How To Protect Yourself From Sexual Violence When Your University Won't

Content/Trigger Warning: This article and the pages it links to contain information on sexual assault and violence which may be triggering to survivors. 

It was early in the morning on Tuesday, March 26, when a campus alert was issued and texts were received by students. To be more specific, the alert read: “U of U ALERT: Police investigating a reported sexual assault to have occurred west of Marriot Library around 10:30 pm March 25. Police reportedly learned about the assault and responded to the report when the female victim went to the University of Utah Hospital just after midnight. (Loret).

Receiving yet another alert like this, just months after the on-campus murder of Lauren McClusky, was horrifying, yet not surprising. Once again, we are left on edge and are pushed to “be more careful” and “say something” yet it seems like when we do say something, nobody listens. It’s important that we, as students, remember that while we may feel completely safe on campus, we really aren’t. It’s impossible to say who or when or where. But it is possible to protect ourselves, our friends, and ours peers better. 

To better understand how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones, we first have to begin by defining sexual violence and the terms that it umbrellas. Among them, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. It’s important to remember that the perpetrators of these crimes may include strangers, but are more often committed by people we already know. This would be inclusive of acquaintances, friends, family members, peers, and even intimate partners. In fact, 90% of all sexually violent crimes on college campuses are committed by someone known to the survivor (UC Berkeley). 

Sexual assault is defined as covering “a wide range of unwanted behaviors—up to buy not including penetration—that are attempted or completed against a victim’s will or when a victim cannot consent because of age, disability, or influence of alcohol or drugs”(National Institute of Justice). When this happens, the assault typically involves physical force, coercion, intimidation, and pressure. 

Rape is where this whole thing gets tricky. Different states have their various definitions of rape and will therefore have different responses to these situations. Most statutes across the nation define rape as “nonconsensual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration of the victim by body parts or objects using force, threats of bodily harm, or by taking advantage of a victim who is incapacitated or otherwise incapable of giving consent” (National Institute of Justice). 

While we are college students, we find ourselves in a very specific situation in the context of our risk factor when considering sexual violence crimes. It was in June of 2016 that the National Institute of Justice reviewed research—peer-reviewed studies, dissertations, and reports--from the previous fifteen years and published their findings. Estimates of completed sexual violence vary widely across the nation due to state definitions and differences of measurement.

What was found, though, should be horrifying. You’re at a higher risk of sexual victimization if you’re a woman, an underclassmen, in a sorority, have a disability, have past history of sexual victimization, or are a part of a racial, ethnic and sexual minority. This includes a lot of us. You’re more likely to be sexually coerced or be a part of a alcohol-related or incapacitated sexual assault than you are to be a victim to attempted rape or physically forced rape. 

There are factors that increase sexual assault risk. Knowing and understanding these risk factors assists us in developing and pinpointing prevention efforts and choices. While there are many things that may increase our risk to becomes victims of sexual violence, there are the big six that make a huge difference. 

  1. Alcohol use. The usage of alcohol by the perpetrator, victim, or both, can lead to sexual assault. In fact, at least half of all sexual assaults among college students occur after alcohol consumption. 
  2. Sorority membership.  Almost a quarter of all sexual assault victims on college campuses are sorority members. 
  3. Freshman or sophomore status. High-risk times for a college student? The first few months of the school year and the first two years of college. 
  4. Day of the week. Over 50% of all sexual assaults take place during the weekends. Typically, the assaults occur between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. 
  5. Off-campus parties. Over half of sexual assaults targeting women take place in off-campus settings and at a party. 
  6. Numerous sexual partners. Those who reported having numerous sexual partners since entering college were more likely to report sexual violence. 

