What started as a program to educate Ohio State University students about the signs and dangers of relationship abuse has spread like wildfire to other regional colleges eager to help a demographic plagued by physical and emotional violence at the hands of a partner.
The It's Abuse campaign announced Thursday that Capital University, Columbus College of Art & Design, Ohio Dominican University and Columbus State Community College have joined OSU in the fight against the epidemic.
"None of the university presidents were caught off guard -- they all knew this was an issue," said Karen Days, president of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, which is spearheading the campaign.
When asked, the universities jumped at the chance to join in, Days added.
Nationally, 32 percent of college students in the United States have experienced dating violence, and nearly a quarter of that group has been abused by a current partner. Locally, 73 percent of 7,000 students recently polled at OSU said they knew someone who had suffered an abusive relationship.
"We have an obligation to provide an environment that's intellectually stimulating, but also one that's safe and secure," Columbus State president Valeriana Moeller said.
Those working with the campaign realize that younger victims don't always respond to traditional outreach methods.
To connect with them, a revamped website, ItsAbuse.com, offers unique pages for each school. Students can find customized resource directories, lists of warning signs, peer-to-peer discussion forums and a calendar of upcoming events.
"These are vital links for victims, so they know they are not alone," said Jennifer Campbell Peterson, a Victoria's Secret executive who helped guide the expanded operation.
Victims can log on to share stories and receive advice from experts. Others can find out what constitutes abuse and how to help those they know.
"At that time of our lives, it's not something that we talk about," said Jessica, a survivor of relationship abuse who spoke at Thursday's press conference. "It's one of those things where, even as I was getting out of that situation, I was denying it."
Last names of victims who come forward through It's Abuse are withheld for safety reasons.
With increased awareness and better resources, Jessica hopes that victims of relationship abuse can find strength in numbers, similar to those of breast cancer and AIDS.
"I think it can become a community of survivors," she added.