Article - AC Online: College Campus Safety Tips for Students

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911 Help Now™ focuses on safety in all environments, providing a connection to emergency services at the touch of a button. College campuses are a place where young people learn to be independent, and this sometimes results in unsafe situations. The article below outlines safety tips and precautions on common scenarios students will find themselves in.



Understanding Safety Planning And Crisis Response

Heading off to college is an exciting time for millions of recent high school graduates and even returning students. College life introduces new environments, new experiences, and new people, but it also creates new challenges inside and outside the classroom. Whether big or small, rural or urban, personal safety and security on campus are big concerns for students and parents across the country. This guide provides students and their concerned parents with critical information, important statistics, and expert guidance on the subject of college campus safety and sexual assault, awareness, and emergency response.

Campus Crime Breakdown

Staying safe on campus begins with a clear understanding of what college crime is and the types of criminal activity that are typically found there. Below are national statistics on campus crime during 2012, broken down by specific type and a comparison of those crime rates off campus.

Source: National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2015 Resource Guide

Sexual Assault on Campus: Awareness, Safety, and Help

Sexual assault of college students remains a topic of considerable concern across the nation’s campuses, particularly when it comes to how colleges handle sexual assault cases. According to the data above, sexual offenses are the second highest crime on college campuses, just behind burglaries. One in five students experience some form of sexual assault while attending college, according an April 2014 report by The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Another recent study found that less than one-third of students found responsible for sexual assault are expelled from college. But what exactly is considered “sexual assault” and what does one do if he or she becomes a victim of it?

Understanding Sexual Violence

Broadly speaking, the term sexual violence refers to any sexual act or activity committed against an individual without freely given consent. Both women and men can be victims of sexual violence. It is important to note that although such acts can happen in a number of different ways, this guide will focus only on the types of sexual violence that occur most among college students. Below is an overview of the different types of sexual violence most common on college campuses:

Sexual Harassment

This is defined as any unwanted sexual attention or advances from an individual or group and can be verbal and/or physical. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission reports that it’s against the law to harass someone or make unwanted advances that are verbally hostile, suggestive, or demeaning because of their sex. Offenders and victims include both men and women. On campus, sexual harassment can occur in class, within college organizations, or at social activities.


Stalking is defined as repeated and unwanted attention, contact, or harassment, particularly when it causes an individual to feel unsafe or fearful. This can happen with or without a person’s knowledge. Examples include following a person, watching from a distance, waiting for someone at a certain location, or contacting a person’s family and friends without permission. Stalking can also be done via repeated phone calls, social media messages, texts, and unwanted gifts. According to RAINN, the majority of stalking victims in the United States are between 18 and 24 years old.


Any type of significant pressure used to force an individual to freely and willingly give consent. This often includes behavior such as threats or blackmail.

Sexual Assault

An umbrella term, sexual assault is any form of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without freely given consent of the recipient, man or woman. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, activities that fall under sexual assault include forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, fondling, attempted rape, incest, and child molestation.


Legally defined as any form of sexual penetration–with anything–without complete and freely given consent. Rape is a type of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape. Additionally, while rape can be committed by a stranger, it is important to also note that it can happen anywhere and can be done by anyone, even an individual that the victim knows. Over 96 percent of rapes are committed against women; however, men can also be victimized by persons of all ages, gender, and sexual orientations. For the college-aged population, the most common types of rape are:

Diminished Capacity Rape

Diminished capacity rape happens when one person forces sexual penetration on another person who is unable to adequately evaluate what’s happening and, therefore, cannot give his or her proper consent. A person may have diminished capacity if he or she has behavioral or intellectual challenges. It can also happen if an individual is intoxicated.

Acquaintance Rape

Also called “date rape”, acquaintance rape can occur in the early stages of a relationship or with a friend or someone the student knows. It is important to note that even if these individuals were in a prior relationship, consent can be revoked at any time, which means rape can also happen any time. Two thirds of all rapes, according to Healthy Place, are committed by someone the victim knows.

