How can I reduce my risk?
There is no way to make yourself immune to sexual assault. However, you can reduce your risk by practicing safety.
Below are 10 safety tips:
1. Learn the area
Familiarize yourself with the buildings, streets, and routes that make up your campus and local area. Also, if your college or university has them, memorize where the blue lights or emergency buttons are. This will help you get around easier and, if necessary, quickly get out of danger. (1)
2. Be prepared
When you go somewhere, bring extra cash with you for emergencies, such as needing to get yourself home or not having a working credit or debit card. (1)
Also, be sure to always have your phone near you, charged with the numbers and apps for campus police, transportation services, and other emergency resources saved to it. (2)
If possible, download a mobile safety app. An app like this will create a network of people you trust, allowing you to immediately alert them if you're ever in danger.
Lastly, to defend yourself or get someone's attention, think about carrying a whistle or pepper spray around; and, consider taking a self-defense class on-campus or in the local area. This class could be both fun and life-saving. (1)
3. Stay alert
Instead of listening to music, looking at your phone, or doing other distracting things while you're out and about, pay attention to what's going on around you. This will help you identify signs of danger so you can react accordingly, if necessary. (1)
6. Drink safely
If you consume alcohol, never binge drink. Instead, drink in moderation, eat, and avoid exceeding your limits. (2) You never want to lose control of yourself or your surroundings. (1)
Additionally, only drink what you opened, ordered, or watched being made; and, never take your eyes off of your drink. If you do, get a new one. (2)
Most importantly, if you ever feel overly intoxicated or sick, get help immediately. You may be drugged or have alcohol poisoning, which can both increase your risk for sexual assault and lead to death. (3)
To learn more about drinking, visit NIAAA; and, to learn the warning signs of date rape drugs, refer to the Office of Women's Health.
7. Date safely
If you are going to meet or leave with someone, tell a trusted friend your plans beforehand and give them identifying information about who you will be with. This should include the person's name, appearance, contact information, and license plate number, if possible. (2)
Also, try to get to know the person in public places, go on group dates until you get to know them better, and know what your limits and expectations are from the start. Never be afraid to tell anyone what you are and are not comfortable doing sexually. (2)
Remember: nothing that occurs without a clear, informed, and positively-given "yes" is ever okay. If anything like this begins to happen, or you start to feel uncomfortable, try to leave. (2)
4. Don't be alone
When going anywhere, try to avoid areas, routes, and times of day where not a lot of people are around you. When you cannot, walk in well-lighted areas, travel with friends, or use a public safety bus or escort if you can. There's power in numbers. (2)
5. Party safely
When you go out, always go in a group, determining who is in that group prior to leaving. (2)
Also, before you go, designate someone to stay sober, whether or not driving will be involved; and, plan when and where you all will meet to return home, just in case someone's phone dies or anyone gets lost. (2)
For risky situations, develop code words to use in case one of you feels unsafe or needs help. (2)
Most importantly, If you all decide to split up at the party, separate into smaller groups or pairs, and check on each other regularly. Do not allow yourself, or any of your friends, to be alone with someone you or they do not know well; and, never leave a member of your group alone at a party. (2)
8. Trust your gut
Again, if you start feeling uncomfortable, do whatever you can to safely get out of that situation, even if it means lying, hurting someone's feelings or being teased. The risk of being harmed is not worth staying; and, you feel that way for a reason. (2)
10. Lock up
To protect yourself, always lock your doors and windows, especially while you're sleeping. Although other students may seem nice, like they would never harm or steal from you, that is not always the case. Even on college campuses, you cannot trust everyone. (1)
Through the practice of safety, you can deter a someone from committing sexual assault in certain situations. However, there are situations where, no matter what you do or do not do to protect yourself, you will still be harmed. So, practicing safety cannot guarantee that you will never be sexually assaulted; and, not practicing safety would not make you responsible for your sexual assault, if you were to suffer one.
As we work towards a world free from perpetrators, we should do everything we can to protect ourselves and other people from them. Simultaneously, we should refrain from blaming any survivor for their sexual assault who did not practice safety, stating or implying that what happened to them was their fault.
Remember: sexual assault is always caused by the perpetrator, never the survivor.
What is an active bystander?
