Guide to Staying safe for College Women Instructions
College is exciting! You’re on your own for the first time, making new friends, going on dates, going to parties, going to class (hopefully!), and generally making your life into your own. It’s easy to get lost in all of the fun and excitement. However, it’s also important for students, especially female students, to remain vigilant about personal safety.
The world can be a dangerous place for women. Research has shown that between 35 and 70% of women worldwide have been physically or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner. Globally, over a third of women have reported suffering a sexual assault at the hands of a stranger or non-intimate partner. Almost half of all murders committed against women in this country are perpetrated by their romantic partners or family members, and the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the United States is homicide. Despite these startling statistics, violence against women is a vastly underreported crime, and experts estimate that there is even more devastation happening under the radar. Sadly, the story is no different on college campuses, and nearly one in five women will be the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault by the time she leaves college. All of this may sound scary, and it is, but the key to staying safe is not about being afraid, it’s about being aware. Keep these tips in mind to help keep you safe on your college campus.
Find a friend and agree to look out for one another.
Freedom is most of the fun of the college experience, and no one needs to know where you are every second, but find someone you trust who you can check in with on a regular basis. Agree that you will text or call one another once a day. Swap class schedules and emergency contacts and do your best to keep an eye on one another. It’s important for someone to have your back, especially when you’re in a strange new place without your usual support system.
Make sure your phone is charged and keep it with you. Make sure it is in good working order and that you have a signal wherever you go. If you need help, your phone may be your lifeline.
Take advantage of technology and download one of numerous applications designed to keep you safe on campus. Apps like Circle of 6, Guardly, bSafe, Panic Guard, My Force, and On Watch have features that track your location, notify police and contacts, sound alarms, or send alerts at the touch of a button.
Make a plan.
Know your schedule, and make plans in advance to avoid unsafe situations. When you have a night class or are getting out of work late, don’t walk back to your car or dorm by yourself. Don’t take shortcuts, and stay in well-lit areas with a lot of people around. Park in well-lit and well populated lots. Have your car or house keys in your hand so you aren’t standing around preoccupied and fumbling for them. Lock your doors immediately after getting into your car or house. Know where you’re going and how to get there so you don’t get lost and wind up somewhere you don’t want to be. Have the numbers for campus and local police programmed into your phone so you can reach them quickly in case of emergency.
Don’t go anywhere isolated with someone you don’t know.
If you’ve met a new guy or joined a new study group, make sure you meet in public places until you know and trust them.
If you’re going to be drinking, designate a sober friend.
If you’re at a party or gathering and you’re going to be drinking, your group should have more than just a designated driver. Have one sober person with you to make sure no one leaves with anyone they don’t know, or winds up trapped in a situation they can’t get out of. A large percentage of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption.
Stay safe at bars and parties.
Never go alone to a party or a bar, there is safety in numbers and a tipsy girl by herself is an easy target for a predatory guy. Never leave your drink unattended or accept an unsealed beverage from a stranger. Know your limits so you don’t black out somewhere. If you do drink, don’t trust yourself to decide if you’re okay to drive. Don’t get in the car with someone who has been drinking, and always have your cell phone and extra cash to call and pay for a ride. Most campuses have local cab companies that serve them, program a few numbers into your phone in case you’re stranded.
Be safe on the dating scene.
You’ll probably go on lots of dates while you’re at college. You should have all the fun you can, but keep these tips in mind for a safe and rewarding dating experience.
When you’re just getting to know someone, make sure a friend or family member knows where you’re going and who you’re with. Plan on checking in after your date, just a quick text is enough. Drive your own car or arrange your own transportation. You don’t want to be stranded somewhere if things go south. For initial meet ups, make sure you meet in public. Don’t go to his place or give him your address. Don’t leave food or drink unattended. Trust your instincts. If he wants to be alone with you somewhere and you feel uneasy about it, listen to your gut and don’t feel guilty or pressured. If he’s worth being with, he’ll understand and respect your hesitation.
Recognize the warning signs of an abusive partner.