Partner Rape

Partner rape, sometimes referred to as “marital rape”, is a type of rape that happens with a partner, current spouse, or former partner. This type of sexual assault can be further categorized into three types:

  • Battering rape, which combines physical and sexual violence against a partner.
  • Obsessive/Sadistic rape, which involves violent behavior that centers on inflicting harm.
  • Force-only rape, which is the act of imposing power and control over the other individual.

What to do if You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted

All sexual violence is punishable under federal, state, and local laws. In some cases, victims may fear reporting the crime for a number of personal reasons. Keep in mind, however, that reporting a sexual assault does not mean the victim must press charges. But failing to report the violence and pursue legal action has its own consequences, including the assailant continuing to assault other individuals. Survivors that report crimes may be eligible to receive financial support for medical treatment and counseling under the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). There are also state victim compensation programs, but these often require that the crime be reported within 72 hours. Many college psychologists argue that reporting and pressing charges is a step towards regaining personal power and healing. Still, choosing to press charges is an individual choice.

In the short hours after a crime, whether a person wants to press charges or not, survivors should do all they can to preserve physical evidence for law enforcement. But before any of that happens, victims need to ensure their immediate safety and physical/emotional well-being. Below are some basic tips on what to do after a sexual assault:

Find a Safe and Secure Location

Following a sexual assault, the victim should to go to a safe, secure location. These may include the campus police department, a dormitory, or a trusted friend’s apartment.

Seek Medical Attention Immediately

After an assault, it is extremely important to receive a medical exam, even if there are no visible wounds, to test for STDs, pregnancy, or other health-related concerns. Victims can call the police, 911, or the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline (NSAT) at 800.656.HOPE (4673). Counselors offer immediate emotional support, including talking victims through what happened and offering free confidential guidance to local medical facilities and counseling. Students can receive care from local medical facilities recommended by NSAT hotline counselors or visit the campus health center or local hospital. Emergency rooms will still treat rape victims without collecting evidence at the student’s request. Survivors who intend to report the rape and press charges should avoid bathing or showering until after they receive care. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) are professionals that conduct forensic exams to collect DNA with the victim’s consent.

Get Support From Family, Friends, and/or Counselors

Survivors often report insomnia, headaches, panic attacks, and sometimes shame following a sexual assault. Talking to others can be a form of healing, but some students may need more than crisis counseling to work through their experiences. Campus counseling centers, college health centers, and community counseling organizations can be instrumental in supporting a student through the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault.

Talk to a Legal Professional or Administrator and Consider Legal Action

In most cases, victims can choose to submit a formal report and press charges through the police or they can pursue disciplinary action through their college or university. Victims should talk to a legal professional or college administrator to learn about the process and his or her options.

Sexual Assault Resources

In addition to the steps above, there are several online resources available to victims of sexual violence or assault, as well as their family members and friends. Some concentrate specifically on college students, while others may focus on the larger population, which includes those on campus. Below are some examples of such resources:

1in6. Support for men who have been victims of sexual abuse and assault.


Clery Center. Providing information for victims and their families about university Clery Act and Title IX compliance, as well as a comprehensive, by-state list of resources for victims.

Culture of Respect. Help for individuals, friends and family members who have been victims of on-campus sexual assault, including finding immediate help or legal aid.


Joyful Heart Foundation. Helping survivors of sexual violence reclaim their lives and heal.


Male Survivor. Special help and resources for male victims of sexual violence and victimization.


National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Steps, resources and information for survivors, plus a listing of state coalitions and links to their Rape Crisis Centers.

National Center for Victims of Crime. Help for victims of crime 24/7 via their Connect Directory with listings for specific kinds of help.

National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Links and resources regarding violence against women.

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Working to prevent and respond to violence against members of the LGBTQ community, with a 24/7 hotline available at 212-714-1141.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Resources, news and information to help victims of sexual violence.

Not Alone. Information for students and universities on responding to and preventing sexual assault on campus, plus a search tool allowing students to find resources and services local to them.


RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Offers 24/7 help to victims via their online hotline or by calling 800-656-HOPE.


SAFER (Students Active For Ending Rape). Empowering students to help their universities become free of sexual violence.

Stalking Resource Center. Safety tips, help and resources for victims of stalking.


