Content Warning: sexual assault
Life on campus can feel pretty safe — and for the most part, it is. Administration and Campus Security are focused on providing safe methods of transportation, emergency contact, medical help and student protection. But this doesn’t mean you’re safe while at a party or walking back to your dorm at night.
Physical and sexual violence on campus is a harsh reality: students are at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted, often by someone they are acquainted with. You don’t always know who you can trust, even in the college campus bubble.
The first steps to staying safe are recognizing the risks and planning ahead. Being proactive can help you avoid exposure to dangerous situations and give you the tools to protect yourself. With the following tips in mind, you can ensure that you’re taking the right precautions to keep you and your friends safe.
1. Stay aware of your surroundings
Sexual assaults and other crimes are more likely to occur at night. While you shouldn’t assume danger is lurking around every corner, it’s important to stay aware and avoid taking unnecessary risk. If possible, use the buddy system and walk with others back to your dorm, and avoid being alone with somebody you don’t know or trust.
Be sure to look ahead of you, around you and behind you to ensure you know who’s around you at all times. If you’re using your phone, keep your eyes up whenever possible, and keep the volume low if you’re using headphones.
2. Confidence is key
Look like you know where you’re going and avoid seeming hesitant or confused. The way you carry yourself can make you appear less vulnerable to potential attackers. Being confident not only makes you appear assertive, but it can increase your awareness and help you detect threats when you’re walking alone. If confronted, that same confidence may make an attacker think twice about following through.
3. Be prepared to defend yourself
Carry something handheld and easily accessible like pepper spray, a whistle or a sharp keychain. Even if you don’t think you’ll encounter any situations where you might need it, having it at hand can help you feel more comfortable walking alone and deter any potential attackers.
Taking some self-defense classes or workshops can give you the basics on how to defend yourself. You could even teach yourself a few moves using online resources. It doesn’t take a background in martial arts or any complex training— the most important thing is getting your attacker off their feet so that you can make a quick escape.
4. Party smart
Go to parties in a group or at least with a couple friends. If at all possible, have a designated sober friend to keep track of the situation and make sure everybody gets home safely. Have a minimum of one person with you that you know and trust.
Always guard your drink at parties. Don’t accept anything from people you don’t know very well, and try to stick to drinks that you can see being prepared. Keep track of how much you’ve consumed. If it reaches the point where you feel like you don’t have control of yourself or your surroundings, find a friend who can stay with you or help you get somewhere safe. Remember that when you are intoxicated, it’s far easier for others to take advantage of you and put you in a situation you may not be comfortable with.
Most importantly, if you feel unsafe — go back to your dorm. It’s not worth the risk to stay if you feel isolated or even if something feels wrong.
5. If you see something, say something
As important as it is to consider your own safety — it’s vital that you stick up for your friends and peers. If a situation seems questionable, speak up and alert others around you or call campus security. Bystander intervention can prevent a sexual assault or other crime from being committed. It can be hard to know what to do, especially if you’re not sure exactly what’s going on or you’re overwhelmed. Just remember that you don’t have to take the most extreme measures right way. Talk to an RA or another campus official to make sure the situation is investigated and everybody is safe.
6. Find people you can trust
The college social scene can create a false sense of security. Remember that most sexual assaults are committed by people that the victims know. Even if it feels like you’ve been best friends forever, always keep in mind who you know well and who you can trust. Don’t assume your new friends will always have your back.
Find a group that you know intimately and would trust with your safety and well-being in a dangerous situation. Support each other—if a friend seems overly intoxicated or is acting strangely, get them to a place of safety and call the EMTs if necessary. Most importantly, seek out friends who would do the same for you.
7. Trust your instincts
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your gut when you feel uncomfortable. Get yourself out of that situation, even if you have to make up an excuse. Your safety is more important than the feelings of others. At worst, you’re just being overly cautious. At best, you’re getting yourself out of a potentially dangerous situation. Trust your instincts —they’ve gotten you this far.