Oh, college.

Many have said that it can be the best four years of your life … and it’s not difficult to see why.

For a lot of young students, its the first time they get a chance to live on their own. Suddenly, the parents aren’t around. There’s all this freedom to shape their schedule around classes and activities they’re passionate about. And for some, the promise of a happening (and extremely accessible) party scene is a major plus.

At the same time, this newfound sense freedom comes with an often daunting task: Being responsible for one’s own personal security.

College campuses aren’t always the heralded safe havens of learning that we would like them to be.

In 2016, the U.S Department of Education and the Campus Safety and Security (CSS) cited that 37,389 criminal acts were reported across 6,506 institutions. Earlier research also shows that about 82% of crimes affect students on campus (as opposed to 18% that occured off campus). 

But what sorts of offenses affect college kids today? And how can we help students protect themselves from harm?

Here’s all you need to know about campus security and what you can do to create the safest college experience possible.

State of the (Student) Union

Since the dawn of the new millenium, campus security has become more and more of a concern among students and their families. A recent survey conducted by Noodle, an educational consulting agency, concluded that parents listed campus safety as their number one factor when choosing a school, while prospective students listed security as their second.

The idyllic image of the safe college campus has been marred by recent tragedies in the news: Large abuse scandals, mass shootings and school-wide cyber attacks. Those are enough to make some parents shudder at the idea of sending their child off to school.

But there some common issues that don’t always make major headlines and can potentially be avoided.

For example:

Theft is widespread issue among college campuses.

When you live in a dorm with a bunch of your friends and stroll campus with your fellow classmates, it can be easy to let your guard down when it comes to protecting yourself and your personal belongings.

 

That’s part of the reason why theft is so prevalent in college. In 2014 the National
Center for Victims of Crime reported that burglary, motor vehicle theft, muggings, and robbery
accounted for over half of the crimes documented on college campuses.

Computers, smartphones, tablets, bikes, cars, wallets. All valuables are vulnerable if proper precautions aren’t taken. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter if you go to an institution that’s in an urban or rural setting, or whether or not you go to a private or public school.

The latest FBI statistics show that robbery is a pervasive issue at all American colleges, averaging about 120 reported incidences per institution.

The amount of reported sex crimes are increasing.

Fortunately, more and more schools are becoming increasingly cognizant of sexual abuse and harassment cases. Administrators are starting to take a hard look at their sexual crime policies and how they can better support their students if such incidences occur. More and more people feel more comfortable reporting sexual traumas.

However, despite the newfound awareness around this, the increased reports of sex crimes are still a big concern. According to the U.S. Board of Education, the number of reported VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) offenses increased by 24% from 2014 to 2016. This includes any form of domestic or dating violence, stalking, and sexual abuse against men and/or women.

Alcohol has a large influence on crimes and other forms of violence.

We all know that alcohol and drugs can be the life and blood of the classic frat party. But studies has shown that substance abuse is one of the biggest risks to student safety.

Researchers estimate that every year roughly 696,000 students ages 18 to 24 are assaulted by a peer who was drinking; about 97,000 students within the same age group have reported experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. These numbers don’t include the thousands of students who seriously (if not fatally) injured from alcohol related accidents.

In addition, drugs and alcohol are often involved with hazing rituals, which can be traumatizing and physically harmful for students involved.

Thanks to smart devices, millennials are increasingly susceptible to cyber attacks.

College institutions are susceptible to hacking, ransomware and other forms of cyber attacks.

College students, in particular, are some of the most targeted populations when it comes to phishing scams. For example, hackers will send fake emails to students who are looking for employment in order to take their personal information. Other uses promises of making extra money (which would be tempting to many trying to pay off student loans).

Students are in a unique position because nowadays they exchange so much personal information to hand in homework and file for classes. On top of that, millennials are increasingly using smart devices, which means they are more susceptible to other scams that steal contacts, passwords and other sensitive data.

According to cybersecurity experts, if a single device connected to a campus network is infected with some sort of virus, the whole IT ecosystem can be affected.

Why it’s important to be aware of these issues

Unfortunately there’s a lot of problems that students deal with, and for some, all of this might seem overwhelming.

But it’s important that students get a good handle on their sense of security because …

Feeling insecure on campus can have very negative effects on a person’s ability to succeed.

If a student is going about their daily lives feeling unsafe, they might find that they are struggling to make the most out of their college experience.

In 2013, academics from NYU found that those who have been subject to the threat of violence — physical or psychological — may find it harder to concentrate in class and perform well in their activities. Some students may fear leaving their dorms or drop out of school altogether.

So while it’s vital for school administrators to continue improving campus safety, it’s also important that students and parents equip themselves with the knowledge and tools to feel confident in their own security.

