The point of this post is not to freak students out, nor to have you walking around with assumption you are thisclose to being mugged. However, the reality is that students do, in fact, fall victim to muggings, assaults, and sexual violence on and around campus.
Staying safe on campus is about evaluating your environment, taking into account potential risks, and applying strategies to mitigate said risks.
When You are Alone
Let's say every Tuesday you study with a friend who lives on the opposite end of campus, leaving the dorm around midnight. You have a few options. You can call campus security for an escort (this is always a reasonable option, so don't be shy or feel like you are being too precious with your safety). You can ask your friend and her roommate to walk you back.
And, if nothing else, you can make sure somebody is expecting you back in the room by 12:15, and is prepared to go looking for you if you're not.
Another thing to remember is that if you are carrying any kind of self-defense weapon, device, or chemical agent, make sure you know how to use it. Do not carry a pocketknife, mace, or a mini stun gun unless you have practiced, are confident in your ability to use the device, and are prepared to use it on another person.
Also, check the product. If there is a safety switch, know where it is and how to disable it. Mace and pepper spray have a finite shelf life, so if your mom passed on the same canister she used take with her when jogging 10 years ago, the product has lost its potency.
Safety In Numbers
Who is part of the group?
What's the plan if you get separated?
Have your friends' phone numbers programmed into your phone. If part of the plan is to split up once you arrive, decide on a meeting place and time to regroup. Before leaving, ensure that everyone who said they were heading back is present and accounted for.
More than this, make sure you have each other's backs. If you see someone behaving suspiciously, point him or her out to your group. Keep an eye on your drinks and food.
If one of the guys wants to head back to campus early, offer to walk with him. If a random stranger offers to drive your friend back (It's fine, you guys go ahead, I'll give her a ride) - it's NOT fine. Nope, nope, nope. Stay together.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
Same goes for using your phone when walking alone. Talking on the phone or texting means you are distracted, and accordingly, more vulnerable. If it's late at night or you are in an area where you need to be extra vigilant, remove your headphones, put away your phone, and stay aware of your surroundings.
As my husband put it, you want to look like more trouble than you're worth for a potential mugger or attacker.
Trust Your Gut
Either your instinct was correct and you have taken what steps you can to make yourself less of an easy target, or the person never intended any harm. There is nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution.
Understand What Constitutes "Consent"
Regular interactions doesn't mean you get to force a hug. A hug doesn't mean you get to force a kiss. A kiss doesn't mean you get to force touching. And touching doesn't mean you get to force unwanted sexual contact. This goes for men and women - no means no means no.
Don't let strangers into your room, and leave someone else's room if you start to feel uncomfortable. Be direct and clear about what you want:
You are not allowed to say things like that to me.
I want you to go.
Don't touch me.
Let your friend or roommate know where you are. Consider having a code word you can text to a buddy if you need immediate help.
If something happens, remember two things:
- It's not your fault. I'll repeat that - it's not your fault.
- It's your choice to report it, but do not let worries about your assailant's reputation / grades / parents sway you. You do not have to pretend like it never happened.
College campuses are equipped to help students who are victims of sexual assault. If you are not comfortable bringing it to the school, you can also reach out to national hotlines like RAINN or consult a mental health professional for guidance.
Know Your Options
However, let's not confuse a person who has been attacked as someone who was careless. Ideally, we shouldn't have to worry about our safety, especially on a college campus. So if something does happen to you, know that there is no such thing as "asking for it." Seek recourse from campus resources, the police, and your family and friends without guilt or shame.