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For a lot of people, college means one thing: independence. You no longer have to live by Mom and Dad’s rules. You can go anywhere you want, stay out as long as you want and hang out with whomever you want. But with all this new freedom you have, it’s extremely important to take responsibility, especially when it comes to your personal safety.
Whether it’s your first semester away from home or you’re a returning student, keep these crucial tips in mind to stay safe at college, no matter what situation you’re facing!
1. Stick together
We’re sure you’ve heard of the buddy system, so make sure you actually stick to it the entire night! We’re not saying you should to stay glued to your girlfriends, but keep an eye on them. “Be a good friend,” says SABRE College Safety Program Manager Marisa McKay. “Make a plan with your friends beforehand and don’t leave anyone behind at a party, especially if they’re at a stage where they can’t make the best decisions for themselves.”
2. Make sure your phone is charged
We know cell phone batteries can drain quickly, so make a point of plugging it in while you’re straightening your hair or doing your makeup before you head out. The last thing you want to happen is realizing your phone is dead when you need to make an emergency phone call.
3. Carry emergency cash
These days, we rely on our credit and debit cards to pay for almost everything. At least when you go out at night, bring cash with you, just in case (and we mean more than three dollars!). “Having cash can help get you or a friend out of a bad situation quickly,” McKay says. You don’t want to make the risky decision of walking home simply because you have no money with you.
On your way home
4. Don’t stop moving
Unfortunately, an attack can take place anywhere, even on your beautiful college campus, especially when you’re alone and entering your building. Spend as little time as possible lingering outside your residence. As you approach your building, start to take out your keys so you can head right in. Don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk or in front of your building because you need to answer your friend’s text.
You can also call a friend or family member to keep on the phone as you walk home. But be careful; don’t get too wrapped up in a conversation that you don’t realize someone might be following you. “Being engaged in your surroundings is key,” McKay says. “Keep your head up, look around every so often and don’t seem distracted.”
5. Carry pepper spray or pepper gel
“A well-prepared person has a plan,” McKay says, so consider carrying tangible defense mechanisms. SABRE is the worldwide leader in pepper spray and makes various items you can use to ensure your safety.
SABRE makes pepper spray and pepper gel, which are both effective, but in different ways. Both sprays have a 10-foot range so you can protect yourself while at a safe distance from an attacker. The gel provides a greater containment of the substance, which means it will only affect that which it directly contacts. This means that it helps prevent wind blow back and prevents you or others nearby from feeling any irritating effects. “Our products are 67 times hotter than hot sauce,” McKay explains. “So physically, no one is going to be able to keep their eyes open at that point.” She warns, however, that sprays meant to combat bears or wasps are not interchangeable with pepper sprays and gels meant for humans. Opt for these campus-approved picks instead!
Review your state laws for restrictions on pepper spray and gel. Pepper spray is legal throughout all 50 states in the U.S., but some states have minor size restrictions (and you have to complete a form at purchase in D.C. and New York), so know the rules before you make any purchases! The Campus Safety Pepper Gel meets the size requirements throughout the US.
6. Use a personal alarm
SABRE’s personal alarm key chain, which is the size of a flash drive, easily attaches to your backpack or purse, so you can carry it on you wherever you go. If you feel you are in danger, you separate the device from the chain, and a 100-decibel alarm that can be heard up to 300 feet away will sound. The device even comes in colors like pink and red, which support the National Breast Cancer Foundation and RAINN, respectively!
In your dorm
7. Make a habit of securing windows and doors
We just made a point of telling you how you should enter your residence quickly, so that means you’re 100 percent safe inside, right? Well, the truth is, you’re never fully secure anywhere.
“Just because you’re in your building, doesn’t mean there won’t be anyone threatening present,” McKay says. “Someone threatening can be let in unintentionally, or they might even live in your apartment complex.” It’s easy to leave our doors unlocked or even open when we just want to run across the hall or get the mail, but it’s just not smart. Prevent someone from entering by locking it whenever you leave and whenever you go inside. Any windows that are adjacent to a fire escape should be locked, especially when you leave or go to sleep.
8. Consider an alarm system
We’re not saying you should call ADT and have a security system installed into your apartment – that’s just unrealistic and expensive. Instead, opt for something that’s affordable and simple, like SABRE’s Dorm/Apartment Kit. The package, which retails for only $26.99, includes a doorstop alarm, a window alarm and a personal alarm, like the one we mentioned earlier. The doorstop feature will sound a 120-decibel alarm as well as help prevent the door from opening. The window alarm, which can easily be installed, will not only alert you that someone may be trying to break-in, but also scare off the would-be criminal. Generally, intruders want to take the path of least resistance, so this alarm is perfect for a back window that might face a dark alley or one that is covered by bushes. When the alarm sounds, the intruder won’t want to risk continuing inside!
Aside from providing its easy-to-use products, SABRE also hosts a program that can come to your school to coach you and your classmates on how to prevent threats and identify dangerous situations. Instructors will also train you to deter an attacker using hands-on drills and real-life simulations. Are you in a sorority? Do you lead a student club? Whatever the case may be, gather your fellow collegiettes and bring SABRE to your school!
10. Be cautious, not paranoid
McKay advises young women to practice what she and the safety-savvy folks at SABRE like to call “relaxed awareness.” When you’re in a relaxed, yet cautious state, you are more capable of distinguishing a dangerous situation from something that might just be in your head. So if you’re walking alone, you don’t need to be turning around after every step you take to make sure you aren’t being followed by someone. Instead, take steps to increase your awareness in your surroundings, which can include things like taking one earbud out if you’re listening to music, or looking ahead of you instead of down at your phone.
11. Don’t be afraid to speak up
Whether you’re at a party and someone is getting too close for comfort, or if you’re on the street and you see a man attempting to rob someone, don’t hesitate to say something. “Verbal commands can be incredibly effective,” McKay says. “If you were on the street and saw a man about to grab a girl’s purse, screaming ‘no’ would draw the attention of anyone else in the area.” As a bystander, you have a greater ability to think on your feet and alert others if something is wrong, which could come in handy if you ever find yourself in a tricky situation.
There’s no need to feel scared on your own campus – all you need to feel is prepared! That way, you can have all the fun you like without regrets. Get safety-savvy ASAP this semester!