Staying Safe at College (Tips for Freshman Women)

Sadly, sexual assault on campuses happen every day. With college just a few months away, I wanted to send some reminders to the young women out there about staying safe at school. Having worked on campuses for 17 years, I know the reality of what can happen, so let me give you a few practical pieces of advice.

My best piece of advice is to find a great group of friends that you can trust. Friends, who will have your back, be there for you and always protect you. Build a community, a “sisterhood” and look out for each other every day. Find this sisterhood on your dorm floor, in your sorority, through your sports team or through your campus job. I don’t care where you find it, just do it!  This is the best safety precaution you will have during your 4 years of college.

Also, here is a list of general precautions. These are recommended by schools, police and actual sexual assault victims. We all want you to enjoy college. We just want you to be safe too.

Post this list in your dorm room as a good daily reminder. 

Don’t walk across campus alone in the dark. Take the path that is well lit. Forget about shortcuts in the dark.

Know where the emergency help boxes are on campus.

Don’t go to parties alone.

Don’t leave your friend (drunk or not) alone at a party, unless she is with good friends.

Keep the number of your local cab service programed in your phone or download Uber.

Don’t leave your drinks unattended at a bar or at a party.

Bad decisions are made late at night. I don’t care how cool or interesting some new guy is… do not go anywhere alone with him @ 2am.

If you have a male study partner, meet him at the library or at a cafe.

Always let at least one friend know where you are. Text with updates often, especially if you feel nervous.

Keep pepper spray in your purse and/or room. (It’s legal in all 50 states.)

Know where campus police is located and have their number programed into your phone.

Dont wait for a bus or train at a badly lit spot and make sure you know when the last one runs each night.

Find some great male allies on campus.

Download the application kitestring to your phone.

Lastly, trust your gut. If something feels off, it probably is.

 

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Why do we Blame the Victim?

self-esteemand teen bullyingWhy do we blame the victim?

Every two and a half minutes a woman is sexually assaulted, and the risk is four times greater for, teens between the ages of 15-19.  This is a very scary statistic and means every teenage girl is susceptible to sexual assault.  The definition of sexual assault is so broad that it can be misunderstood and leave victims feeling confused, guilty and ashamed.  What is even sadder, 70% of the victims know their assailant.  But what makes sexual assault even more destructive is the high percentage of victims that are blamed for their attack.  Sadly, family members and friends are often first to blame the victim.  They are easily persuaded by doubt, or be convinced the victim asked for the assault based on their knowledge of the victim. This is called victim blaming.

Victim blaming in relation to sexual assault happens quite often.  An assault is committed and the victim is blamed for the crimes.  Sometimes the victim blaming rears its head in very subtle ways.  Friends, neighbors and the local community may respond to the victim by either ignoring them, and treating them like an outcast, or verbally attacking the victim.  Sadly, victim blaming doesn’t stop there, professional workers that should be on the side of the victim, including doctors, lawyers and the media, have doubts about the victim’s story or believe that the attack is somehow justifiable.  People are often convinced that the victim deserved the treatment or asked for it.  This kind of treatment is wrong and it can be very hurtful and leave the victim feeling alone and depressed.

The reality of victim blaming for sexual assault plagues thousands of women but is most common among teens.  Teens are very fragile and impressionable and can easily be influenced, and convinced that maybe they are the ones to be blamed for their assault or abuse.  After all, if everyone believes it is their fault, then maybe they did ask for the attack or even deserved the attack.  This is victim blaming at its worst because now not only does everyone believe it is the victims fault, but the victim believes it too, and the saddest part of the crime is the assailant or criminal is never punished and get away with what they have done.

Women and teens of sexual assault don’t just get better, especially when victim blaming is involved.  There is a lot of mental and emotional damage that has been done and because many have blamed the victim, and even the victim has blamed herself, she never gets the help that is needed.  A lot of teens end up carrying the incident all of their life and for many teens, this can have negative effects on their future. It can lead to depression, low self-esteem and self inflicted violence such as cutting. Many victims cannot have functional or healthy relationships with people especially men.  Others may be so damaged by the assault and being blamed that they just don’t recover and struggle to live a normal and healthy life.

The bottom line is, nobody deserves to be sexually abused or assaulted, and the brutal attack of women and teens is never asked for or deserved.  The victim should never be persuaded or convinced that their behaviors asked for the assault or they deserved it.  It doesn’t matter the circumstance, an unwanted or unwelcome sexual assault is a crime that has the fingerprints of the assailant all over it and never the victim.

Victims need to get through their assault by getting help and there is help available that can restore them mentally and emotionally and help them to move forward.  Here’s is a great website  and a great resource for parents and teens to learn more.

 

Prevent Child Sexual Assault—be part of the solution

I learned this past weekend that a victim of child sexual assault has to tell at least 7 adults before he/she is believed. Why?  Because people can’t process the message and don’t want to believe.  A healthy brain isn’t wired to think in these terms especially in relation to a child.   An adult will attempt to reinterpret what the child is saying in a way that makes it less damaging/threatening for them to process. The child very quickly sees that the adult just doesn’t get it and moves on until he/she encounters another adult they feel safe enough with to tell.  This was both shocking and terrifying for me to learn.  As adults, please don’t be the problem, be part of the solution.  If a child tries to engage you in a conversation that you can tell they are both physically and emotionally struggling through, please stop and listen.

It seems that predators target kids with lower-self esteem the most and prey on those who lack strong identity and/or have a weaker social network.  Most disturbing for me was to learn that these predators can actually walk into a chat room, play ground, mall, etc., and can target these kids instantly, almost like radar.  We must protect.

Teach your kids to be aware of adult strangers that seem too interested in them too soon.

Dr. Michele Borba’s Reality Check is a great blog that provides tips, warning signs and workshops for parents and kids.