5 Ways to Stay Safe from Sexual Assault on Campus

College campuses have low rates of most major crimes, but there’s one significant and serious exception: sexual assault. About one in five women and one in 20 men report being sexually assaulted as undergraduates. Nearly one in four transgender, genderqueer, or gender nonconforming college students has been sexually assaulted. 

The U.S. Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” 

Most sexual assaults in college are committed not by strangers but by people who know and/or are partying with each other. Many assaults occur when one or both people involved have been drinking. The first few months of college—from orientation to winter break—are the riskiest and have been dubbed the red zone. 

The red zone is a period of time when more sexual assaults happen, in part because fall term is when most fraternity and dorm parties happen. First-year students are most at risk because they are unfamiliar with the campus and its surroundings, they haven’t built up their support network yet, they have increased independence, and they have easy access to alcohol. But the general increased alcohol intake at this time can put any students at increased risk.

Colleges are responsible for educating students about what they can do to create and maintain a campus environment where people treat each other safely and with mutual respect. Many schools have educational programs that cover campus safety, respect, and bystander intervention, which can help students commit to respectful interactions and support each other when someone’s actions endanger or disrespect others. 

Additionally, many campuses implement physical safety measures. They might ensure walking paths are well lit, have security guards patrol campus, or install blue light phones which connect students to emergency services.

Schools can do a lot to reduce the risk of sexual assault, but you can also reduce risk for yourself and others with these five tips. They don’t guarantee safety, but they can decrease your risk. Remember: If you are the victim of sexual assault, it is never your fault.

1. Know Your Limits

Being drunk is a known risk factor for sexual assault. Don’t feel pushed to drink at all or more than you want to please others. If someone is trying to get you to drink—or drink more than you are comfortable with—you should be concerned about their intentions.

Learn more about the risks of binge drinking and how to keep yourself safe

2. Trust Your Gut

If someone is pressuring you to drink, acting aggressively or in a way that makes you uncomfortable, or if something just feels off, listen to your gut and leave the situation. 

3. Go with Friends and Make a Plan

If you’re going to a party or will be in a situation you’re unsure about, go with a trusted friend (or several friends) so you can look out for one another and leave if anyone feels uncomfortable. Make a plan for how you will communicate with each other if you want to leave. Don’t leave anyone in your group behind if the rest of you decide to leave, and make sure you leave in pairs of two or more

4. Watch Your Drink

Unfortunately, sometimes people add drugs to a drink when the drink owner isn’t looking. These drugs can be colorless, tasteless, and impossible to detect and can make you sleepy, unaware of what is happening, or more intoxicated. Don’t take a drink from anyone you don’t know well, and don’t leave your drink unattended unless you have a trusted friend keep an eye on it. If you need to leave the room, take your drink with you or dump it out.

5. Protect Your Friends

Many schools offer bystander training programs to teach you how to step in if a friend ends up in a risky situation. Take this training if it is offered. If you’re ever in a situation that worries you, or you can’t get yourself or a friend out of a difficult situation, call campus security.

Here are more tips on keeping yourself safe on campus

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