College Safety Tip #1: LOCK YOURSELF IN A CUPBOARD AND NEVER COME OUT.
It’s a big scary world out there, and by the end of this you’re going to think it’s way bigger and waaaaaay scarier than you ever thought before. But take a few breaths, this is a guide to the absolute worst case scenarios. This will help prevent those few awful days when things go wrong, and you can just sit back and enjoy all the days that go right! If you’re careful and use your head, college can be greatest time of your life. So, here’s how you make sure that happens:
Ah the internet, a vast network of tubes containing everything from the answers to the problem set you can’t figure out to the pictures from your Bat Mitzvah you really don’t want anyone to see. But your online footprint is going to become more and more important, and as it grows you need to take better and better care of what you’re leaving behind.
Believe it or not, Facebook matters. Facebook matters a lot. And it isn’t just nosey new friends trawling through your old vacation pics. Many employers will ask their prospective new hires to friend them on Facebook so they can take a quick snoop through your life. That may not worry you yet since you’re in college and not looking for work, but when you’ve graduated you will appreciate some judicious editing of your online persona. If you don’t want a future boss to see it, don’t post it. For control over what other people post to you, go to your profile page on Facebook and click on the three dots at the right of your cover photo, then click on “Timeline Settings.” Where it says “Review posts friends tag out in…” click edit and set to On. Now you will have to approve anything before it shows up on your timeline. Oh, and while you’re there, go ahead and bump up those privacy settings. Creepers gonna creep, but you don’t have to help.
2. Online Maturity
Buzzkill I know, but now we have to think about the rest of your social media. The golden age of threatening to drown Stan Bartman in a bucket of bees is over. It’s time to start sounding like a grown up online. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to post jokes or get into arguments on Twitter, that’s what Twitter is for, but be careful what you post under your own name and what you connect to your other sites. Consider starting separate accounts, personal ones and ones for business. This goes for your email address too. While email@example.com might have been fine in high school, it’s not what you want at the top of your resume.
Everyone has their own trick for passwords. Ideally, of course, it would be a random string of numbers and letters with some punctuation thrown in for good measure. But this is something you have to remember. Some places suggest using the title of the website to help customize your passwords. So, for instance, if your normal password is huggybear321, then for Every College Girl you would make it Ev.huggybear321. Or for Google you would make it Go.huggybear321. The problem is you are also supposed to be changing your passwords regularly, and eventually you’re going to forget how you’re customizing passwords this month. My solution? Write them down. That’s right, a nice notebook on your desk with every site and every password for that site written down in pen and ink. Hackers can’t get at it because it’s not hooked up to the computer, and the likelihood of someone actually stealing both your paper notebook and your laptop is close to zero.
Okay, we’ve sort of already covered this, if you don’t want your boss to see it don’t post it. But there’s another side to this. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT send any photo you’re not fine with the entire world seeing to ANYONE. You might be in love, and he might be begging so sweetly and he might not be the kind of boy to do something like that, but if your relationship goes up in flames there’s no knowing where those pictures will end up. Same thing even goes for your best friend. Yes, she’s loyal to the end now, but if someday you spill red wine down her new white dress, you never really know who’s crazy enough to tweet what.
Scams abound on the internet, some are a lot more clever than others. I think we all know by now not to give the Nigerian Prince our bank account information, but clicking the play button on a link that looks exactly like a youtube video? That can be trickier. One of the simplest ways to eliminate a lot of internet flim flam is to download an ad blocker. The fake youtube video simply won’t show up. Other scams can be even more devious. Before you give any site your information, google it to make sure it’s not a scam. Usually one page of results on “site name + scam” will be enough to tell you if it’s legit. A good rule of thumb is to never give anyone money or your banking information, and don’t give them a way to find you (address, phone number, anything). Some scam artists will scan the web looking for any piece of personal information they can find on you, then call you up and use it to pretend to be someone powerful like the police or IRS. The best way to prevent this is to scrub personal information from the public record.
Let’s be honest, the internet isn’t always a nice place. It only takes one psychopath with a keyboard to completely ruin your day. The first rule is never to engage. More often than not engaging will encourage them, and you will never prove them wrong because logic is not a thing to the cyberbully. Take some screenshots for proof, then block them, report them to the website or to your college, do what you can to get them off your page. If they are actually threatening you, report them to the police. Yes, it did only happen online, but a threat is a threat and that’s when it becomes the law’s business.
7. Meeting people online
Whether it’s dating or just friends, always exercise caution when meeting someone in person for the first time. Meet in a public place, tell friends where you’re going or simply bring one along. Don’t share any information about how to contact you outside the site, you want to be able to walk away and never see them again if you need to. Above all, trust your gut. What we call instinct is actually a ton of tiny signals picked up subliminally, and if your gut is telling you the guy’s a serial killer, it’s time to tip your hat and walk away.
