10 Ways to Help Protect Yourself From Sexual Assault — Even Though You Shouldn't Have To

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 01: People walk on the Columbia University campus on July 1, 2013 in New York City. An interest rate hike kicks in today for student loans, an increase for 7 million students. Congress left town at the end of last week failing to prevent rates on new Stafford student loans increasing from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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When I began working as a crisis counselor, it pained me to have to tell women that because of their gender they had to take additional precautions to keep themselves safe from sexual assault. Even though as a survivor of sexual assault I can say categorically that the only person to blame for rape is the person committing the rape, we as individuals have to take precautions to protect us from rapists, because, unfortunately, no one else will. 

That shouldn't be the case. Being sexually assaulted abroad left me angry at the degree to which I was left unprotected by law-enforcement, my peers, and the campus that should have cared about my safety. Preventing sexual assault should not lie on the shoulders of women; men and women should all take on that responsibility together, along with our governments, to make sure that regardless of your gender, you can feel safe from rape.

But until that happens, especially in the wake of my own experience, it's important to me to teach incoming freshmen what they can do to protect themselves from assault. 

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, every two minutes, there is another victim of sexual assault in the United States. Forty-four percent of those victims will be under the age of 18 and approximately 80 percent of those same victims will be under 30 years of age. According to RAINN, a college with a population of 10,000 can have up to 350 sexual assaults each year

The reason I enjoy volunteering at Take Back The Night events, freshman orientations, and other educational events on campus is because I want our youth to know that an elite college is not necessarily going to keep them safe. I want them to know that they look to themselves and not necessarily on the law to feel empowered and protected. I still use the following precautions, especially when under the influence.

Let me be clear: Women are not sexually assaulted because they drink too much, or walk home alone, or wear revealing clothes. They are assaulted because someone made the decision to commit a violent act against them. Following these precautions doesn't let perpetrators off the hook. But since rapists exist and are out there choosing victims, it's understandable to want to do whatever you can to keep yourself safe, while also working to change what has become a rape-tolerant culture. Here are 10 ways I tell freshmen they can help ensure their own safety.

USE The Buddy System

If your campus has inept public safety officers or doesn't offer shuttles to take you safely to your home, the buddy system can be the next best thing. Having a buddy system with your suite-mates or roommies can be especially helpful in these instances so no one is walking alone. Walking home late by yourself from the library, parties, or even an evening class can seem pretty safe, especially when you are on a closed college campus. Unfortunately, that's not necessarily the case, and trust me, the quirky yet somewhat mysterious guy from your chem class who is offering to walk you home late is not your best bet. He could be harmless, but why risk it? About 2/3 of sexual assault is committed by someone known to the victim. According to RAINN, 50 percent of attacks occur within a mile of the victim's home. Text your roommates and insist they pick you up.

Tell Everyone Your Business


This is something I still do to this day. Call it paranoia from watching too many episodes of Disappeared, but you can also call it safety. I rarely leave my block without telling at least one person where I'm going and who I'm going to meet. If you're dating online, on or off campus, make sure you let someone close to you know where you are going, with whom, and what time they can expect you back. This may seem like it's stripping you of your newfound freedom, but remind yourself that you aren't asking permission, you are keeping yourself safe. If you aren't close with your roommies or they are simply never sober, text a good pal from back home and let them know where you are and what time they can expect to hear back from you.

Be Safe While Being Pulled Over By the Police


Just because someone presents you a badge does not mean you are safe from harm. Police officers are human too, which means they can also be flawed. Growing up in New Hampshire, I drove down some windy, dark roads where few vehicles ever traveled. When I first got my license, my father told me that if I were to get pulled over on one of these roads at night by a male officer, I was to crack my window, stare straight ahead with my fingers on the steering wheel, and politely ask for a female officer. Depending on the state, you aren't necessarily legally entitled to a same-sex officer, so it's a good idea to look up your state's laws online or call your local police precinct and inquire. If you are denied a female officer or feel unsafe, quickly text someone your location to ensure your safety.