VRLC (Victim Rights Law Center). Law center dedicated specifically to helping victims of sexual assault.

Safety Precautions to Consider

When it comes to safety, there are some things individuals can do to help reduce risks and increase their sense of security. The following are steps all college students should keep in mind:

1. Consider taking a self-defense course.

Many campuses (or local community centers such as the YMCA) hold regular self-defense courses that emphasize awareness of one’s surroundings as well as basic defense techniques.

2. Check in with family and friends.

Your friends and family don’t need to know where you are or who you’re with at all times, but if you’re going out of town with friends or taking a solo trip somewhere—something different from your normal routine—it’s always a good idea to let your loved ones know where you’ll be and when you plan to come back. If you encounter any problems while away, they’ll have an idea of where and how to reach you so they can help, if needed.

3. If you’re alone, considering using your campus escort service.

Campus escort services provide students and faculty alike a free, safe and reliable way to travel on-campus after dark. Know the contact information for the service and save it in your phone for easy access.

4. Carry a whistle or alarm, and pepper spray.

A whistle or phone app that acts as an alarm is a fast and loud way to signal help in case of emergency. Additionally, pepper spray can be purchased in discreet, portable containers – some that will even fit on your keychain – and can be used for personal self-defense.

5. Set your social media privacy settings.

It may be second nature to check-in on various social media platforms or to update your network with plans for the evening. It’s one thing to let friends and family know these details, but if your accounts are open to the public, everyone can have access to this information. Take the time to adjust the privacy settings on all your social media accounts so that only those you trust know your information and whereabouts, and check these settings often–settings can sometimes change automatically whenever a platform incorporates new features or updates.

Turning to Tech: Apps to Keep Students Safe

While students should be sure that all important emergency numbers are programmed into their phones, sometimes an extra level of precaution in the form of safety apps can give assurance and a sense of security on campus. These apps provide a number of resources and capabilities, are available cross-platform and are free to download.

bSafe (iOS and Android)

Assign “Guardians” from your contacts that will be able to monitor your progress home, and who will be alerted with your GPS location if the SOS button is activated. The app also allows the user to set an automated alarm, alerting your Guardians if you fail to check in after a set amount of time, and comes with a fake phone call functionality to help remove yourself from uncomfortable situations. bSafe also recently made all of its premium features free to users.

Circle of 6 U (iOS and Android)

Building off the success of the original Circle of 6 app, the U version has been created specifically with university students in mind. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable or risky situation, two taps on your phone will activate an alert to your circle, including your GPS location. The U version of the app includes campus-specific resources for students, with both phone numbers and links to a variety of hotlines and help centers local to them.

OnWatch (iOS and Android)

Designed for college students, OnWatch incorporates designated groups of friends with the ability to also call local and campus police simultaneously. With the “Watch my Back” function, you can program a timed session that will alert your emergency groups should you not respond to the alarm when the clock runs out.

React Mobile (iOS and Android)

Using a predetermined contact circle, React Mobile allows users to send out an emergency contact blast to the entire group – without having to first unlock the phone. The app also allows friends or family to virtually “walk” you home, keeping tabs on your progress using GPS technology.

Watch Over Me (iOS and Android)

Offering both free and subscription services, the concept behind Watch Over Me is simple: set a time frame and activity you’d like the app to “watch” you for, and periodically check in via a button to confirm your safety. Should the button hit zero without a check-in, your designated friends will be contacted, alerting them to your GPS location. The app also includes a one tap emergency contact button, and the ability to report witnessed crimes in the paid version.

Getting Help: Campus and Online Resources

There are countless resources available, both online and on-site, for students in need of assistance with issues related to campus security and safety. The key is to know what resources are available and appropriate for the given issue or concern and to be able to utilize them at a moment’s notice. What follows is a list of the types of resources that are typically available across college campuses. It is suggested that both students and their parents compile a similar list for their school, including important contact information such as addresses, websites, and telephone numbers. Keep one copy of the list at home and another with you whenever you go out.

