Red Flags Explained: Campaign Spotlights Signs of Abusive Relationships

Oct. 11, 2007 — The meaning of the mysterious red flags scattered around the Grounds has been revealed: kicking off October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, they are part of the Red Flag Campaign, sponsored locally by the University of Virginia Women’s Center, to draw attention to the warning signals of an abusive relationship.

Many people, especially college students, don’t realize the extent and prevalence of domestic violence in relationships, according to speakers at an Oct. 10 press conference on Grounds. Domestic violence can include emotional abuse, isolation, excessive jealousy, coercion or stalking, as well as sexual assault and physical violence, said Claire Kaplan, director of U.Va.’s director of U.Va.’s Sexual and Domestic Violence Services.

“Dating violence impacts one in five college students, according to the most recent research,” Kaplan said.

“The numbers are impossible to ignore,” said Kate McCord, co-coordinator of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, the group that developed the Red Flag Campaign. “Relationships in college set the tone for future relationships and families. It’s a perfect time to intervene and stop dating violence.”

The Red Flag Campaign is the first statewide public awareness project to address dating violence on Virginia’s college campuses. Created by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance and funded by the Verizon Foundation, the campaign was launched last year on 10 Virginia campuses, including U.Va., and has been expanded to eight more colleges this month.

A series of posters using the red flags are displayed around the Grounds to draw attention to the warning signals of abusive relationships and urge college students and others, “When you see a red flag, say something.” Kaplan’s office also has distributed flyers questions about what constitutes healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Six different posters depict college students with red flags covering their mouths that have different messages, such as “He makes me think I’m fat and stupid and no one else would want me” with a suggested reply in a white flag below the picture that says, “Why are you sticking with him? You deserve better.” Another poster says, “If I want to get some, I just need to get her wasted,” with the reply, “That’s messed up. Are you looking to catch a rape charge?”

Along with Kaplan and McCord, other speakers at the press conference were U.Va. students Rachel Forse and Jordan Buller, who co-chair the Sexual Assault Leadership Council, and John Johnson, a U.Va. alumnus who is director of corporate communications for Verizon Wireless. Representatives from Norfolk State University and Emory & Henry College also attended the gathering.

“As student leaders,” Forse said, “we want to recognize the Red Flag Campaign as a great tool for students to not only realize when certain abusive elements enter into their relationships, but also for them to receive help or modify their behavior for the better.” She said she was shocked and appalled by the number of friends who told her about abuse they suffered in relationships.

“Domestic violence is not a problem that will be solved overnight either in society or in private,” said Buller, who pointed out that the Red Flag Campaign aims to educate the community about getting help.

The University provides students, faculty and staff with numerous resources to address situations of domestic violence and sexual assault, especially through the Women’s Center and the Dean of Students office. In the local community, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency and the Shelter for Help in Emergency also provide an array of services.

During the press conference, Johnson announced two local grants. Verizon Wireless gave $5,000 to the U.Va. Women’s Center’s Sexual and Domestic Violence Services to fund the Men’s Leadership Program, a mentoring program that trains male undergraduates to work with middle school boys in an effort to develop boys' leadership among their peers in resisting the negative social pressures and violent cultural messages with which youngsters are bombarded. In addition, the company donated $10,000 to Shelter for Help in Emergency, to support the construction of a new emergency residential facility for the Charlottesville-based domestic violence service provider.

Funding for the grants comes from the Verizon Wireless HopeLine program, which collects no-longer-used wireless phones to be refurbished, recycled or sold; proceeds are donated to domestic violence advocacy groups or used to purchase wireless phones with airtime for use by victims. Since the program began, nearly $4 million has been donated to domestic violence prevention groups across the United States. 

Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine program accepts all wireless phone models, batteries and chargers from any carrier. At U.Va., phones are accepted for recycling at Newcomb Hall and at the Women’s Center.