Campus Safety Guide
All students want to feel safe on campus. Learn more about campus safety, including common crimes, tips for staying safe, and what to do if you're a victim.
Updated August 11, 2022
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- Common crimes on college campuses include burglary, vehicle theft, and forcible sex offenses.
- The Department of Education provides annual stats on the number and types of campus crimes.
- Practicing safety measures on campus can help you reduce risk and prevent harm.
Campus safety and security protocols continue to evolve as schools aim to ensure students' well-being.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there's been a general decline in crime rates on college campuses over the past two decades. In 2018, 28,600 criminal incidents were reported at colleges and universities across the U.S. In 2019, that number fell to 27,300.
Increasing students' awareness of potential risks and making sure they have access to tools to help them stay safe are essential parts of college preparation.
Campus Crime: How Safe Is Your College?
While colleges take active measures to protect students and maintain a safe campus, crime still happens. In 2019, 18.7 reported on-campus crimes occurred per 10,000 full-time students, according to NCES.
The most prevalent crimes committed on college campuses include burglary, motor vehicle theft, sexual assault, and fondling.
In 2020, of the nearly 22,000 on-campus crimes, burglaries accounted for around 7,000 and forcible sex offenses accounted for over 9,000. Other crimes reported that year include robbery, aggravated assault, arson, and murder.
Campuses that tend to experience the most crimes include schools with residence halls, colleges near large cities, and institutions with a high alcohol and drug use rate.
Fortunately, students and parents have access to a college's annual security report. Thanks to the federal Clery Act, colleges must report their latest campus crime statistics and disclose their campus safety and security policies.
What to Do if You're the Victim of a Campus Crime
While most students make it through their college years without incident, some become victims of campus crime. Whether you or a friend experience a property crime or physical or sexual assault, knowing what to do in these instances can make it easier to get help.
Take the steps below to help protect yourself from further harm and find support:
- Get to a Safe Place: If possible, get to a well-lit, populated area to prevent further escalation. Remain there until help arrives.
- Call 911 and Follow Instructions: Call 911 immediately. The 911 dispatcher will talk you through a course of action until police or emergency personnel arrive.
- Contact a Trusted Friend or Family Member: Call a supportive friend or family member who can come to your aid or provide a safe space for you.
- Consult Legal Counsel: Call an attorney to discuss your legal options.
- Seek a Civil Protection Order: Restraining orders can discourage attackers from coming within a certain distance of you and may result in criminal charges if disregarded.
- Contact Your Bank: If a thief stole your bank account info or credit cards, call the bank and report it as soon as possible to prevent fraudulent use.
- Request a Housing Change: If the perpetrator knows where you live, request a housing change.
How to Report a Campus Crime
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 20% of female college students ages 18-24 report forcible sexual assaults to law enforcement.
A few of the reasons cited for not reporting an incident include fear of reprisal and confusion about what constitutes sexual assault. Remember that any sexual contact without consent — even if the victim knows the person and/or alcohol and drugs were involved — is assault.
Reporting an incident can make it easier for students to protect themselves in the future and receive support. Take the following steps to report a campus crime:
Step 1: Call the Police
In the event of an emergency in which you fear for your safety, notify the police and then follow up with campus security.
Step 2: Make a List of Stolen Property
Make a list of stolen property, including a description of each item, and give it to law enforcement. This record helps police and security officers identify recovered property.
Step 3: Get Medical Attention
Victims of violent crimes should seek medical attention at the nearest hospital as soon as possible. If you've been exposed to violence, you may experience shock and not fully understand the physical or psychological damage that's been caused.
Step 4: Meet With the University
Students should meet with school officials and report any crimes that occur on campus.
In addition to preventing the perpetrator from repeating the crime, many colleges offer services to help victims, including counseling and housing relocation options.
Step 5: Seek Counseling
Victims of a campus crime — particularly sexual assault — should seek counseling. In many cases, the long-term emotional scars outweigh the physical trauma. Most schools offer free, confidential counseling services.
Off-campus victim advocacy services can also connect students with counseling services and other resources.
10 Campus Safety Tips You Should Follow
When large groups of people gather in one location, criminal activity can occur. Practicing campus safety measures, including safe college partying practices, can help reduce risks and minimize negative outcomes.
Here are some essential campus safety tips to help you stay safe while still having fun:
- Know Your Way Around Campus: Consider downloading a campus map and get to know your way around the school during the day when students and faculty fill the campus.
- Use Locks: Always lock your dorm room or apartment door. This major deterrent can stop thieves in their tracks. Also, lock your car doors (even when driving) and keep valuables out of sight.
- Never Walk Alone After Dark: Always use the buddy system when walking at night. Most schools also offer a campus escort shuttle.
- Know Where the Emergency Systems Are on Campus: Scout out the emergency blue light phones so you know their locations. If you forgot your phone or have a dead battery, you can use these phones to contact the public safety office directly.
- Consider Carrying a Whistle, Pepper Spray, or Alarm: Any type of personal defense option, such as pepper spray or a whistle, may help stop an attack or alert a bystander that you're in trouble.
- Take a Self-Defense Class: Knowing specific self-defense tactics can increase the odds of fending off an attacker. Many schools offer these classes for credit or for free.
- Take Advantage of Campus Escort Services: Most schools offer campus escort services, particularly at night. Call the public safety office for contact information and hours of operation.
- Be Aware of Your Social Media Settings: Check your social media settings and make sure only friends can see your posts. Also, disable location finders on social media sites that publicly share this information.
- Avoid Drinking Too Much: Drinking to excess can result in bad choices that put you in difficult and dangerous situations. If you do plan on drinking, never accept a drink poured by someone you don't trust.
- Always Have Emergency Contacts in Your Phone: Make sure to input emergency contacts, such as the campus safety office, into your phone so you don't need to look them up in an emergency.
Campus Safety Resources
There are many groups and services you can turn to, both on and off campus, to help you and your peers stay safe. Here are some key resources to know.
This U.S. Department of Education website provides campus crime statistics for colleges and universities.
National Sexual Assault Hotline — Call (800) 656-HOPE
RAINN — America's largest anti-sexual violence organization — operates this free and confidential hotline for victims of sexual assault.
Founded in 1975, this national victim assistance organization supports crime victims by connecting them with resources and services.
This nonprofit organization provides self-defense suggestions and tips on what to look for in a good self-defense program.
OVC — a U.S. Department of Justice program — offers resources and services that help victims of crime, including victim compensation.
This comprehensive resource offers parents and students information on alcohol-use statistics, its effects, and college alcohol policies.
This U.S. Department of State website provides important safety information for students considering studying abroad.
Frequently Asked Questions About Campus Safety
What is campus safety?
Campus safety measures may include initiatives and programs designed to create a safer environment for students attending college. These measures often include ride-share programs, self-defense training, and courses in crime prevention strategies. Most schools also offer evening safety escort shuttles.
What is campus security?
Campus security involves the protocols developed by a college to increase on-campus security and prevent crimes. These procedures may include security cameras, unmanned aerial systems, emergency blue light phones, patrolling security guards, and mass notification systems.
Why is campus safety important?
Feeling safe and secure on campus allows students to focus on their studies and other collegiate activities without fearing for their well-being. In addition, parents want to feel comfortable sending their children off to college.
Are colleges responsible for student safety?
Colleges must take steps to increase campus security and report any crimes committed on campus. While a school must take reasonable actions to protect its student body, individual students also bear responsibility for their own safety. Awareness, training, and following campus safety tips can help students create a safer learning environment.
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