Campus Safety Websites

Most colleges and universities today maintain a comprehensive website devoted to campus safety resources and services. These sites act as clearinghouses of information covering all campus safety-related services including police, fire resources, emergency contacts, plans and procedures, sexual assault and sexual violence services centers, counseling and mental health services, and many others. Campus safety websites are also typically the place to visit to sign up for campus alert services. Students are advised to bookmark websites at the start of their terms.

Campus Police and Security

Most, if not all, college campuses today have their own police or security departments. While all students should be reminded to dial “911” in the case of any emergency, on-campus or not, it is also important to be able to directly and quickly contact campus security personnel. Student should always make it a point to locate their college’s law enforcement offices and become familiar with the services they offer. Additionally, many campus departments maintain their own websites where the public can access emergency information and crime alerts. Campus police departments also often maintain the campus’s lost and found service.

Escort, Safe Ride, and Shuttle Services

An important way to ensure a student’s safety when traveling on or to and from campus is to make use of his or her school’s walking escort, safe ride, and shuttle services. Almost all campuses today employ one or more of these services to cover student transportation and safety needs well into the evening and, in some cases, 24 hours a day. Night safety escorts are typically uniformed, trained, and radio-equipped community service officers or student volunteers who provide a walking escort to dormitories and nearby residences, parking lots, and public transportation stops. Walking services are normally free of charge and can be accessed by phone or on the campus’s website.

Counseling, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Programs

Stress, anxiety, and depression are problems found in abundance within college student populations. Closely tied to these problems are issues of drug and alcohol abuse. Colleges have come to approach psychological and substance abuse problems as safety issues that affect the entire student population, not just the individual directly involved. While most schools have some level of services to address these issues, it is not uncommon for smaller colleges to refer their students out to off-campus community programs. Larger schools, on the other hand, are able to support programs of their own. Students should familiarize themselves with the counseling, mental health, and substance abuse services available to them well before they are needed. And, as always, students should not hesitate to dial “911” in the event of an emergency.

Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Services

Sexual assault and violence remain major issues on virtually all college campuses. Most campuses today provide orientation programs for incoming students and continuing education for all students on the subject of sexual assault, as well as written policies and procedures to be adhered to regarding affirmative verbal and sober consent to sexual behavior. Being familiar with all sexual assault and violence services available on-campus and in the surrounding community should be a top priority for all students, both male and female.


As with on-campus safety, an off-campus student’s first line of defense in an emergency is to call “911”. Living off-campus means that students will fall under the protection of their community’s local police or sheriff’s department. Students should therefore keep contact numbers handy and familiarize themselves with their nearest police stations. Also, many local law enforcement agencies provide orientation and education programs for its citizens, including college students. Remember, the local police are as familiar with the college student community as their on-campus counterparts, so students should not hesitate to call them when necessary.

Off-Campus Student Services

Many campuses offer resources and services specifically for their off-campus and commuter students. On larger campuses, or those with a particularly high number of non-residential students, there may be an actual physical office for off-campus services. Smaller schools often provide these resources through their campus websites. Off-campus student services are often the best resources for locating safe, reliable off-campus housing or finding a compatible roommate. They are also a good source for finding quality off-campus health and legal services. Additionally, many offices provide advocates who represent off-campus students at local government and community meetings.

Health Care

The scope of health care services offered by colleges varies widely from campus to campus. Whatever services there are, they are normally made available equally to students residing on- and off-campus. That’s not always the case, however, so it’s important that off-campus students clearly understand where they should go to receive the health care they need. It is not unusual today for students to remain covered through their college years under their parents’ health insurance. Students in this situation need to locate local health care providers who accept their specific insurance coverage prior to seeking care.

Housing Resources

Of primary concern to students intending to live off-campus is to secure safe and reliable housing. Finding safe housing not always easy, however. The best place for a student seeking an off-campus living situation is on-campus. Many schools have off-campus student services offices that provide information on reliable housing and resources for students looking for trustworthy roommates. Beyond-campus options include local realtors, many of whom specialize in safe, dependable student rentals. Keep in mind, however, that it is the student’s responsibility to make sure that any apartment or other housing option under consideration is properly installed with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and meets all applicable local building and zoning codes.


