The 411 on Campus Safety
Editor’s Note: Erin Weed founded the Girls Fight Back program after her sorority sister was murdered in June 2001. Determined to prevent similar tragedies, Erin created Girls Fight Back to educate women about campus security, personal safety, violence protection and self-defense. She now travels the nation giving personal safety seminars and has spoken to over 100,000 women nationwide. The following column is excerpted from her book, Girls Fight Back! The College Girl’s Guide to Protecting Herself.
I believe that girls can be simultaneously strong, smart, savvy and safe. I know it is inherently possible to balance risk with adventure and opportunity with confidence. It’s your right to enjoy independence, have fun, meet new people and embark on outrageous adventures. And please don’t ever let yourself be limited by your anxieties or some jackass telling you what outfit not to wear.
While all this may be true, unfortunately neither myself nor anyone else can give you any guarantees when it comes to your personal security. There may be situations in your life when you are simply unable to avoid being attacked or victimized by someone, regardless of how proactive you may be about your safety. Please know this: Any act of violence against a woman is NEVER her fault. I don't care how late you were out, who you were with, how much you drank or what you were wearing. Fault only belongs to the people who commit these terrible acts.
Understandably, some girls would rather not think about scary stuff like sexual assault since police, crisis or campus safety officers deal with such issues. But the harsh reality is that at some point during your life, you or someone you love will be victimized. According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000 titled The Sexual Victimization of College Women, females on campuses are faced with some significant safety threats. Over the course of a college career, the percentage of completed or attempted rape among women in higher educational institutions might climb to between one-fifth and one-quarter.
Thankfully, there are many wonderful educators and organization dedicated to educating women about sexual assault and violence. Even so, these crimes against women continue to take place every day, and it’s up to you to take control of your personal safely. So let's start by getting the 411 on what's happening on college campuses today.
Q: Overall, how safe are American colleges?
There are many factors to be considered when classifying a college as “safe” or “unsafe”. Geographic location, student population and city crime rate, just to name a few. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (Violent Victimization of College Students, 1995-2002), these are some overall characteristics of violent acts against college students:
*41 percent of offenders were perceived to be using alcohol or drugs
*72 percent of off-campus crime occurred at night (6 p.m. – 6 a.m.)
*In two-thirds of the assaults, the offender was unarmed
*58 percent of victimizations were committed by strangers (except in the case of sexual assault against woman – in these cases, victims were four times more likely to be assaulted by someone they knew)
These statistics are helpful because they give us an idea of what is happening from a national perspective. However, it is even more valuable to know what’s really going on at your university. It used to be impossible to get college crime statistics, since universities were not mandated to report campus crime to city police. That all changed on April 5, 1986, when a 19-year old student, Jeanne Ann Cleary, was raped and murdered in her residence hall at Lehigh University. The Clery family realized crime on campus was one of the best-kept secrets in the country and consequently founded an organization called Security on Campus, Inc. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, now known as the Jeanne Cleary Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics.
This act requires all federally funded colleges to report crime statistics. So what does this mean to you? You can visit the Security on Campus website (www.securityoncampus.org ) and download the latest crime statistics for the college you plan to attend or are currently enrolled. (Note: While statistics are a helpful tool, violent crimes are often unreported, especially sexual assault. Avoid making conclusions based on statistics alone.)
Q: What questions should I ask my university about safety policies?
Start with these basic questions to see where your college stands on security. Take note on how your inquiries are handled. Are they taken seriously or are they blown off? This alone will tell you how committed your college is to keeping you safe.
*Are campus police sworn officers of the state or just security guards? A good security force consists of both.
*Do the annual crime statistics include reports to the dean’s office, judicial hearings, women’s rape/crisis centers?
*Are security logs open for public inspection?
*Does the school ask applicants if they have been arrested and convicted of a crime? If so, are applicants with a criminal history admitted?
*Are bathroom doors in co-ed dorms secured with master locks for floor residents?
*Are single-sex and substance-free dormitories available?
(Reprinted with permission from Security on Campus Inc. Go to securityoncampus.org for more questions on their site.)
*Q: What are some typical security measure that should be in place on my campus?
Each campus has its own safety and security plans, designed around the geographic concerns of the college location and crime rates. Here is a list of common features to look for:
Strategically placed on campus, these phones are tall, blue poles with a light on top. In the center of the pole is a phone, or just a button that summons campus security to your location when pushed. Use an emergency phone if you are feeling threatened, but keep in mind your first priority should be to escape an attacker (and it’s not likely you’ll be able to utilize the phone if you’re being chased). You can also use it if you’ve witnessed a scenario that needs police attention. Always keep a charged cell phone with you in case of [an] emergency and program it with the numbers of your local police department and 911 for easy dialing.
Scope out the campus at night in addition to during the daytime to assess the lighting situation. In the event you notice a light has burned out, take action and call the building maintenance department to report it. Each semester, find safe routes between class buildings and where you live. Look for routes that are open, well-lit and have a good amount of people around.
No, not the kind of escort service that sends a dashingly handsome Chippendale to your door. The escort service I am referring to is an officer or a volunteer who accompanies students walking alone on campus. Simply call the escort service, and someone will walk or drive you to your destination. Ask your university if this service is available to students, and if so, who provides it. In most cases, escorts are campus police officers or students who have formed a group for this purpose. Don’t hesitate to use the escort service if it is available to you. If this service is not available, get a bunch of students together and start one up! There can be liability issues involved with escort services, so don’t tackle this idea on your own. Get university support and involvement before taking action.
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