How to Feel More Secure on Campus

Okay, now it’s time to breathe because here’s the good news:

There are many strategies and resources out there to help protect students. There’s even more support out there to back you up in any sticky situation you might find yourself in.

So here’s a breakdown of each security concern and suggestions as to how you can best handle it.

Feeling Safe on the Go

Anytime you’re traveling around campus, it’s super important that you are aware of your surroundings, the time of day, how you’re traveling and who you are with.

Before you exit your dorm — or whatever building you’re leaving — make sure to ask yourself:

  • Am I traveling alone?
  • Am I walking through places that are well lit? Well populated?
  • Am I carrying any valuables (laptop, wallet, tablet, cell phone)?

The answers to these questions can help you make the best decisions on the go. People who walk alone are much more likely to get mugged than people who travel in groups, particularly in areas that are dark and desolate.

If you are walking by yourself at night and you don’t feel safe, it might be best to call the campus shuttle or the campus police to drive you to where you need to go. That way, you don’t have to worry about what might happen to you on the street.

If you have no choice but to walk, consider carrying some pepper spray or an air horn.

Useful apps to help you feel secure when you’re out walking

  • Circle of 6 is one of the most well-known personal safety apps out there right now. The app allows you to pick six friends or family members you can reach to pick you up (or just chat) all at the touch of a button. There’s also a danger button that you can press to reach hotlines that support victims of sexual or domestic abuse.
  • Watch Over Me is an app that takes out the middleman in a sense. Sometimes when we are in the middle of an emergency, we don’t have time to press a button and unlock our phones. With this app, you can just shake your phone which would alert all of your emergency contacts, turn on the alarm and your video camera to record any evidence.
  • bSafe acts like a GPS tracker so you can let loved ones (and other people) keep tabs on you as you make your way to your destination.

Getting from place to place doesn’t just mean walking, of course. Depending on what type of campus you live on, there could be a whole host of options to get around (college) town. Each mode of transportation has its own risks, however.

Urban Campuses   

For example, pickpocketing is a problem on public transportation. Pickpockets can strike while you’re waiting on subway platforms or standing on the bus. Make sure that you don’t keep your cell phone and wallet in pockets that are easy to reach.

Some students in urban areas like to use cabs and services like Uber or Lyft to get around. If you choose to take a cab make sure to:

  • Never take a cab alone if you’re drunk. Getting a cab seems like a good idea if you are inebriated you don’t have to drive then, right? But if you take a cab alone you’re in the hands of a cab driver who you may or may not trust. Best to grab a buddy to go home with you.
  • Make sure it’s the right car. If you call and Uber and the license plate doesn’t match what’s on your app, report it, ask for a refund, and get another cab. You want to make sure you are riding with drivers that have a responsible track record. If things don’t match up with the info you have, you have no idea if your driver is safe or if the driver even works for Uber. They could be a fake.
  • Share your trip info with friends or family. In the app you can share your trip status so people are aware of your route and ETA. That way, if something goes wrong, there are people who are more aware of your situation.
  • Try to sit in the backseat. If there’s room in your Lyft, sit in the back to give yourself an easy exit on either side of the car. Plus it gives your driver some personal space.

If you ever end up in a shady cab situation, try to call 911 ASAP and leave the car. If possible, it’s helpful have the car’s license plate so you can report it to the police.

Rural/Suburban Campuses

Rural and suburban campuses might seem safer because they tend to be isolated from the outside world. However, students who go to more remote schools are still subject to certain transportation risks.

Kids who live in rural and suburban areas tend to drive more, which means they need to be increasingly aware of:

  • Drunk driving. If you have been drinking, make sure you have a designated driver to take you home or find some other mode of transportation. Never get behind the wheel with someone who has had alcohol or any other substance.
  • Drowsy driving. Between all of the studying and extracurricular activities, many students don’t get enough sleep so they are more likely to get a little drowsy behind the wheel. If you feel like you are not awake enough to drive, don’t. If you find yourself nodding off on the road. Pull over. Maybe grab a coffee. Better yet, take a nap. Never push through drowsiness.

Preventing Theft

Since burglary is one of the most common crimes on college campuses, its best students learn how to protect their belongings.

Dorm and Library Precautions

Dorm rooms are highly susceptible to theft and break-ins since many students leave their laptops, mobile devices and other valuables out in the open.

If you’re concerned about the safety of your belongings:

  • Consider buying a safe. Most dorm rooms often don’t come with lock safes for you to protect important items. But you can buy safes online for as little as $50.
  • Lock your room every time you leave. Some students feel so safe among their friends and peers that they feel free enough to leave the doors of their dorm room or suite unlocked. Once in a while, however, robbers will take advantage of that false sense of invulnerability. Make sure you’re not the statistic.
  • Be aware of leaving windows open. This is something to note particularly if you live on the first floor of a building. Burglars will take advantage of open windows to break into your room. If your valuables are highly visible from any windows, they might tempt intruders as well. When you leave your room, try to keep these items stowed away.