It’s easy to get excited when visiting a beautiful college campus. The overall experience is new and the freedom is very different. There is always something interesting going on or someone new to meet. However, there are still countless non-academic factors to consider when choosing the right college or university. In addition to questions about academic programs, student success rates, and housing quality, it’s equally important to learn about a college’s safety policies and procedures, as well as their effectiveness.

Before visiting potential colleges, students and their parents should put in some time to research campus safety programs. Start with the school’s website, but also check out student blogs and other sources such as public safety records and recent news stories. There is usually plenty of information out there, it just requires a bit of effort. Then, when taking the campus tour, be sure to ask your guide about school safety policies. The following are examples of some of the most important campus safety questions to ask:

How are cases of sexual assault handled by the college? What policies and procedures are in place to educate students and others on the subject of sexual assault and violence prevention?

Cases concerning sexual assault on college campuses have certainly been a major headline grabber in recent years and it’s easy to understand why. There is probably no other issue that falls under the campus safety heading that is more scrutinized yet least understood than sexual assault. As a result, campuses throughout the nation are placing more and more emphasis on student education and policies aimed at sexual violence prevention. It is essential that all students are presented with a clear understanding of their campus’s policies and procedures in regard to sexual assault complaints, what is expected of them in terms of personal responsibility and behavior, and what services are available in the event that a sexual assault has occurred. It is also important to know how the university has handled such issues in the past and how those responses have evolved through the years.

What safety measures and services are in place for students while they are on campus, particularly at night?

The importance of safe travel around campus is obvious and the potential for danger can be significant. If possible, parents and students should make it a priority to visit prospective campuses at night and observe what potential problems exist and what safety measures are in place. Things to look for include the abundance–or lack–of exterior lighting, the presence of police and/or security patrols, access to alarm systems and/or emergency call boxes, the availability of night escorts, campus shuttles and/or transport vans, etc. After visiting a campus, ask yourself this question: “Do I feel comfortable walking around campus?” This question is particularly important at night as students will more than likely have to find their way home after a late night study session or campus event on several occasions.

What are the school’s policies regarding campus access? Is the campus open to anyone at anytime or is access restricted?

Campus access is a big concern. The sheer size of many campuses makes restricting access difficult. Nevertheless, it is important to know if campus policy restricts who may be on campus at any given time and what measures are taken to assure compliance with this policy. For example, are individuals on campus required to carry school-issued IDs or visitor passes at all times? Do buildings and laboratories require special access such as a swipe card after certain hours?

Does the campus have a clear and concise written security strategy and plan?

The correct answer should be “yes” and the school should be able to provide students and parents with a copy of the plan upon request. A well thought-out out formal plan is crucial to effective campus safety. Fortunately, almost all colleges understand this and spend a great deal of effort in planning for all types of emergencies and dangerous activities, and are conscientious about sharing this planning with both their campus population and the surrounding community. If a school cannot provide such a strategy and plan, cross it off of your list.

How does the college communicate with students, faculty, and staff in the event of a campus emergency?

It is crucial that colleges have in place an effective system for contacting individuals, both on-campus and off, in the event of an emergency. Such systems today more often than not include text and voicemail messaging as well as email or website alerts, but should also include methods of communication for those without immediate access to a cell phone or the Internet, such as sirens, loudspeakers, or display signs.

What is the campus’s emergency response plan?

Following the Columbine High School tragedy, there was a push toward all schools implementing strict policies and procedures for responding to the threat of attack by armed individuals. In many cases, those policies included campus “lockdown” guidelines. Given the geographic nature of college campuses, however, lockdown policies are often impractical and can even hamper student safety and emergency response efforts. Colleges today, therefore, are implementing more effective methods of dealing with all types of emergency events, including evacuation plans and “safe shelter” policies, the purpose of the latter to provide students with a plan that keeps them indoors where they are not exposed to danger. All students should be given clear instruction on exactly what to do in the event of a campus emergency.

Is the campus in full compliance with all provisions of the Clery Act?