An active bystander is anyone who intervenes when they notice a risk, occurrence, or promotion of violence, such as someone drinking too much at a party, a classmate crying out for help, or a friend making sexual assault jokes or survivor-blaming comments. Intervening can involve directly confronting a person's inappropriate words or actions. However, it can also involve non-confrontational intervention, focusing on the harmed or at-risk person instead. (4)
To learn the warning signs that someone is at-risk of sexual assault or needs help as a survivor, visit RAINN. You can also go to the How Can I Help A Survivor? section of our GET HELP page. We provide more information about supporting survivors there.
Below is the CARE method, which you can use to help you help another person. No More also provides information about ways you can intervene: (4)
1. Create a distraction
If you can do this safely, figure out a way to interrupt the situation. You can change the topic of discussion, suggest that whoever you're concerned about accompany you to the bar or restroom, invite them to dance, or start a game or debate for them to join.
3. Refer to an authority
If the situation is out of your control, go to your RA, the bartender, the security guard or another staff member for help, wherever you are. They should help; but, if they don't or someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or campus police right away.
2. Ask Directly
Whether or not you know the at-risk person or survivor, approach them as a caring human being if you can do so safely. Ask them if they're okay, find out who they came with, and offer to stay with them or accompany them to get help. This may mean a lot and show the person targeting them that they're not alone.
4. Enlist others
If you feel uncomfortable intervening alone, but don't think you need to refer to an authority, involve your friends. You can work as a team to create a distraction, approach the person you are concerned about together, or, if one of your friends knows the at-risk person or survivor, they can check on them for you.
People often don't intervene because they think someone else will or they don't want to make a scene, fearing they'll be viewed as dramatic or nosey. However, if everyone in a room waits for the person next to them to act, no one will act. The same person drinking too much will continue to drink, the same person being sexually assaulted will continue to be sexually assaulted, and the same person blaming the survivor will continue to blame the survivor.
When something may be wrong, it is better for two or more people to simultaneously take action than for no one to act at all. Also, saving someone from enduring the trauma of sexual assault is worth making a scene, stopping a sexual assault from progressing is worth being viewed as dramatic, and reaching out to someone who experienced sexual assault is worth being viewed as nosey.
However you can safely help, from standing up to a perpetrator to comforting a survivor, intervene when you notice a risk, occurrence, or endorsement of sexual assault. Even if the situation turns out to be okay, or you're not able to effectively help, your courage will inspire others and show everyone around you that there's support if anyone ever needs it; and, that can make all the difference.
How can I make a difference?
In addition to reducing your risk, being an active bystander, and supporting a survivor in your everyday life, there are many other ways for you to help!
Below are activities you can engage in:
As an activist, you can work with others to petition federal, state, or campus officials to improve laws, policies, or procedures related to sexual assault. To learn more about federal and state activism, go to RAINN; and, for more information about campus activism, visit Know Your IX.
You can help fund an initiative working to stop sexual assault. This initiative can be anything from a campus or community organization to an individual or group crowdfunding project; and, your gift can be anything from a penny to millions of dollars.
Through a campus or community organization, you can support survivors and their loved ones by serving on a crisis hotline or accompanying them to the hospital, police station, or court. Also, you can educate others about sexual assault by assisting with special events and programs.
To raise money for an initiative working to stop sexual assault, you can bring people together through a fun activity on your campus or in your community. This activity can be anything from a benefit concert or marathon to a car wash or bake sale; and, it would be a great way to raise awareness!
You can find organizations to get involved with by visiting RAINN, look for involvement opportunities through your college or university, or start your own initiative, like we did.
What can colleges & universities do?
As stated on our LEARN page, schools should hold perpetrators more accountable and give more support to survivors and their loved ones, especially in the long term as they heal physically, mentally, emotionally, academically, and financially. Also, schools should implement, enforce, and improve security measures, policies and procedures regularly, providing their students with the best protection possible.
To learn how 2020's changes to Title IX are hindering this progress, visit Know Your IX.
Lastly, colleges and universities are required by law to have prevention programs for sexual assault and its related issues, including domestic violence, stalking, and substance abuse.
