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Monday, January 09, 2012

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and E-Learning

Chances are, if you're teaching an online course, out of 20 students, two or three have been a victim of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) at least one time in their lives. Actually, that's a conservative estimate, given that 3 out of 10 women and 1 out of 10 men in the United States has been victim of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking (CDC, 2012), and that's not even getting into the issue of emotional abuse, which includes name-calling, intimidation, stalking, and refusal to let someone see family or friends. Accredited online colleges, online courses, programs, and degrees address women's issues, domestic violence, sociology, and psychology. It's easy to think of the problem as occurring in a nice, contained quarantine zone or petri dish. However, its effects are in and around the online world you live in and they may be causing students to underperform (miss deadlines, turn in poorer quality work than they are capable of, fail to interact effectively in collaborations and discussion areas), and to drop out of courses and programs.
According to the CDC's IPV factsheet, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is behavior that occurs between two people who are or who have been close. They can be married to each other, divorced, dating, or formerly dating. The violence can take four different forms (CDC, 2012):
Physical violence: a person tried to hurt a partner by using physical force (hitting, kicking, pushing, etc.)
Sexual violence: a person forces a partner into a sex act against one's consent
Threats: threats of physical or sexual violence made with words, gestures, weapons, or other means that communicate an intent to harm another
Emotional abuse: threats to harm a person, a person's possessions, or loved ones, and also harming the partner's sense of self-worth. This can include name-calling, intimidation, stalking, and forced isolation.
If you think that the kinds of violence in IPV have no way of occurring in the online course, you might be surprised.
For example, what about the case of a student whose intimate partner becomes enraged at the amount of time she spends studying, and harms her computer?
Or, what about the time lost from study due to emotional or physical trauma?
If the partner has to hide from a stalker or a violent partner, there may be disruptions to connectivity, not to mention the fact that the extreme emotions are very disruptive. It is not easy for a student to focus if he or she is experiencing emotional turmoil.
If one's teenage son or daughter is a victim of dating abuse, they are also likely to have affiliated problems which can include fighting, binge drinking, eating disorders, and even suicide attempts.
Further, there are measurable impacts on one's mental and physical health. For example, men and women who have been victims of rape, stalking, physical or emotional abuse by an intimate partner reported headaches, chronic pain, sleeping difficulties, anxiety, and depression. Women victims were likely to have asthma, irritable bowel symptom, diabetes, and other health problems. (CDC, The2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2011).
The CDC has developed a video explaining teenage dating abuse:
Perhaps one of the most tragic consequences of IPV is that it sets off a chain reaction of behaviors, all of which can be damaging to one's self-concept, self-esteem, and even physical wellbeing.
With an awareness of the pervasiveness of Intimate Partner Violence, what can you do if you're teaching / designing an online course?
How do you help your students succeed, knowing that they may have disruptions due
to abuse, trauma, or injury?
  1. Make the online environment a safe one. Do not allow intimidation, threats, demeaning or belittling behavior of any kind.
  1. Encourage research papers having to do with topics of interest and current problems. You can create a list of possibilities, and include IPV. (Clearly, this works with some
    courses, but not all.)
  1. Put links to health and wellness sources, which can include the CDC sites that have information on IPV. Include hotlines as well. Encourage wellness in general, so it is also good to include links to nutrition sites such as the USDA's "My Plate" guidelines.
  1. If students indicate in personal correspondence or posts to discussion boards that they are in an abusive situation, encourage them to research the situation and find a qualified person to speak to about the situation.
  1. Provide a flexible, supportive environment that provides students a chance to contact you if they need more time on an assignment.
  1. Realize that extreme stress can interfere with cognitive functioning, and provide more support for the writing process by asking for invention strategies, outlines, brainstorming, and multiple drafts so that students can take a building
    block (rather than having to generate everything at the last moment).
  1. Provide practice tests and activities to help students build confidence.
  1. Encourage goal-setting and provide a great deal of positive feedback and reinforcement.
The idea that one's most intimate and trusted partners can be the sources of nightmarish cruelty is very sad, and it's a shame that it exists at all.
However, it's a reality, and the only way to help people overcome it and heal their wounds is to open yourself and become aware of what is happening.
Once you have achieved a level of self-awareness, you can determine what is best for you as you
think of actions and activities in the e-learning space that will help your everyone achieve their best and brightest selves.
CDC, 2011, The 2010 National Intimate Partners and Sexual Violence
CDC Facebook Page on Violence Prevention
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 1-800-787-3224 TTY, or
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Family Violence Prevention Fund

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