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crimes Statistics Act (Clery Act) is a federal statute that requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal student aid programs to comply with several delineated provisions concerning campus crime, including the collection and disclosure of crime statistics and security information. The act also imposes basic requirements for dealing with emergency events and incidents of sexual violence. Schools are required to submit an Annual Security Report (ASR), publicly disclosing crime statistics and summarizing security policies for their campus. Parents and prospective students should request Clery Act information from each campus under consideration and review its findings carefully. Students should also understand the procedures for filing a Clery Act violation.

What policies are in place regarding the consumption of alcohol? Does the campus have issues of alcohol and/or drug abuse? How does the campus handle violations of alcohol and drug use policies?

It’s no secret that college campuses and their surrounding neighborhoods are often plagued by student alcohol and drug abuse–the negative effects of which are experienced by all students, whether they drink or not. Consequences of student drug and alcohol abuse can include assault and sexual abuse, academic problems, mental health issues including suicide attempts, as well as physical injury and even death. Prospective students and parents need to inform themselves of a college’s policies and sanctions in regard to drinking and drugs both on- and off-campus. They should also determine what campus-sponsored programs and services are available to support students with drug or alcohol problems and addiction.

What policies and services are in place to help students with mental health issues?

This is a question that is often overlooked, but is nonetheless important to ask. Many colleges and universities are just now coming around to the realization that quality mental health services play a significant role in protecting and supporting its student population. Parents and prospective students should give strong consideration to schools that provide comprehensive mental and emotional wellness services such as counseling, crisis intervention, and substance abuse assessment.

General Safety Tips for College Students

Colleges spend a great deal of time and effort to create a safe, secure learning and living environment for their students. Still, it’s important for all students to follow basic safety precautions whether on campus or off as well as know what to do, where to go, and who to call if something goes wrong. The following is a list of important safety recommendations specifically for college students:

1. On Campus

Stick to well-traveled and well-populated routes when moving around campus. At night, take routes that you are fully familiar with and that are well-lit. Many colleges offer night safety services such as walking escorts or shuttles for late night travel.

2. Whenever possible, travel with a friend or in a group. Remember, there is safety in numbers.
3. Don’t hesitate to report suspicious persons or activities, or if you feel unsafe.
4. Most colleges employ a system of emergency callboxes across the campus. Familiarize yourself with your school’s emergency system and callbox locations so that you know what to do and where to go in case of a sudden emergency.
5. Make an effort to be aware of what is going on around you at all times. In other words, don’t wear headphones and play loud music and look up–don’t text or play games on your phone.
1. In the Dorm or Apartment

Be sure that the main entrance to your residence hall or apartment remains locked at all times. Be sure to use the main entrance whenever possible, especially if it is manned or monitored. And never let anyone in that you don’t know.

2. Make sure to keep your dorm room locked, especially when alone in the room or sleeping.
3. If you lose your apartment or room key, bite the bullet and gets your locks replaced as soon as possible
4. If you can, keep all valuable personal items and documents locked away in a drawer or safe inside your dorm room or apartment.
5. If you have a car, only park in a safe, well-lit location and keep it locked at all times.
6. Always keep your blinds closed or curtains drawn when changing clothes.
7. If you’ve had the windows open while at home, don’t forget to close them before you leave the room or apartment.
1. Parties and Other Social Events

Know your drinking limits and stay well within them. Know when to quit and when to leave situations that encourage you to continue consuming past your limit. Do not mix drugs and alcohol and do not accept them from someone you don’t know and trust.

2. Watch your drink as it’s being made or poured and do not leave it unattended.
3. Always have a designated driver. If you are the designated driver for the evening, be responsible and stay sober.
4. When on a date, be sure to follow all of the rules for safe dating. Make sure someone you trust knows whom you are with and where you are going, and when you expect to get home. Make sure your date understands the rules of verbal and sober consent and that you have that consent before engaging in any sexual behavior.
1. When Off-Campus

Almost all the tips above apply to off-campus travel and activities, so be sure to read and understand each one.

