Expert Outlines 6 Ways Young Women Can Take the Initiative to Be Safe on Campus

Posted By Terri Williams on August 24, 2016 at 5:35 pm
Expert Outlines 6 Ways Young Women Can Take the Initiative to Be Safe on Campus

College is a strange, new, and exciting world for all new students: For young women, there are added elements that can determine success or distress. About 20% of college women will be victims or attempted victims of sexual assault, according to U.S. Justice Department statistics. That’s why it’s important for women to be safe on campus.

Other social and health issues also can complicate a young woman’s life and hinder her ability to pursue a college degree. The Pew Research Center identifies four common mistakes college students regret. To help young females make better decisions and improve their chances of staying safe on campus, Dr. M. Susan Scanlon, a Chicago-based gynecologist and the author of The Gyne’s Guide for College Women: How to Have a Healthy, Safe, and Happy Four Years, recently released a list of the 6 things young women need to do before going to college to protect themselves:

  • Take a self-defense class so that protecting yourself becomes instinct rather than reaction.
  • Know your alcohol limit – and don’t exceed it. Blood-alcohol calculator websites can help.
  • Load Circle of 6, Companion and/or other safety apps on your phone. It also helps to have a campus shuttle schedule and taxi app.
  • Plan a contraception method before you become sexually active. In addition, keep condoms in your purse to protect against STDs.
  • Don’t forget the power of the word ‘no.’ Practice it and other key phrases you can use to get out of bad situations.
  • Know yourself – and your boundaries. Once you decide who you are, apply your values to the challenges you face to be safe on campus.

GoodCall asked Scanlon and Melissa Lamson, president and CEO of Lamson Consulting and the author of #WomenAdvance, to address each point about being safe on campus in more detail.

Take a self-defense class

Scanlon believes women of all ages should take a self-defense class, but especially those headed to college because the sexual assault stats are against them. “A self-defense class teaches women the tools they need to make protecting themselves an instinct rather than reaction,” she says. Women already in college should look for self-defense classes to enhance their chances of being safe on campus.

Lamson warns against underestimating the level of violence women experience in college. “But it’s also a mental exercise in self-confidence and owning your power, which is good in both personal and professional relationships,” she says.

Know your alcohol limit

Few students enter college knowing their tolerance for alcohol, and that can be a problem. “Many of my college-age patients, especially college freshmen, who’ve had problems in college associated with alcohol, have told me that they did not realize how they would be affected by drinking,” Scanlon explains. One reason this is so important: Scanlon says 50% of sexual assaults are related to alcohol consumption by the victim, the attacker, and sometimes both.

Attackers routinely seek out women who are inebriated, says Scanlon, who notes that this also hinders a woman’s ability to fend off an assailant. “Although it’s never a woman’s fault for being attacked, whether she’s been drinking or not, a woman can take steps to make herself a less likely victim and one step is to limit alcohol use.”

Research shows that college drinking is widespread and dangerous. In addition to using an online blood alcohol calculator, Lamson also advises women to pay attention to their bodies. “I also believe women need to know their feelings – if they start to feel out of control or too high from alcohol, stop and drink water,” she says.

Get and use safety apps

Scanlon says numerous apps can assist college women when they have questions or need assistance. “Circle of Six and Companion can alert your contact list if you have difficulty getting home after a party,” she says. Using taxi apps also can help young women quickly get a ride home and keep them safe on campus or off. “Health apps such as the CDC STD app and FirstAid by American Red Cross are great references for every college student,” Scanlon says.

Plan a contraception method – and use it

“If you don’t want to have a baby in college, you have two choices: either don’t have sex or use contraception,” Scanlon says.  However, up to 80% of college women fail to be consistent or use contraception correctly, and she warns that at least 10% of these women will end up pregnant while in college.

“In order to avoid unplanned pregnancy, be sure to educate yourself about your options for contraception and then choose to use it properly and consistently every time,” Scanlon says. Readers can find options in Dr. Scanlon’s book or through conversations with their own gynecologist.

The best defense is a good offense. According to Lamson, “It’s difficult enough in the moment to consider practical matters and being well prepared can minimize awkwardness.” It also cuts down on the potential for young women to be pressured into just taking a chance without using any birth control.

The power of saying ‘no’ and other important phrases

One common thing Scanlon has seen in many patients who experienced problems in college: They didn’t know how to get out of those situations. “They didn’t know how to say ‘no’ even when they wanted to; peer pressure, personal expectations or ‘trying to fit in’ may all be possible reasons why woman may have difficulty saying no,” she says.

That’s why she recommends that young women come up with a few sentences they can say when they’re in undesirable situations – and practice those responses over and over again. “You don’t want to be fumbling through a protest when things are heating up with your new boyfriend – instead, practice such phrases as, ‘No thanks, I’m not ready for sex,’ or ‘I’m feeling sick, I need to go home.’”

Lamson shares this sentiment and says it’s difficult for women to say “no.”  “Women like to please, are good at multi-tasking, and aren’t afraid of working hard – but this has consequences on our personal well-being, time commitments, and relationships,” Lamson warns, adding that women need to set boundaries and prioritize what’s important.

Know yourself and your personal values

As a physician for 20 years who has taken care of thousands of high school and college-age women, Scanlon says those with a healthy sense of self seem to make healthier choices at college. “I encourage my patients to think about their personal values before they leave for school and encounter situations that may make them feel uncomfortable or push their boundaries.”

Lamson concludes,Values are important guiding principles. They serve as guidelines and guardrails to what women want and need.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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