1. Know the security
Most campuses have a comprehensive emergency and security network. That might mean kiosks with big red “HELP” buttons, or it might mean security guards patrolling 24/7, or it might mean night shuttles to take you wherever you need to go. It’s likely it means all three. Regardless, research what your college has to offer. In an emergency, do you reach for your cell phone or run to the nearest safety booth? Each college has a slightly different set up, but be sure to do this research in the light of day and the comfort of your own dorm. This isn’t something you want to be looking up at 3am when you hear a creepy noise behind you.
2. Purse essentials
First and foremost of the purse essentials is the external battery. Wait, wait, I promise there is method to my madness. Your cellphone is the ultimate safety device. You can use it to contact friends or the police, or just look up the way home on Google Maps. The very last thing you want is to run out of battery and find yourself lost in the middle of a bunch of trees.
Next, you also wan’t some emergency cash. This is not cash for the muffin you simply MUST have, this is “I don’t know where I am and I need to pay a cab” cash. Keep this separate from the rest of your money, possibly not even in your wallet to avoid temptation to spend it. You might never need it, but there also might be a time when you will be unspeakably grateful it’s there.
Finally, some self defense tools. You can buy a small canister of pepper spray on Amazon for cheap (practice spraying a time or two, you want to be sure you’re aiming the right way), and you can also find adorable key chains that double as self defense tools. Finally, a good loud emergency whistle or alarm will effectively signal for help and, if you’re lucky, scare the bejeezus out of anyone trying to attack you.
3. Dorm Safety
There are even a few ways to make your dorm room safer. First are the obvious ones: lock your doors and windows. Theft can occur on campus, and the best way to avoid having things stolen is simply not to be the easiest target around. If your door is locked and the one next door isn’t, thieves are like electricity and prefer to take the path of least resistance. To make your room even more resistant to thieves, you can invest in a dorm or apartment security kit, which run pretty cheap around $15. They most often include a door stop alarm, a window alarm, and a personal alarm. They won’t be top of the line, but they will wake you up, alert the neighbors, and scare the pants off the would-be burglar. If you want to go a step further in protecting your valuables, a laptop lock and a strong box can be important additions to any well prepared dorm room.
Okay, here’s where we get serious. The truth is, college can be a dangerous place for young women. One in five women will be sexually assaulted during their undergraduate years. That statistic is scary, terrifying even. But there’s a lot we, as women, can do to help each other and make sure nobody we know is the one in five.
1. Stay together.
Nine out of ten women know their attackers, so even if she knows him, stay with them. Keep an eye open. If a male friend is sending out skeevy vibes, signal a female friend and get out of there. No man has a right to do anything to you that you don’t want him to…ever. That means no hugs unless you want him to, no shoulder pats unless you want him to, he doesn’t get to poke the tip of your pinky finger unless you want him to. It doesn’t matter if you look uptight or uncool. Don’t put up with even the smallest thing you don’t want to happen. If he keeps pushing your boundaries, he’s a terrible friend and you have no obligation to associate with him ever again. If you see a girl friend looking uncomfortable with a man, step in and give her an out. Ask her to go to the bathroom with you and while you’re there make sure she’s okay with what’s going on. If she’s not, then you both can leave together.
2. Keep each other informed.
If you’re going on a first date, tell your friends where you’ll be and who you’ll be with. Ask them to text you on occasion. This has the double advantage of getting you out if the date is going badly, and making sure someone knows you’re okay at all times. Even when you’re not going to meet someone, make sure someone knows where you are at all times. If you’re willing, turn on Find My Friend with someone you really trust. If not, just let a friend, a roommate, or an RA know where you’re headed.
1. Which party to go to?
When you first get to college, you won’t know which parties are which so you might end up wandering into the first frat bacchanal you see. This is a terrible idea. Not all frats are bad, not all frat brothers are bad, but it seems an unfortunate rule of the universe that every college has at least one frat with a horrifying reputation. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so why not ask some upperclassmen where to go and where to avoid? They’ll probably even know which parties are genuinely fun and which ones are people getting hammered in corners.
2. Prepare for the party.
This doesn’t just mean shaving, makeup, and spanx (although those are all good too). This means talking with your friends about what you want to do. Remember, drunk consent is not consent. So if you’re going to the party to find the hottest man you can and go wild, then more power to ‘ya girlfriend, but let your friends know that you consent to what is happening while everyone is still sober. If you want to keep all clothing on, thank you very much, then let your friends know and they can keep drunk you from doing anything really stupid.
3. At the party.
STAY TOGETHER. No, seriously, STAY TOGETHER. Nobody can pay attention to everything all the time while drunk, but a group of drunk people can get pretty close. Before you drink anything, though, make sure you can see them pour the drinks. Even if they’re not slipping in rohypnol with the beer, they might very well be slipping in some really strong liquor, which is something you’ll want to know before chugging it. If someone is holding a party where the drinks are being made where no one can see them, it’s time to leave the party. If you can see the drinks being poured and you’re certain what’s in your cup is exactly what you want to be there, you should still stick with your friends. You can chill together, dance together, fight off drunken handsy losers together, and keep an eye on each other. If one person is acting strangely, pull her out of there, whether she wants to go or not. She might be angry with you now, but not as angry as she would be with herself if you’d left her there.