2. If attending college away from your hometown, be sure to become informed about your new community. Learn about the “good parts” and “bad parts” of town and stay out of potentially dangerous areas.
3. Familiarize yourself with the location of police and fire stations. If you ever feel you are being followed or unsafe for other reasons, do not hesitate to go to the nearest station immediately.
4. If living off-campus, be particularly mindful of fire safety. Check your smoke alarms regularly, and create and rehearse both primary and alternate escape plans.
5. If living off-campus and planning to be away between semesters or for a holiday, take your valuables with you if you can. Be sure to let your landlord and trusted neighbors know that you will be away and when you intend to return so that they can keep an eye on your place. When you get back, give your home or apartment a careful once-over to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary. If something is off, don’t hesitate to call the police.


with Ruth JonesTitle IX Coordinator, Occidental College

The following is an interview with Ruth Jones, Title IX Coordinator at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, on issues related to education and the prevention of sexual assault on college campuses, as well as the policies and procedures Occidental employs when an allegation of sexual assault has been made.

What is your job at Occidental College?

I am the Title IX Coordinator. My role is to try to make sure that the college is free from sex discrimination and that our students are safe. As part of that position, I oversee those policies and procedures that we have in place to respond to complaints of sex discrimination, specifically sexual assault, and also our prevention education efforts.

The college’s responsibility is three-fold. We have a responsibility to investigate and adjudicate formal complaints. We also have a responsibility to support individual students and make sure [issues of sexual assault] do not interfere with their educational opportunities to the extent that we can provide them with the appropriate emotional support and other resources. And the third thing that we have the responsibility to do is protect our community as a whole. Examining every complaint individually and in the aggregate with other complaints, we address structural issues that may lead to discrimination.

So, as opposed to law enforcement, whose objective is the detection and prosecution of crime, colleges have a broader mandate.
Can you give me brief idea of Occidental’s policies and procedures when it comes to issues of sexual assault?

In terms of prevention education, we have a multi-prong approach. The first step is that all students are required to complete mandatory online education. We have sessions for first-year students during orientation devoted to issues of sexual assault. We have a speaker speak to the entire first year class. We also have members of our peer education program called Project SAFE, students that have been selected and trained to help facilitate small group trainings in bystander education. Bystander education is a program that many colleges have adopted. It teaches students how they can help each other and respond in situations that create a risk of sexual assault. There is another component of first year education that occurs a few weeks after orientation, where students talk about these issues with their resident assistants. In addition to the basic program for first year students, Project Safe conducts training for various student groups such as fraternities, sororities and athletics teams. These groups receive bystander training but it is adapted to focus on the particular issues or concerns of that group. And, to supplement the basic formalized training, we offer a variety of speaker programs, panels and other programs and activities throughout the year, such as Take Back the Night, which focuses on sexual violence.

If a student has been sexually assaulted on campus, or wants to report an incident, what are the steps they should take?

First of all, our policy is not restricted to on-campus assaults, but also covers sexual assault that happens in other places that would impact a student’s educational opportunities. If a student has been sexually assaulted, there are a number of choices. One of the first choices they would make concerns who they initially want to talk to. They can talk to a confidential resource. Confidential resources are not formal reporting services but they are individuals a student can speak with and know that the conversations will remain private. Individuals who serve as confidential sources can make sure students are aware of available on-campus and off-campus resources. Confidential resources are also familiar with the formal reporting process and can accompany those students who decide to make a formal report. Often a student will start with a confidential source, get more information, and then decide to make a formal report.

There are two options for formally reporting a sexual assault. A student can make a formal report to the police. If a student chooses to make a report to the police, the college would assist with that report by providing information and someone to accompany the student during the process. We are not, of course, in charge of the police or the prosecutor’s office, but we try to make sure that the student has whatever support he or she would want when going to law enforcement.

The second option is the on-campus process. If a student wanted to pursue a disciplinary action against another student, the student could report their situation to a number of people, but it would ultimately come to my office, come to the Title IX Coordinator. I would explain to the student in that initial meeting their rights and options. I would have two goals in that meeting: to get a basic understanding of what occurred; but also, and I think this is a critical component of how colleges respond and how it differs from going to the criminal justice system, we would talk about what we call “interim measures.” Interim measures are those that the institution would take to preserve a student’s educational opportunities. Sometimes that means that if the reporting student and the accused are in the same class, separating them, or if they are in the same dorm, separating them from being in the same housing unit. It may mean getting a student additional academic assistance. We try to identify what a student needs to attend classes and to otherwise be part of the community, and then arrange that.

