By: Dylan Reynolds
Going to college is an exciting adventure for most students because it is the turning of a page and the start of a new chapter. College campuses effectively operate as their own community and can potentially give students a sense of security – a feeling that everyone knows each other and watches out for one another. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Amid all the excitement of starting college, the discussion of campus safety frequently gets eclipsed by the students’ desires to try new things and meet new people. At fall orientations around the country, colleges routinely offer ineffective, oversimplified, and quick explanations of campus sexual violence that often fail to address the underlying culture that facilitates sexual violence on and around campus.
The definition of sexual assault is “any involuntary sexual act in which a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or any non-consensual sexual touching of a person.” It is a branch of sexual violence, and it includes rape, groping, forced kissing, or the torture of the person in a sexual manner. Victims may be forced into sexual acts by verbal or non-verbal threats, with alcohol, drugs, and/or physical violence. Discussing sexual violence and safety for higher education students is particularly important considering the alarming statistics on the issue.
To highlight a few:
- 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.
- Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.
- Men ages 18-24 who are college students are 5 times more likely than non-students of the same age to be a victim of sexual violence.
- 21% of transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming students have been sexually assaulted.
- Sexual violence is the most underreported crime, with over 90% of sexual violence on college campuses going unreported in the U.S.
- Among college women, nine out of 10 victims of sexual assault knew the person who sexually assaulted them.
- 40% of colleges and universities reported not investigating a single sexual assault in the previous five years.
- 70% of colleges and universities did not have a protocol for working with local law enforcement on cases of sexual violence.
Unsurprisingly, alcohol plays a major role in campus sexual violence  and the lack of adjudication for survivors in both the higher education and criminal justice systems. Because people often first experiment with both sex and alcohol in college, alcohol is frequently used to facilitate the full range of sexual violence and assault on college campuses. In fact, at least 50% of student sexual assaults involve alcohol. 55% of victims had been drinking alcohol, 74% of perpetrators had been drinking alcohol, and in 81% of alcohol-related sexual assaults, both the victim and perpetrator had been drinking. In the eyes of the higher education and criminal justice systems, alcohol seems to blur the lines of consent, making seeking adjudication by either entity particularly difficult.
Therefore, it continues to be important to provide college students with the information and resources necessary to both successfully prevent and adequately react to incidents of sexual violence. Although Title IX requires educational institutions to ensure safe campuses and a thriving environment for all their members , the unfortunate reality is that colleges and universities are only willing to do so much in these cases. Thus, until both systems have a better grip on how to combat campus sexual violence, students should continue to take precautions to protect themselves.
To be clear, this should not, put the burden on survivors or potential victims of sexual violence. Survivors are never responsible for having been assaulted and potential victims should never be responsible for avoiding being assaulted. Rather, the purpose of educating students on sexual violence is to highlight the weaknesses of the current systems while acknowledging the prevalence of the issue.
So, what are some precautions that students can take to increase their safety? On campus, students should always be aware of their surroundings. They should avoid playing loud music and being distracted by their phone. They should locate their campus and local health center, campus and local police station, emergency phones, and campus security. Many colleges have campus safety apps that include resources that offer emergency information. Students should also stick to well-traveled and populated areas of campus and take advantage of any campus escort programs. At night, they should take the path with the most people and the most light and communicate with friends and family.  Off campus, students should do everything they should do on campus, with the added layer of becoming familiar with the safe and unsafe areas of town and staying away from potentially dangerous or high-risk areas. If attending a party or social event off campus, students should try to go and leave with someone they trust, watch their drinks, know their drinking limits and stick to them, not be afraid to say no, and trust their instincts about any given scenario. Until colleges do a better job of supplementing their education on the prevalence of sexual violence on campus, it remains important for students to independently consider and take personal safety precautions like these.
Dylan graduated from Arizona State University with her B.S. and M.A. in Criminology & Criminal Justice. She is currently a 2L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and plans to practice in corporate law after passing the bar exam. Within the social justice sector, her interests include environmental justice, criminal justice reform, and issues pertaining to gender and bodily autonomy. Her personal interests include traveling, snuggling with her cat Freddy, and spending time with loved ones.