teens,” Bonomi said.
A research study released in September, of which Bonomi was the lead author, concluded that “one in three victims of teen dating violence has had more than one abuser.”
The research study included data from 271 college students who were asked to recall dating violence from ages 13 to 19.
Columbus City Attorney’s Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit director Anne Murray agreed that domestic violence is more common than many people think.
“I believe firmly that it (abuse) happens. I think that it happens in high school, I definitely think it happens in college, I know stalking happens in college,” Murray said. “I think what happens is people don’t talk about it as much yet.”
Murray said abusive relationships are sometimes hard to predict, because they often start out as normal, loving relationships.
“We are so seduced into this idea of jealousy and stalking as cute in the beginning, so when does it become dangerous? When does it become ‘I’m overreacting’?” Murray said.
Domestic violence can take on different types of abuse, Murray said. There is physical, sexual, emotional abuse and stalking.
“Generally women who are drawn to abusive relationships tend to have what we call a ‘pre-occupied attachment style.’ They have low self-esteem, they undervalue themselves and overvalue their partner, and they tend to suppress their own needs to meet the needs of their partner,” Bonomi said.
Once the violence occurs, victims often start to believe that it is their own fault, blame themselves and stay in the relationship, Murray said.
“I have seen doctors, I have seen journalists, I have seen nurses, people who by all outward appearance, society would say that person (has) got it all going on, but who are battered and think, ‘I’m not going to find somebody else, I’m only valuable in this relationship,'” Murray said.
Bonomi said the myth that abuse only happens to certain groups of people is inaccurate and not supported.
“There is a common belief that violence and abuse only affects low-income people, but our study shows that it’s not true. These are all students on their way to college. So there is something larger operating,” Bonomi said.
One contributing aspect might be society, Murray said. She also added that one in two children that grow up in a violent household are going to become abusive or a victim.
“What happens is that we as a society condone violence, we don’t talk about it enough. Men don’t talk about it enough, as ‘that’s not cool.’ There are still a lot of jokes as, ‘You know, I would have hit her, too,’ and that kind of stuff,” Murray said.
Most students are very vulnerable when they come to college, Murray said. They undergo life changes during their freshmen year, try to establish themselves and be independent. This transition to college might make it easy for an abuser to take the upper hand.
“If you are a freshmen, and an upperclassmen is going to be dating you and tell you how it’s supposed to be, it’s going to take a super strong, confident person to not follow that path. Particularly when it starts out in such a sweet and intoxicating way,” Murray said.
The Ohio State Department of Public Safety reported six cases of rape since January. In May, The Lantern reported on a sexual misconduct in which a then-OSU wrestler allegedly raped a female OSU student.
The Student Wellness Center offers long-term advocacy to students who have gone through traumatic experiences, which include “sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence and sexual harassment.”
“I often help students understand what rights and options they have in the aftermath of their experience. This could include their medical options, therapeutic options and reporting options. Many times, students struggle with knowing if, or when (and to whom) to report an experience,” said Brieanne Billman, a sexual violence and support coordinator, in an email.
Throughout her experience, Murray said that it is important not to blame the victim if she decides to stay in an abusive relationship. Most victims are afraid to leave, or even being blamed for not trying hard enough, especially since society expects women to be forgiving and cooperative, Murray said.