It’s comm  on for students to lose things when they study in libraries or cafes, too. It can be tough to watch over all of your belongings when you’ve got your computer, your tablet and all of your books from Organic Chemistry.

If you’re studying outside of your room make sure to:

  • Have a trusted buddy watch over your stuff if you have to leave for a bit. Doesn’t matter if it’s a bathroom break or if you have to make a phone call. Always ask someone you trust to keep an eye on your things.
  • If you don’t have a watch buddy, take your things. This might seem like a pain in the butt, but it’s better to pack up and lose your favorite study spot than to lose your Mac and the term paper you’d been working on for weeks.

Car Theft Prevention

For students who drive, car theft is a big concern on campus. According to the National Center for Education and Statistics, motor vehicle burglaries accounted for 12% of all campus crimes in 2015.

But there are many things you can do to prepare for this:

  • Park in a well-lit area. If your car is parked in a place that is more visible to the public eye and campus security, the more protected it will be. Plus this is good for your own safety just in case you’re going to your car alone.
  • Don’t leave valuables in open sight. If you do, you’re making your car a prime target for burglary.
  • Activate you car alarm. This is pretty baseline, but having a car alarm will scare away thieves and notify you (or others) when something’s awry.
  • Get a dash cam. According to a survey obtained from the Guardian, thieves are less likely to rob a car with a dash cam. Plus if anyone breaks into your car, at least you’ll have an idea of who the person was and what they stole.
  • Consider a GPS or bluetooth tracker or immobilizing device. Thieves will not only steal your stuff, they might take your car, too. You can install tracking and immobilizing devices, which you can utilize from your phone. That would stall any criminal from getting to far away with your vehicle. Or you can go super low-tech and install extra door locks, wheel clamps, or a steering wheel lock.

Avoiding the Dangers of Substance Abuse

There’s no question: Substance abuse is very common on college campuses. And chances are if you’re not the type of student to go out and “party hard” on the weekends, chances are you’ll be around people who’ve indulged a little too much.

If you choose to join in, here are some tips to safely enjoy the party scene:

  • Remember that if you are drinking under the age of 21, you are subject to state law. Yes, everyone might be doing it and your advisors might be turning a blind eye, but remember that underage drinkers who get caught by authorities might receive a fine or get arrested. The people who served the alcohol may also receive punishment.
  • Go out with friends you trust. It’s important to know that the people you surround yourself with have your best interests in mind. When things go wrong it’s awesome to have people to back you up.
  • Don’t get behind the wheel with someone who is inebriated. Again, pick your designated driver before you go out or find some other (safe) way to get home.
  • Never leave your drink unattended or accept drugs from strangers. Unfortunately, many students have been roofied by date drugs at parties. If you leave your drink, don’t come back to. Toss it out and get a new one.
  • Drink responsibly. This goes without saying. Binge drinking has severe effects on one’s rational behavior and overall health.

If you find you or someone you know is dangerously intoxicated: 

  • Call for medical help immediately. It doesn’t matter if you or your friend is underage. It’s best to get treatment ASAP.
  • Try to recover in a safe space. While waiting for medical help, move to a place away from any commotion. Try to sit up (or prop your buddy up) to make sure they don’t choke if vomit is a concern.

How to Prevent Hazing

In American colleges, binge drinking and hazing often go hand-in-hand. Some rituals don’t even involve alcohol, but may coerce students to perform all sorts of emotional or physical trauma … or even be traumatized themselves.

Even though hazing is illegal in 44 states, hazing is still prevalent among Greek organizations, sports teams and other clubs. It does not discriminate against gender.

So how can you avoid and help end the harmful effects of hazing?:

  • Recognize you don’t have to sacrifice yourself or your values to be part of an organization. If there are leaders in a club that are asking you to harm yourself or others to join the crew, it’s just not worth it. Showing your dissent might encourage others within the group to question their actions as well.
  • Speak up. If you witness hazing, don’t be afraid to tell campus authorities or call the police even if it isn’t the most popular thing to do. You might be able to save another person from suffering.
  • If you’re a leader, give space for members to voice their concerns. Many times hazing occurs when there is too much of a power gap between the leaders of the organization and the members. People need to have the opportunity to express themselves without punishment for things to change.
  • Be okay with letting go of certain traditions. Many hazing rituals continue just for the mere fact that the organization has done them for years. If you’re a part of the organization, suggest that other, safer traditions can be created to create a new legacy.

Anti-Hazing Resources

One of the most powerful things that students, parents and administrators can do is to educate themselves on hazing, how to recognize it and how to abolish it.