Then we would talk about what happens with the process itself. The next step after my office receives a formal report is to initiate a formal investigation. Right now, we use external investigators who are specifically trained and experienced in conducting sexual assault investigations. They will interview witnesses and gather any evidence before the investigation is initiated, and produce a report summarizing the evidence. Before the investigation is initiated, I send written notice to the student alleged to have engaged in sexual assault. I also meet with those students and explain their rights and the resources available to support them during the complaint resolution process.

After the investigation, there is a hearing. A hearing is the point at which there would be a determination whether or not the policy was violated. The investigator, complainant, respondent, and witnesses testify. The complainant and respondent are both present if they choose to participate. The complainant and respondent also have the opportunity to have an advisor with them. That advisor can be anyone they choose including a family member or an attorney. There is an adjudicator who asks all of the questions. The complainant and the respondent have an opportunity to review the investigation report before the hearing starts and to submit questions to the adjudicator both before and during the hearing. It is important, however, that the students understand that they cannot ask each other questions. Prior to the questioning of any witnesses, the complainant and respondent have the opportunity to present opening statements and at the conclusion of the hearing, they have the opportunity to give an impact statement.

After the hearing is completed, within four business days, a written decision is issued on whether or not there is a finding of responsibility. After the decision, both sides have a right to appeal. There are only two grounds on which to appeal. The first is if there is new evidence that was unavailable during the process and the second is if there was a substantial deviation from our policies and procedures. After the appeal process, the complainant part of the process is concluded. After the case is concluded, we still respond with follow-up remedies to make sure that, once again, the educational opportunities are still present.

What are the sanctions for someone that is found to have committed sexual assault through the on-campus process?

The sanctions for sexual assault range from suspension to expulsion.

What do you find to be the biggest concerns of students when it comes to the subject of sexual assault prevention?

It’s not just about what students are saying; it’s about best practices. One of the reasons schools focus on [that time] right before students come in is because all studies show that first-year students during first semester is when they are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. But with best practices, it’s important to discuss prevention more than once and consistently reinforce our expectations about behavior, what are policies are, and our bystander training about how we protect each other. So, what students are asking for is how to have discussions about sexual violence throughout the year. Knowledge of policies is important, but it’s ineffective to just say, “don’t violate the policy,” every month.

We have to have different ways of having these difficult conversations about the causes of sexual violence. It’s important to say, “don’t violate the policy,” but in terms of prevention, we have to say more than that.
What advice would you give new students in terms of sexual assault issues and awareness?

I would ask all students to think about, when they are coming to a new community or new college community, what it means to be a responsible sexual partner. One of the major distinctions between college policies and the criminal law, or what they may have been taught before they get to college, is that colleges have an affirmative consent policy. And that means that you shouldn’t keep going with sexual activity until you get “no.” It means that you have to look for affirmative consent through words or deeds before engaging in sexual activity. So, I would ask students to think about what affirmative consent means and how they are going to integrate affirmative consent into their sexual behavior. The other thing that I would ask students to think about is how we can support each other and have a community that is free from sexual violence. And I guess that the other thing I would like students to think about is, “Whom can I talk to? If I have any questions or concerns, who can help?”

Are there any other particular concerns that parents are expressing to you regarding sexual assault issues?

Of course parents want to know about what the college is doing to keep students safe, but one question that I am increasingly asked is what will happen if my child is accused of sexual assault. In response to this question, I tell them that we have a process where we use trained professionals to gather evidence to ascertain what happened, and by that we mean whether or not our policy was violated. The other thing I would to say to parents who are concerned if their child is accused of [sexual assault] is that they have similar rights to the complainant during the process. They have a right to provide evidence and to have an advisor to assist them during the process. I also work on interim measures for students who are accused.

I try to reassure them that there is not just a rush to judgment, there is a process, and during that process we try to treat all of our students and members of our community with dignity and respect.

If someone is found responsible, we hold him or her accountable and we impose the appropriate sanctions, but there is no rush to judgment.