You might have a lot of great relationships while you’re in college, but statistically, many women are abused by an intimate partner at one point or another. Domestic violence, or intimate partner abuse (IPA), is a systematic pattern of abusive behavior designed to gain or maintain control over a romantic partner. This may include physical, sexual, emotional, mental, or financial abuse and manipulation. Many women who find themselves in an abusive relationship never even saw it coming. Prepare yourself by knowing the warning signs of a potentially dangerous relationship.
Attempting to isolate you - if your partner tries to keep you away from family and friends, or subtly works to dismantle your other relationships, you could be headed for trouble. Abusers must isolate their victims in order to exercise control over them and limit their resources and avenues for escape. If your partner constantly bad mouths your loved ones, or makes you feel guilty for spending time with them, it could be time to reevaluate your relationship.
Extremely jealous and possessive behavior - it’s one thing to feel a little jealous of a direct romantic rival, but if your partner is excessively jealous of your family and friends, the time you spend at work or school, or your pursuit of hobbies, that’s a bad sign. Your partner should not try to control who you talk to, what you wear, or who you spend time with. Jealousy can feel flattering at first, but it will become suffocating, and can become dangerous. If your partner can’t trust you to live your life, you may not be in the right relationship.
Stories about lots of crazy exes - does your partner have a lot of stories about how crazy their exes are? If your partner constantly talks about a string of volatile, unhealthy relationships, take time to consider who the common denominator is. Do you know anyone who knows an ex and can give you another side of the story? Doing some digging may save you from making a mistake.
Violent or abusive behavior toward other people or animals – does your partner have a history of violence? Are they cruel or explosive towards other people? When they talk about another person, are they filled with rage or out of control? How your partner treats other people reflects how they will someday treat you.
Extreme highs and lows in your relationship – the cycle of domestic violence follows a clear pattern in many relationships. First, tension will build over a common issue. Next, an abuser will violently lash out at the victim in some way, usually blaming the victim for their behavior. Then, the abuser will express extreme guilt for their behavior and may shower you in love and affection. This “honeymoon phase” is part of tricking a victim into staying with a predatory partner. It strengthens the bond of the relationship, and convinces the victim that it’s worth saving. If it was all bad 24/7, no one would stay. A predatory person knows that and will use it against you.
If you find that you are afraid of your partner, constantly feeling bad about yourself because of things they say and do, second guessing your own eyes and feelings because of skilled manipulation, or ashamed to tell your friends and family the truth about what goes on in your relationship, you may be being abused. Abuse is not only physical, so just because your partner has never hit you doesn’t mean you have a healthy or positive dynamic. Constantly belittling, criticizing, controlling, or raging behavior are common abusive tactics.
If you feel like you’re being abused, talk to someone you trust. If you are too embarrassed to talk to someone you know, you can call a hotline, talk to a social worker, or therapist. There are many resources for victims of domestic violence, and many people ready to listen and help. Rally people around you and don’t keep quiet. Remember the best way for someone to abuse you is for them to take away your support system.
Be aware, trust your instincts, make lots of noise, and have fun.
There are a lot of things to keep in mind, but more than anything else, just be aware of your surroundings. Know where you are, where you’re going, and who you’re going to be with. Plan for the unexpected, and don’t ever assume that bad things only happen to other people in other places. Crime happens everywhere to every demographic, and unfortunately, women experience a lot of violent crime against them. If you do feel like you are in danger, trust yourself. Your instincts have gotten you this far, and you should always listen to your gut. If you guessed wrong and missed out on a fun night, who cares. You’re in college, you have a million fun nights ahead of you. If you are in danger, make a lot of noise. Scream, kick, bite, punch, use whatever weapon you have available to you, and do anything you can to avoid being taken somewhere by an assailant. Remember that screaming “fire!” will draw more attention than screaming “help!”
There’s no reason not to have an amazing college experience. There is so much to explore, and I know you’ll have an awesome time. Being safe isn’t about being afraid to try new things or meet new people. It’s about respecting the fact that the world can be a dangerous place anywhere, for anyone. Be your own advocate and have a safe and rewarding college experience.