If you’re curious to learn more you can check out:

  • HazingPrevention.org. This organization has many courses, educational materials and books to help students and organizations to understand how to dismantle hazing.
  • StopHazing.org. This group conducts research to educate others on the nature of hazing in schools.

Protecting Yourself and Others from Sexual Assault

It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man: Sexual abuse and rape affect all genders across the country. However, statistics show that women are more than four times more likely to experience sexual assault before they even graduate.

Fortunately, there are many ways students can protect themselves from the risk of sexual assault:

  • Go out with friends who have your back. Again, if you’re going to hit the party scene, look out for each other. Watch each other’s drinks and protect one another from predators.
  • Try to avoid sexual encounters while really intoxicated. Sometimes it’s difficult to give and recognize consent when you are drunk or high. This can lead to all sorts of confusion, frustration and sometimes violence between you and your partner. Alcohol and drugs can even make you more susceptible to sexual predators.
  • Try not to walk through desolate areas alone. You could be in the middle of a city or an empty running trail … in each case you’re at a higher risk for assault. Try to travel in numbers when you think the conditions aren’t the safest.
  • Take a self-defense course. So not all of us can go all Kill Bill on our perpetrators, but at least we can learn some techniques to wriggle out of sticky situations. Learning the right martial arts techniques can save your life.
  • Recognize early signs of abuse and inappropriate sexual advances. Coaches, professors, medical professionals and other authorities can use their influence to take advantage of students. Trust your instincts. If you believe someone is pushing your boundaries or is touching you inappropriately, do your best to leave the situation and report it ASAP.

If you or someone you know has been raped or assaulted:

  • Don’t blame yourself or the victim. We’ve mentioned many prevention steps in this article. But if you’ve been attacked, the first step is to realize it is not your fault. Rape culture on and off college campuses is a large issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Go seek medical help. Get treatments for any injuries and/or ask for sexual assault forensic exam to collect any evidence.
  • Contact authorities as soon as you can. If you want to report a crime, there is a time limit. This is called a statute of limitations and it varies state per state.
  • Call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline. Dial 800.656.HOPE (4673) and you’ll be immediately be connected to a trained professional who can provide you confidential services and support.

Additional resources for sexual assault survivors and advocates

Remember: If you have experienced sexual assault or know someone who has, you are not alone and there are tons of resources out there.

The Rape, Abuse & National Network is a great place to start. They have even more tips for safety and prevention, a hotline plus guides resources to help people move through trauma.

The Me Too Movement, founded by Tarana Burke, is another great resource which provides a database of local and national organizations that provide support and safe spaces for survivors and advocates. Their mission is to help people heal through community and education.

Protecting Yourself Against Cyber Attacks

Of all of the issues we’ve already addressed, cyber attacks might seem like the least of your worries. But cyber security is a serious matter, particularly when it comes to protecting your personal information.

Here are the best tips to keeping your computer and mobile devices secure:

  • Stow away your laptop. Yes this is important to prevent theft and it’s all dandy to keep our valuables secure. But people often forget the dangers of having your laptop (or other mobile device stolen): People can hack into your computer and steal data that’s not protected. The first step to prevent this from happening is to put away your laptop when you’re not using it or lock it to your desk using a cable lock.
  • Buy anti theft software. If your laptop does get stolen, you can download an apps like LoJack and Get it Back which would allow you to track your device or erase important information before anyone gets to it.
  • Create strong passwords and change them as often as possible. This can might seem annoying because of the amount of apps and websites that require a login. It can be easy to just create the same, easy-to-remember login combo. Don’t do that. If you have a hard time remembering your passwords, there are great password managers out there.
  • Learn how to recognize scams. Reputable companies and brands will never ask for your personal contact information, address or bank account information via email or other insecure methods. Make sure you research businesses or individuals who are trying to contact you before you exchange any information.
  • Buy antivirus software. This is one of the best investments you can make when it comes to protecting your laptop from infection.

Being Safe on Campus is Possible

As you have probably figured out by now, there’s so much information and tools out there to help you or your loved one feel more secure on campus.

That’s all to say that having a safe and enjoyable college experience is entirely possible.

If you take anything away from this article remember these key tips:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Get familiar with your campus and understand where and when it’s safe to walk.
  • Know who to contact when you’re in trouble. Campus security. Police. Medical aid. Trusted friends and family.
  • Surround yourself with people who will look out for you. It always helps to have friends that have your well-being in mind.
  • Protect your belongings. Lock ‘em up. Keep ‘em close. Watch over them.
  • Speak up. If you see any behavior that might harm you or someone else, call it out — when appropriate, report it.
  • Drink responsibly. Know your limits and never operate a vehicle while under the influence of any substance.

Finally, when you can: Remember to have fun. College might seem daunting at times with all its stressors, but what’s the point of it all if you aren’t enjoying the process?

The first step to joy is feeling secure, and now you know how to equip yourself.

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