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Nine Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Rape and Sexual Assault on Campus

What if They Don’t Believe Me?

Her fear took me by surprise. So often when I’m speaking at schools, I repeat statistics assuming the teens aren’t paying attention.

The 17-year-old girl standing in front of me had everything going for her. She had good grades and had been accepted to several great colleges, but her number one question about starting college was, “What if someone rapes me, and I report it to the college, and they don’t believe me?”

It was a smart question, one that breaks my heart. Instead of excitement and a few jitters, young women moving into college are dealing with fear.

Sexual Assault on Campus
Those fears have very real statistics behind them:

  • 1 in 4 college women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime.
  • In one year 300,000 college women, over 5 percent of women enrolled in colleges and universities, experience rape. This does not include other forms of sexual assault. Advocates cite institutional barriers as one of the biggest issues survivors who want to report their assault face.
  • As of January, 2015, 95 colleges and universities were being investigated for potential violations of Title IX, the federal law that requires schools to adequately respond to reports of sexual assault on campus.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Study: 2009-2013, 82 percent of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.

Nine Ways to Reduce Your Risk

There are ways to reduce the risk of sexual assault, but risk reduction is not prevention. Predators will still be there and may just move on to what they consider easier “targets.”

Some ways to increase your safety are:

  1. Know what consent looks like. Consent is a “yes” given freely and consistently. You have the right to change your mind at any time and your partner must respect that, or it is an assault.
  2. Party safe and plan ahead. Here’s a list of alcohol safety tips.
  3. Stay in a public place and tell someone about your plans when going on a date or meeting someone for the first time.
  4. Don’t post your current location on social media and consider using the privacy tools on the various sites.
  5. Pre-program emergency campus and police numbers into your phone so you aren’t searching for them in a crisis. Include the student advocate and local rape crisis numbers.
  6. Hold perpetrators responsible. Always remember, no matter what precautions you take or don’t take, it is never, ever the victim’s fault.
  7. Practice bystander intervention if you see someone in trouble, and it does not put you in danger. If the situation is dangerous call the police.
  8. Get medical care immediately if you or someone you know is sexually assaulted, even if you don’t want to report to the police. Most emergency rooms have specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) or can refer you to a place that does.
  9. Be familiar with this list of additional risk-reduction steps.

Find Support

If your college, or anyone else, isn’t supportive or doesn’t believe you, the best thing you can do is find support elsewhere. A great place to start is the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). They can connect you to local resources, help find a local health care facility, and offer confidential, non-judgemental support. You can also chat one-on-one with a trained RAINN support specialist, 24/7.

We live in a world where rape and domestic violence are far too common, but by practicing risk-reduction techniques and knowing how to access services, young women and men can have a better chance at happy, healthy college experiences.

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Natalie Phillips is a social worker and has been a Program Coordinator with the Domestic Violence Network since October 2014.