Below are links to these laws, provided by The Clery Center:
On many college campuses, prevention programs are conducted through brief programs, video, or large group settings. (5) However, a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the following discovery:
"Although these brief programs may increase awareness of the issue, it is unlikely that such programs are sufficient to change behavioral patterns that are developed and continually influenced and reinforced across the lifespan. Programs that fit within one class period or that can be delivered at low cost via video or in large group settings are appealing in educational and other settings. However, continuing to invest scarce resources in low- or no-impact strategies detracts from potential investments in more effective approaches and may be counterproductive." (5)
At colleges and universities, students should study sexual assault and its related issues just like they study math, English, and other academic subjects. Through long-term and engaging prevention programs, as well as campus climates of accountability, support, and safety, sexual assault on college campuses will dramatically decrease. (5)
What can parents/guardians do?
If you are the parent or guardian of a college student, or you are touring college campuses and making a decision about your child’s post secondary education, please investigate the topic of sexual assault on campuses.
To ensure your child's safety, the following questions need to be answered by the college or university your child attends or wants to attend:
How involved are they in the lives of their students?
- What assistance do they provide freshmen in transitioning to college?
- How do they support transfer students, international students, upperclassmen and graduate students?
How do they respond to substance abuse?
- What prevention programs do they have in place to educate students, staff, and faculty about alcohol and other drugs?
- How do they intervene if a student is found intoxicated on campus?
- What programs or services do they provide for students who are struggling with substance abuse?
Are students who live on-campus safe?
- How are connecting dorm rooms set up?
- If they are connected by a bathroom, are there locks on both sides of the door to protect students?
- If they are connected by a common living space, can students lock the doors to their own rooms?
- If not, how do they keep these students safe?
- How are residence halls secured?
- Is traffic into and out of the building monitored 24/7?
- Do all entries and exits that are not monitored remain locked?
- What is the guest policy?
- Are there visitation hours guests must adhere to?
- Do guests have to check-in when they enter the building and check-out when they leave?
- Are guests allowed to stay overnight?
- Do students need the permission of their roommates and suite mates in order to have guests in their dorm room, suite, or apartment?
Are students who live off-campus safe?
Is transportation provided to and from campus, day and night?
Are public safety escorts available 24/7?
Do they feel responsible for their students' safety?
When a student's guest assaults a student?
When a staff or faculty member assaults a student?
When a student assaults another student?
How do they respond to sexual assault and its related forms of violence?
What prevention programs do they have to educate students, staff, and faculty about sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking?
How can students report a sexual assault to the college or university, whether or not domestic violence or stalking was involved?
How do they accommodate survivors, before and after the results of their perpetrator's disciplinary process?
Do they support survivors throughout the reporting, disciplinary, legal, and healing processes, checking-in with them regularly?
What health services do they provide for survivors?
Do they provide sexual assault forensic exams and STI/STD testing?
Do they have a 24-hour mental health hotline and other crisis services?
Do they offer individual counseling and group counseling or support groups?
Do they provide psychological screening and psychiatric evaluation on-campus?
Is there a pharmacy on-campus?
How long can students access these services?
Are these services free?
How do they protect the scholarships, financial aid, or financial investment of a survivor?
When the survivor has to medically withdraw from some or all of their classes?
When the survivor needs to retake courses, complete summer school, or attend extra semesters of college?
These questions can help you get started, but they are just a starting point. In addition to these questions, request data about past sexual assault numbers for the past 3 years and any findings or conclusions from those incidents. A great resource is The Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool.
Also, get a copy of the school's student conduct policy and familiarize yourself with laws that regulate colleges and universities, such as Title IX, the Clery Act, and DSFCA. Although required to by law, not all schools are compliant.
For more information about the laws above, please refer to our previous section, What Can Colleges & Universities Do?
Lastly, learn as much as possible about how the college or university handles sexual assault and its related issues, including domestic violence, stalking, substance abuse, and mental health. Learn what safety measures and prevention efforts are in place, as well as what support they offer, should anything happen; and, if your child attends this school, make a difference at it.
Hopefully, you and your child will not have to go through a nightmare like ours.
The numbers below correspond with the numbers throughout this page. If you want more information about anything, just click on its listed source.
(1) Hoyt, Elizabeth. (2014, June 27). Top 10 safety tips for college students. Fastweb.
(2) Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. (2016). Safety for students.
(3) National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Overview of alcohol consumption.
(4) No More. (2015). Preventing violence.
(5) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (April 2014). Preventing sexual violence on college campuses: lessons from research and practice.