The number of crimes reported on college campuses has decreased in the past few years – reported being the key word. Sometimes students hesitate to report incidents for fear of getting in trouble themselves. An underage student robbed while drinking in a bar, for example, might not want to bring attention to the circumstances that led to the robbery. That’s why fewer reported crimes doesn’t necessarily mean safer campuses.
As students begin reporting to college during the next few weeks, it’s best to renew a focus on how they can make safer campuses for themselves and others. Prevention is the best-case scenario, and below are tips to help new and returning college students.
Theft, robbery always a threat
Consumer Reports recommends concealing your valuables from view, which could be as simple as putting your phone, laptop, jewelry, etc., in a desk drawer or under your bed. However, there are also inexpensive “decoy items” that you can purchase. For example, you can buy a small safe that looks like a dictionary (and even has The New English Dictionary printed on the front and spine). However, this “book” contains a metal safe and includes two keys.
Women students can purchase a “hanging dress” to put in their closet. It looks like a black dress on a clothes hanger, but jewelry, money, credit cards, and other small valuables can be hidden in various plastic pouches inside the “dress.” Both women and men can also make their own hanging dress or shirt using hanging travel pouches, which they can hide inside of hanging items of clothes. Students – particularly those living off campus – might also want to consider the pros and cons of renter’s insurance.
When you’re walking, even on what’s considered one of the safer campuses, be conscious of your surroundings. If you’re talking on the phone or listening to music through your earbuds or headphones, you’re less likely pay attention. In fact, a study reveals that wearing headphones leads to “inattentional blindness” or the inability to pay full attention to what’s happening around you. That can make you a prime target for a robber.
How to avoid sexual assault
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. Dr. M. Susan Scanlon, an OB-GYN at Midwest Center for Women’s Healthcare, warns that 50% of all sexual assaults are a result of the victim, the attacker, or both being drunk. College drinking is widespread and dangerous, according to several reports.
Scanlon adds, “Research has shown that the attackers target women who are drunk, and alcohol makes it more difficult for a woman to defend herself.” While it’s important to note that the woman is not to blame even if she has been drinking, Scanlon says regulating alcohol use can help reduce a woman’s chance of being targeted and make for safer campuses.
“Did you know you can calculate your blood alcohol content so that you could predict a safe alcohol limit?” Scanlon asks. She recommends using an online blood alcohol calculator to gauge a safe drinking level.
David Nance, CEO of SABRE, a personal safety product brand, recommends pepper sprays and gels to avoid being a victim of sexual assault or robbery. “These are potentially life-saving products that empower users and provide peace of mind.” He says a keychain pepper gel can be dispensed from at least 12 feet away.
Nance also warns students against walking alone when out late at night even on safer campuses. “You’re at your most vulnerable when you’re walking alone at night.” He says that criminals want soft targets, and in the dark, students become a soft target. “In fact, murder and rape decrease by 43% and 56%, respectively, in that extra hour of sun you get each night during Daylight Saving Time.” Nance says that there is less visibility in the darkness, so there are fewer people who can see you and come to your rescue. “Stay in well-lit areas and remember that there’s safety in numbers.”
He also recommends Safe Ride programs. “If you stay late at the library, a Safe Ride keeps you from having to walk home alone in the dark; also, Safe Ride drivers tend to be safety-oriented and can look out for you as you exit the car and enter your dorm or apartment.”
Even on safer campuses, fire is a threat
Before moving into a dorm or apartment, the U.S. Fire Administration advises students and their parents to ask the following questions:
- Are there working smoke alarms in each bedroom, outside of sleeping areas, and on each level of the building?
- Are there at least two ways out of each room and the building?
- Do the upper levels of the building have at least two sets of stairs inside and/or a fire escape?
- Are there exit signs in the hallways to show the way out?
- Are there enough electrical outlets for all appliances, computer, printers, and electronics – without using an extension cord?
- Has the building’s heating system been inspected in the past year?
- Does the sprinkler or fire alarm system send a signal to the local fire department and/or campus security?
- Is the building address clearly posted so emergency services can find it quickly if they need to?
Think safety early
According to Jennifer OKeeffe, director of Legal Affairs & Title IX coordinator at Lasell College in Newton, Mass., “Conversations about safety should start well before college.” OKeeffe also says, “As students prepare to leave for college, parents and students should read college policies, know what resources are available on and off campus, and ask questions.” She adds that each school is required to publish crime statistics and this information is updated annually.