Watch Your Drink or Ditch Your Drink

I can't tell you how many times I go to the bathroom at a crowded bar or house party and come back to find my drink unattended and the person who insisted they would watch it nowhere in sight. In that situation, ditch the drink and get another, or better yet, don't ever sip from a drink you haven't had in your site since you got it. Date rape drugs are becoming more common and can be easily slipped into an unattended beverage leaving no visible trace or odor. If you have to step away, either finish your beverage or leave it behind.

Do Your Research Before You Study Abroad

Before you cram all your belongings for a year into two suitcases and board your plane to an exotic new land, be sure to educate yourself about resources there. While the U.S. still has major ground to cover in terms of protecting survivors of sexual assault and other violent crimes, there are unfortunately many countries that are worse off, seriously lacking in crisis centers and other help that is vital during and in the aftermath of an assault. Learn the laws in the country where you plan to study and write down numbers of sexual assault crisis centers, local emergency response centers (911), and the U.S. embassy. While you are there, follow study abroad safety tips. It's worth the extra effort.

Keep your Online Life Private

This is definitely hard to do with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the self-disclosure they all promote. You may already know by now that putting your address on the Internet is incredibly dangerous, but also think twice about sharing your current location. I once saw an Instagram public post with the caption that read, "So drunk, must get home," and she had tagged her location! Try to refrain from tagging your location every time you post, and definitely use the privacy options to your advantage. If anything, it will keep you safe and give you an element of mystery.

Trust your Instincts

On many occasions, I have witnessed a situation that seemed off. Once at university, I saw two men coerce a girl who was clearly inebriated upstairs away from public view. I immediately told about 20 people what I had seen. Soon my friends and I charged up the stairs and retrieved her. We took her home, gave her water, and I later heard that she had no recollection of the incident. If something just isn't right, speak up, whether you are on a date with someone and you suddenly feel uncomfortable or you are watching someone carry a drunk girl up the stairs at a party. Do your part to stop sexual assault by being vocal and not standing for it.

Party Responsibly

With recreational prescription drug use now common on college campuses, it's easy to accidentally give yourself a date-rape drug. Anti-anxiety medications are a popular black-out favorite. And then there's alcohol, which is involved in about 90 percent of sexual assault cases occurring on college campuses. Alcohol and drugs combined can incapacitate you even further. 

It's 100 percent true that if you are intoxicated — with alcohol, drugs, or both — you are unable to consent to sex, but unfortunately that will strike a perpetrator as an opportunity rather than a deterrent. Consider your first slurred word to be a sign it's time to call a cab or ask a sober, trusted friend to take you home. 

Protect Yourself and Your Belongings

Taking a self-defense course is a great way to work off some adrenaline and help keep yourself safe. You may never have to use these moves, but the confidence of knowing how to protect yourself will show in your stride. Carry a high-pitched whistle that you can quickly access in case of an emergency for yourself and fellow classmates in need of help. If your state allows it, carry mace to ward off attackers — just be sure to read the instructions so you avoid accidentally blinding yourself. Also, lock your dorm room and building behind you when you leave so you'll know no unwanted visitor is waiting for you when you return.

encourage everyone around you to invest in programs that raise rape awareness and teach men not to rape

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The only way to really protect against a culture of sexual assault on college campuses is to invest in education. Donate or volunteer with groups like Take Back The Night, or with a club on your campus. Most of all, whether or not you follow these tips, if you find yourself in harm's way, remember: You have no one to blame but your attacker. It will never, ever be your fault.

 Image: U.S Department of Education/Chris Zielecki/Jens Scott Knudsen/Stop Alcoholic Deaths, Inc. / Richardo Wang/ PictureYouth / USF SLE / Gavin Llewellyn/ ohmyGaly / Shadows On Stars

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