Until you or someone you know is affected by crime, it can be easy to feel separated from its realities and its effects. Below is Bobbi Leder’s story of her close call with danger while attending college. Her first-hand account exemplifies how quickly an incident can happen and the value of trusting your instincts in a risky situation:
I had a very close call with crime while studying in New Jersey. I had an evening class and lived off campus at a nearby rental that I shared with many roommates. I remember walking home at night after class and a van pulled up beside me. My gut told me that this person was bad news because no one in a van should be pulling up next to a young woman walking home alone at night.
A short, suspicious man got out of the van and asked me if I could help him with directions. My instinct told me that he was not genuine and not to trust him. He attempted to put his arm around me and push me towards the van but I was just as tall as he was (at 5’5″) and knew to run. When I returned home I told my roommates and they told me to call the police. Sadly, I didn’t because no actual crime was committed. The next morning I awoke to learn that a college student was raped and murdered and I knew I had to tell the police my story. I went down to the station and gave a detailed description which fortunately helped the police catch the perpetrator but sadly, I always regretted not going to the police immediately after the incident. I could have saved a life. I now always call the non-emergency police line if anything strikes me as odd so I can at least have a clear conscience.
Campus Safety and the Clery Act
While schools have come a long way in improving safety, campus crime is, unfortunately, inevitable. However, thanks to a piece of legislation known as the Clery act, information on how well colleges and universities are addressing the issue of campus crime is readily available. Named for Jeanne Clery, the 1986 victim of a rape and murder at Lehigh University, the act requires that all campuses have detailed emergency alert systems in place, as well as comprehensive crime reporting statistics. The legislation was created after a successful lawsuit from the victim’s parents in which they claimed their daughter would never have attended the school had she known about 38 violent incidents there within the previous three years. The legislation has eight main provisions:
Publish an Annual Security Report by October 1st – This report, which must be made available to all current and prospective students and employees, details the past three years of crime on campus.
Maintain a public crime log – This document must record the “nature, date, time and general location of each crime” within two days of its occurrence. It must be readily available to the public during normal business hours.
Disclose crime statistics for incidents within a set area – Schools must track, record and report on crimes that occur on campus, near campus and at off campus facilities.
Report on seven major crime categories – The following major crime categories are covered under this legislation:
- Criminal Homicide
- Sexual Assault
- Aggravated Assault
- Motor Vehicle Theft
See the following resource for further details.
Issue timely warnings of Clery Act crimes – Schools must develop a method by which they can quickly notify all students and employees of an incident which qualifies for reporting in the Annual Security Report.
Implement an emergency response, notification and testing policy – If a situation poses an imminent threat to members of the campus community, a school must have procedures in place to notify all individuals as soon as possible.
Compile and publish an annual fire safety report –Applicable only to institutions with on-campus housing, this requirement stipulates that schools must record and publish all instance of fires in on-campus housing.
Enact policies and procedures to handle reports of missing students –Because the first moments after a student goes missing are so critical in helping find the individual, all schools must have a process in place to deal with missing person cases rapidly and effectively.
Break Down of Campus Crime (2011-2013)Source: Office of Postsecondary Education
Progress is still needed in reducing campus crime, but the good news is, on the whole, Clery Act crimes are showing a steady downward trend. The latest report released by National Center for Education Statistics shows a 29% decrease in all crimes between 2001 and 2012. Unfortunately, while total crime dropped, numbers for forcible sex offenses increased by 43%. Whether or not there has been an actual increase in offenses, or more reporting of offenses due to education efforts, is difficult to say. However, with total forcible sex offenses at 3,885, less .02% of postsecondary students reported a sexual assault on campus in 2012. There is still work to do, but the numbers show we are on the way to making campuses a safe place for students.