4. Going home.
Don’t drink and drive. Call a cab or the campus shuttle. If you’re walking home alone (preferably walk with friends, but sometimes it’s going to happen), consider using a safety app on your phone. These apps like Guardly, BSafe, and Circle of Six make it easy to call for help or a friend.
If the Worst Happens
If the worst happens to you, I’m so sorry. The first thing you need to know is that it was not your fault. Your brain is going to try to do everything it can to find a reason it was your fault, but this is just so it won’t have to admit it didn’t have perfect control over the situation. Right now you do whatever you want. WHATEVER you want. Choice was just taken from you and now you get it back. So if you want to report it, that’s your choice. If you don’t, that’s your choice too. Your job now is just to heal. You’re at the beginning of a long journey. But it will get better. I promise it gets better.
If the worst happens to a friend.
Listen to anything she has to say. Do anything you can to validate her, to make her feel like she isn’t overreacting, like she wasn’t asking for it, like it wasn’t her fault. More than anything else, listen without judgement. Tell her you will be there whenever she needs you, and if she needs alone time you’ll give her that too.
2. Ask what she wants to do.
This is her choice. Whatever you are feeling, however much you want to go find the guy and set him on fire, what matters is what she wants. If she just wants to try and forget it ever happened, that is her choice. If she wants to pursue criminal charges, that’s her choice too. Your job now is to fight to get her what she wants. If she wants to shower and forget, you bring her a fluffy robe and towel. If she wants to go online and order 7500 rubber chickens, read the reviews to find out which chickens are best. If she wants to press charges, DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING. Don’t throw anything away, don’t clean, don’t comb your hair. Leave everything as it is, it could be valuable evidence. It will be incredibly difficult, but if she’s decided to press charges it would be better if she didn’t shower and stayed in the same clothes. That said, if she wants to shower, don’t stop her. It’s her choice.
3. Get her help.
She’s going to need to talk to a trained professional. Someone who knows how to deal with sexual assaults. If she’s ready and willing, take her to the campus sexual assault center. Most colleges have one. If she can’t face going somewhere in person, have her call a hotline or go to an online chat service. RAINN provides both at 800.656.HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org. Make sure she talks to someone trained in sexual assault recovery, there are specialties in psychology and if she goes to see the local anxiety therapist he might not say the right things.
4. Get her medical attention.
Just because she looks fine doesn’t mean she is fine. She needs to be checked for internal injuries as well as given medication to prevent STI’s and maybe even pregnancy. If she decided to press criminal charges, she may need to have a sexual assault forensic exam or rape kit done. Having support and friends could help her through. Pack a change of clothes and anything else you think might help and bring them to the hospital with her.
5. Reporting the assault.
This is something you do only if she wants to do it. Prosecuting will be a painful and difficult process and there is no “should.” It is her choice and her choice alone. Some survivors feel it gives them a chance to heal and restore order, others simply don’t want to relive the experience.
Some things that are important to know: it doesn’t matter whether there was underage drinking, nothing she did brought this on. It doesn’t matter if she knew or was in a relationship with her assailant. Previously given consent does not matter. If no consent was given this time, it was rape. It doesn’t matter whether she’s visibly injured or not. If she didn’t consent, it was rape. If she’s up to it, she should write down everything she can remember about the assault, down to the tiniest detail. Now there is the choice of whether to report it to the college or directly to the police. The medical center will likely have a connection to the sexual assault division of the local police department or campus police. You can also call and report to the agency of your choosing.
This is where she might really need you. Fight for her. Fight for her to get taken seriously. If you’re concerned the campus or the police won’t take her seriously, check if you live in a single consent recording state where it’s legal for one party to record the other without their knowledge. If you do, record everything that gets said to her. If you feel she’s being treated unfairly, ask her permission to bring the recordings to a lawyer or the press. Especially with campus police, don’t let this get buried if she doesn’t want it buried. If she wants to forget the whole thing, that is absolutely her right and you have to respect it. But if she wants to fight then stand along side her and make sure she wins.
Whew, that was intense wasn’t it? I know college seems pretty terrifying now, but the truth is it’s just like any other place you’ve ever been, except with a much higher percentage of cool and interesting people. There’s crime, there’s pain, but there’s also a lot of learning and joy. If you keep your eyes open, your friends close, and take a few precautions, you should leave with a bachelor’s degree and a stupendous number of happy memories. Because yes, there are frats serving iffy drinks, but there are also a lot of parties at friends’ places that are playing drunk pin the tail on the donkey. And yes, there are thieves who sneak in and steal laptops, but there are also friends who let you borrow their HBO Go account. And yes, there is far too much assault on campus, but there is a whole wide community of college girls ready willing and able to help rebuild piece by piece. And that’s something every college girl should know.