Brenda Shepard, Staff Writer

As Domestic Violence Month draws to a close, the George Mason University community reflects on people in their own lives who have been affected by this sad reality.

Whether it’s a friend, neighbor, roommate or family member, there are no specific boundaries to this issue.

However, there are ways to promote change in people’s attitudes regarding domestic violence, and there is hope.

Karen Bontrager, a junior studying communication, has been a victim of domestic violence.

After being kicked out of her home, Bontrager was left with few options for housing and little money to keep her in school at Mason. Through her experiences she has decided her voice is one thing that can save her.

“These kinds of situations build character,” said Bontrager.

“I fought really hard and I’m going to use my voice, which was oppressed and depressed, to help others at Mason.”

According to their brochure, Mason’s Sexual Assault Services “is committed to providing direct services for anyone impacted by sexual assault, stalking and dating/partner violence.”

They offer support, advocacy and intervention services, to name just a few of their services.

Sexual assault is a general term that defines many different crimes such as rape, sexual battery or indecent exposure.

An act that is committed against your will, with force or intimidation, when you are unable to give consent, or if you are asleep or intoxicated is considered assault.

“What most people don’t understand,” said Connie Kirkland, director of Sexual Assault Services, “is that the majority of these cases occur with people who know each other already. I would say about 85 to 90 percent.”

Domestic violence has been brought to our awareness with the help of Mason policies.

Since most students are not married or living with their partner, Mason has policies regarding “dating violence,” including verbal, emotional and physical abuse.

“There wasn’t affordable housing for me on campus and scholarships weren’t made available to me through Mason,” said Bontrager.

“There needs to be encouragement, but it can’t just be theory. There needs to be tangible results as well. Survivors like me need help and not just counseling,” said Bontrager.

After finding little financial help in Fairfax and none on Mason’s campus, Bontrager found a room for rent in Burke, Va., and must now find ways to travel to Mason each week, without owning a car.

After traveling to a local library for Internet access, she had her books and laptop stolen.

When asked if Mason students take this issue seriously enough, Kirkland replied, “No, they’re not aware of it. The people who are victims take it seriously, but if they are not a victim, they tend to minimize it, saying things like ‘he only touched your breast.’”

To anyone who has been a victim of domestic or dating violence, Bontrager says, “staying silent does not help the problem. When you have the courage to come to the light, you don’t need to feel ashamed because there are other people that are right beside you.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence or assault, there is help.
Contact Sexual Assault Services during their office hours or online at On their website, students can find a 24-hour phone number as well as an e-mail contact.