Public School, On-Campus Crime (2003-2013)Source: Office of Postsecondary Education
Campus Safety Tips
For many students, college is their first real taste of unsupervised living; being away from parents and surrounded by new friends often feels empowering and exciting. While this combination creates an amazing experience for most people, it can unfortunately put young adults in high risk situations to which they have never been exposed. While there is no need to encourage everyone to be scared of having fun, it is important to follow precautions and be smart about who you hang out with, where you gather and how you party. In addition, being prepared and having a plan of action for when problems do arrive can often mean the difference between a close call and a damaging event. To this end we have created our top ten tips for remaining safe while having a good time:
1. If you see something, say something.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are doing okay, or to get an RA if someone looks like they are in trouble. Many incidents can be avoided if someone steps up at the first sign of distress.
2. Don’t accept substances from people you don’t know.
While don’t do drugs is a great motto, experimentation is very common in college. If you are going to make this choice, you should be aware that powders, pills and liquids can be absolutely anything, in any concentration. This is one of the easiest ways people overdose or end up incapacitated.
3. Let your friends or family know your plans.
Give your friends and family an idea of where you are going and what time you will be back. That way, they will know to look for you if you don’t check in by a certain time.
4. Know where the campus emergency blue light phones are located.
Blue light phones give direct access to campus security. In an emergency situation, it is always best to know where these are, as the campus police will be able to easily locate you.
5. Watch your drink.
GHB and Rohypnol, the two most popular date rape drugs are odorless, tasteless and colorless, meaning a stranger can easily slip them in your drink. Never leave your drink unattended and never accept a drink from someone you don’t know.
6. Be aware of your surroundings and suspicious people.
Always be alert for people who look out of place, poorly lit areas or sparsely populated locations. If someone looks like they are up to no good, they likely are, and a situation can be easily avoided by detecting it early and removing yourself.
7. Go with a group, leave with the same group.
There is safety in numbers. Going out with a group is an easy way to make sure everyone has fun and gets home safe.
8. If you must walk alone at night, consider non-lethal weapons or a safety app.
Being prepared for when you do have to walk alone is the best protection against an incident. If you choose to carry pepper spray, a taser, or other non-lethal weapon, be sure to get training on the proper use. If you aren’t comfortable with non-lethal weapons, a safety app can automatically alert police in the event of an emergency. We breakdown our top five safety apps below.
Many schools also offer escort services for students who have to walk home late at night. Ask your campus safety office if this is an option.
9. Take a self-defense class.
Self defense classes teach simple techniques that can mean the difference between being taken and running away. Many schools offer these for free or for credit. You will learn what it feels like to be attacked and how to respond instinctually in way that will disable your attacker long enough to escape.
10. Don’t accept rides from casual acquaintances or strangers.
Many predators wait at bars looking for people who are too intoxicated to make sound judgements. When drunk, a free ride home might seem like an enticing offer, but it is one of the easiest ways to put yourself in a compromising position. Services like Uber and Lyft should eliminate the need to take rides from strangers.
Most safety apps operate on the same principle. They use different methods to alert police, a group of emergency contacts or a monitoring service with your GPS location. Below, we have outlined our top five choices for safety apps.
SafeTrek iOS|Android: SafeTrek is very simple. When you feel that you may be at risk, start the app and hold down the on-screen button. When you feel safe again, release the button and enter a code. If you find yourself in danger, release the button and do not enter a code. The phone sends your GPS location and automatically connects you to the police.
Kitestring This SMS based service is free and does not require an app, meaning non-smartphone users can subscribe as well. To use Kitestring you set up a group of emergency contacts, and text Kitestring when you are leaving and how long you will be gone. If you do not check in with a secret passcode, the service automatically notifies your emergency contacts.
Guardly iOS|Android: Guardly has a range of options for its customers, including a campus security option that allows schools to subscribe to the service. By activating the app you can automatically alert a set group of contacts according to the type of emergency you may be having. Pricing varies by subscription.
