My husband and I live in the inner city. We love it here—the opportunities to show God’s love, the variety of people we meet, the energy. I love walking around downtown, but I also know where NOT to go.
One day as I explored a new side street, a stereotypically creepy car pulled up next to me and started slowing down, keeping pace with me. That seemed weird, and I had reached a large, empty park, so I figured I should turn around and head back toward civilization. As I did a U-turn on the sidewalk, the car did a U-turn on the road and kept pace with me a few more moments.
It completely freaked me out!
When I got home, my husband looked surprised. “I walk there all the time; it’s totally safe!” he said.
But here’s the thing: There’s a different awareness that comes when you’re a girl. It’s not about paranoia or irrational fears; it’s a real and healthy alertness, because there are people who like to prey on us girls.
Which is why I want to talk about how to stay safe as a girl—specifically when you go off to college.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, as reported by the Campus Accountability & Safety Act, colleges around the country have reported more than 5,000 cases of sexual assault or rape. However, researchers are finding that these cases are severely under-reported. Their estimate is that at least six times that number of sexual assault cases actually occurring, but are going untold.
I’m not sharing this to scare you, but to explain why we women need a healthy awareness of our surroundings.
There has been a lot of talk recently about legislation to provide greater safety for women on college campuses. Out of curiosity, my husband and I went to hear U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand talk about the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), a bipartisan bill she is working to pass into law, which builds on the foundation of the Campus SaVE (Sexual Violence Elimination) Act and Title IX.
What would this CASA bill do, if it were made into law?
- Provide more resources and support services for students who have been victims of sexual assault.
- Provide training for college staff and faculty, with an emphasis on defining terms like “consent” and “rape.”
- Require colleges to report cases of sexual assault more accurately, and have a uniform student disciplinary procedure that works with law enforcement, so perpetrators are not wandering around college campuses, remaining as students when they should be dismissed.
It would be pretty cool legislation, and it got me thinking: How can girls stay safe, particularly when they leave home for college? Here are a few ideas.
1. Hang out in groups. Start with group outings, especially during your first few weeks of college and any time you’re making new friends. There is safety in numbers! Even after you’ve been at school for a while, bring a trusted friend with you to new situations.
2. Be aware of your environment. It’s easy to accidentally end up in risky situations, such as needing a ride home and the only person offering is someone you don’t know well; walking alone in the dark in an unfamiliar area; or being alone in a dorm room with someone you don’t know well. Plan ahead and (when possible) bring your friends, so you don’t end up in a risky situation.
3. Watch your drinks. Even if you’re only drinking water or soda at a get-together, someone can slip a roofie (a drug that knocks you out) into your drink. Don’t leave your drink with someone you don’t know well and trust fully, and definitely don’t leave your drink alone if you plan on finishing it.
4. Let new friends earn your trust. Earning trust takes time, and if someone is going to be a true friend, they’ll understand that. Don’t automatically give your trust to someone just because they seem nice or friendly. Often perpetrators of crimes are people you feel comfortable with immediately, rather than the creepy but harmless “stalkers” down the hall (or the creepy drivers of cars who stalk you on side streets). Sometimes crimes are even committed by friends of friends. Make sure you know and trust a person if you’ll be hanging out one-on-one; don’t just take someone’s word for it.
How do you know if someone has earned your trust? If a person is trustworthy, they won’t be pushy. If you’ve just met someone and they’re pushing you to do something you don’t feel comfortable with, then they just want something from you; they don’t actually care about you. Over time, you can find out a person’s character. The way they treat other people can give you hints from the start (are they respectful to authority, kind to people they find annoying, interested in protecting you rather than using you?), but character can only be tested over time.
5. If you’re worried, tell an adult. If you feel uncomfortable, even if you don’t know why, let someone know. This might mean calling Campus Safety for a ride back to your room, getting in touch with your parents, finding your RA or talking with another staff/faculty member that you trust. Share your concerns with the adult you choose.
6. Trust in the Lord. In Psalm 91, David calls God his “defender and protector,” the One in whom he trusts. It’s important to plan ahead to stay safe, but ultimately, God is our protector.
I don’t want this article to sound scary. College is the most incredible and life-changing experience, jam-packed full of opportunities to experience new adventures, gain new skills, and make friends! Embrace it all; live it to the fullest. Just keep these tips in mind to help you stay safe as you do so.