Change is brewing on college campuses. School administrators are faced with the reality that stronger policies and practices need to be implemented to address campus sexual assault.
One of the key elements to how activists and administrators alike hope to make a difference is through prevention programs. Education that teaches the entire population about consent, coercion, and bystander intervention is essential to this initiative.
As preventive measures begin to take effect, there are some precautions students can take to reduce risk. While there are no foolproof methods to prevent someone from committing an act of sexual violence, students can take steps to be aware of dangers for themselves and others.
In a study from the National Institute of Justice, researchers found that 89 percent of victims had been drinking when they were assaulted. While alcohol is not an excuse for committing an act of violence, it’s important to understand the role it can play in sexual assault.
Noodle spoke with Haley Schoeck, a senior in charge of risk management and social events for a sorority at Columbia University. Haley is also working with college administrators to improve sexual assault prevention programming at Barnard College.
We discussed the following risk management measures that students can take for themselves and others, so they can have fun while staying safe.
Pace yourself and become familiar with your limits. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water to ensure you stay hydrated. Slow down your drinking, and eat a full meal before going out to party.
Your drink can be a tool that an attacker uses to take advantage of you, either by administering date-rape drugs or by pouring you more alcohol than you anticipated. When someone offers you a drink, don’t take it. By the same token, be cautious about drinking communal drinks like Jungle Juice since you can never be sure what went into them. Finally, once you have your drink, don’t let it out of your sight.
Your phone and $20 for emergencies, such as a taxi home, can get you out of difficult binds. Make sure to charge your phone before going out, so you can communicate with friends if you need their help.
At a party, your friends may ask if you are truly interested in the person you are talking to or suggest you take a break from drinking. It’s easy to get defensive in these situations, but remember that your friends are doing this because they care about you, not because they are judging your actions.
If you have a bad feeling about a person who has approached you, then excuse yourself from the conversation. You have no responsibility to someone who is making you feel uncomfortable. On the flip side, if you approach someone and sense that you are making him/her feel uneasy, then it’s time to back away.
Going out with a group of friends can help you manage your risks collectively. Here are some ideas:
Before going out, have a conversation about what each of you wants to get out of the night. Maybe one of your friends is interested in finding someone to go home with, and another person in the group just wants to party with friends. It’s okay to not be entirely sure about how you want the night to go; just make sure to explain that to your friends. These clear expectations can be the basis for intervening later.
Set up guidelines that everyone will abide by. In general, it’s a good idea to agree that you will all stay in the same general place. Let people know if you are relocating or going home, so they can check on you if they are worried.
Designate a time and place where the whole group will meet to touch base in case your phones run out of battery. The meeting is just a chance to check in about what you want from the rest of the night. Once you commit to this meeting time, make sure that you are there so your friends don’t worry.
Act in the best interest of your group. If you see a friend acting in a worrisome way, approach him/her sensitively and check in. Whether it’s about the drink he/she is holding or the company he/she is with, simply asking about intentions can sometimes prevent a bad situation. This may also mean approaching a friend who you sense is harassing another person. Preventing your friend from acting aggressively can keep both him/her and the other person safe.
Just as you would select a designated driver when driving to a party, pick one friend who will be the designated risk manager for the night. This person is responsible for keeping an eye out for friends to make sure that they avoid dangerous situations throughout the night. If you are the risk manager for a specific event, take the role seriously. Follow through no matter what, even if you are feel tired or upset or you’ve gotten a better offer. Rotate taking charge of this role each time you go out.
If you see someone taking advantage of another person or a situation that makes you feel concerned about someone’s safety, try approaching the person to ask if he/she is okay. Haley explained, “It’s hard to decide when it’s appropriate, but what I’ve learned is that it’s always appropriate … if it is innocent, then the people won’t be offended at all.”
An important caveat here is that if you are afraid that approaching the person will endanger your own safety, offer help by approaching with a group of people or with a more imposing friend. You can also ask one of the bouncers to intervene in any situation where you feel uncomfortable. That’s what they are there for.
Below is a list of useful safety apps to download:
This app allows you to send messages to six friends, selected from your contacts. With the touch of an icon, you can send automated messages to the group, such as “Call and pretend you need me. I need an interruption.” or “Come and get me. I need help getting home safely.” The app is discrete, allows access to your location, and provides additional resources and hotlines to call.
Still in development, Callisto helps survivors of sexual assault report what happened to them. Users answer questions similar to those law enforcement may ask and are given the option to submit the report to the proper university body or to police. In addition, they can choose to have it submitted automatically if another user also reports an assault by the same attacker.
bSafe allows you to designate a group of friends who can “follow” you home by keeping track of you via GPS (a feature that you can disable whenever you choose). In an emergency, you can press the app’s alarm, which will give your friends your exact location as well as record video or audio that you can use as evidence later.