Circle of 6 iOS|Android: Circle of 6 lets you easily get in touch with six contacts if you need help. There are three contact options – Come get me, for when you need a safe ride home; Call Me, for when you need an interruption; and I need some advice, for when you are looking for relationship help. It contains preprogrammed numbers to national victims’ hotlines.
MyForce iOS|Android: MyForce maintains a team of on-call technicians who are ready to assist you in case of an emergency. Simply launch the app when you feel you are at risk, then tap the send alert button to immediately connect to an agent. The agent will record, track and listen to what is going on and send help to your area immediately.
What to Do if You’re the Victim of a Crime
Unfortunately, no matter how well you prepare, it is impossible to protect yourself against every possible situation. If you are attacked, it is important to know what to do. The following steps will ensure you get help safely and quickly, and the resources will help you recover from the trauma.
If possible, get to a safe place. In the event of an emergency, make sure that you move to a well-lit, populated area before calling for help.
Call 911. As soon as it is safe to do so, call 911 or have someone call 911 for you.
Follow the operator’s instructions until help arrives. 911 operators go through hundreds of hours of training to learn how to handle emergency situations. They will instruct you until police or paramedics arrive.
Let emergency services guide you through what to do. Depending on what happened, a number of tests or procedures may be required. The officers or paramedics should walk you through this step-by-step.
Contact a trusted friend or family member as soon as you can. Not only do you need to let someone know what is going on, you should have somewhere to go after all the official procedures are taken care of. Emotional support will be very important.
Take care of yourself and take time to heal. Becoming a victim can be incredibly traumatic. The healing process will take time and attention. There are plenty of free resources available to help you heal. See our resource guide below and be sure to check with your campus mental health services about how they can help in your recovery.
National Organization for Victim Assistance
NOVA is one of the oldest organizations of its kind, dedicated to helping victims of crime and crisis. Their site has a number of resources to inform victims about available services and how to fully exercise their rights.
Designed by the Office for Victims of Crime for volunteers, victims and victim service providers, crimevictims.gov offers a host of resources to help in the recovery process.
Office for Victims of Crime
This government office responsible for managing the Crime Victims Fund, a national collection that is maintained through fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders. Their site contains information about state victim assistance and compensation programs, as well as other national resources.
Rape, Sexual Assault & Incest Hotline
Created in 1981 as the Victim Services Agency, the organization behind this crisis line became known as Safe Horizon in 2000. Based out of New York City, this service offers face to face counseling for victims in the area, as well as phone counseling for victims nationwide.
National Center for Victims of Crime
This national organization partners with local, state and federal governments to accomplish three main goals: advocate for stronger rights, protections, and services for victims; provide education, training and evaluation; and serve as a trusted source of current information on victims’ issues. They provide a directory of resources covering topics including crime awareness, victim recovery and legal assistance.
Victim Support Services
This nonprofit organization based out of Washington state is also known as Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crime Victims. They provide a 24 hour crisis line, advocacy services, courtroom support, medical advocacy, information and referrals, all free of charge. Though this organization is primarily for people residing in Washington, they will refer you to an appropriate local agency if calling from another state.
National Sexual Assault Online Hotline
Organized and maintained by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), this online hotline will provide victims with 24/7 counseling and advice. Their services are free, confidential and secure.
Know Your IX
Know Your IX (KYIX) is a grassroots organization dedicated to ending sexual violence on campus. This site is an excellent resource for both activists and victims. They contain links on how to raise sexual violence awareness on campus, as well as what to do if you’ve become a victim.
Clery Center for Security on Campus
This nonprofit was founded by Connie and Howard Clery after the death of their daughter, Jeanne. They are responsible for the creation of the Clery Act which revolutionized how schools has to address and monitor campus crime. The organization focuses on advocacy, education and collaboration, providing resources for both schools and students.
Focused on ending sexual assault and rape on campus, PACT5 is a five campus collaboration with the unique vision of producing student documentaries that help illustrate the issues of sexual violence. In addition to raising awareness, the site also provides resources for recovery and counseling, as well as preventing sexual assaults.