Let's be clear: no victim is sexually assault, raped, or harrassed due to their decision to wear that outfit, walk home alone, or drink. Sexual violence is the direct effect of someone's choice to be lesser than human and inflict pain and violence on another person. It is never your, nor your friends, fault. While your university or community may tell you that you have nothing to worry about, that you're safe there, and that they are there to take care of you, they're not always there. Reference any sexually violent crime for proof. While they may be able to take care of the big stuff for you—you know, making sure you have lit parking lots and police available—they're not always going to be able to take care of the tiny things. It's unfortunate that we even have to do this, but it's better we learn what we can do than to suffer at the hands of a horrible person. 

Use the buddy system. Whenever possible, walk with a friend. It may seem that you're completely safe to walk home alone from class, the library, or a party when you're on a campus that is deemed "safe". Your best bet is taking a campus shuttle up to the dorms or asking a campus police officer to walk with you. However, sometimes that isn't possible or isn't exactly the smartest choice. You don't exactly want to ask a police officer to walk with you, if you're underage drinking on a dry campus. In that case, it may seem pretty great to let that cute guy you just met walk you back to your dorm. Don't do it. He may be perfectly harmless, but we aren't exactly sure on that. Create a buddy system with your roommates. Make sure not only that you aren't walking home alone, but that nobody else is either. 

Tell everybody your business. This is something that every single adult in my life has recommended to me. While it may seem annoying and might make you feel like you're asking for permission, it might also save you. Yes, you may feel like an idiot telling your roommate that you're off to meet a guy of Tinder. Yes, you may feel like you're asking for permission like you're five when you text a friend and let them know where you're going and who you're going to be with. Making a habit of this, however, also ensures that somebody knows where you are at all times. Trust me, you don't want to end up on the news because nobody knows where you are and it's been upwards of six hours. 

Party responsibly. This is especially important when you're out at a party with people you don't know or at a bar. Asking a random girl to watch your drink, while you go to the bathroom might seem like a great idea, but they're most likely not going to take great care of it. If you really, really want that specific drink, take it with you. Don't take your eyes off of it. Don't drink something that you've been offered by a stranger. Date rape drugs are becoming more common, and don't leave colors or odors behind. 

With the recreational use of drugs in college, it's clear that users might find themselves in scary situations. Anti-anxiety medications are super popular for knocking yourself out. If that's your thing, I'm not judging. While it's completely clear to a normal, sane person that someone being under the influence of any drug or alcohol means that they cannot consent, that is not the same for a perpetrator. They will see it as an opportunity, instead of a deterrent. Don't wait until you're near unconcious to decide it's time to get home. 

Keep your life private. Just from those words, it might seem like I'm completely contradicting the idea of telling everybody your business. However, this is completely different. Don't make your location known to every single person you know. Drunkenly tweeting that you need a ride home and tagging the bar isn't exactly the smartest choice to be made, right? Refrain from tagging your location. This will keep you safe. 

Trust your instincts. If you see something that is making you feel a bit off, it's because there is something going on. Trust your gut. If you see someone being coerced at a party, grab a friend or two and go rescue that victim before anything gets too far. Even if nothing is going on, it's better to look crazy than to standby while someone is being hurt. Do your part and become vocal when you see something that isn't right. 

Protect yourself. Carry a pepper spray, taser, or mace in your purse. Walk with your keys in between your fingers. If you feel comfortable, obtain, and carry a legal concealed carry weapon.

If you are a victim to sexual violence, please reach out to resources. Do not let anybody silence you. 

Sexual Violence Resources: 

Rape Recovery Center Crisis Line (801) 467-7273

Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network 1-800-656-4673

Utah Domestic Violence Coalition 1-800-897-5465

Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis and Information Line 1-888-421-1100

YWCA Crisis Line 801-537-8600 

The Stronghearts Native Helpline 1-844-762-8483 

 LGBTQIA* SM/KINK and Polyamorous Specific Resources

LGBT National Help Center 1-800-246-7743

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233

Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860 

The Network 1-800-832-1901 

General Resources 

University Neuropsychiatric Institute Crisis Line 801-587-3000 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Medical Resources: 

University of Utah Emergency Room 801-581-2121 

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. 

Photo Sources: 1, 2