Each school year comes with excitement, whether the student is heading back to K-12 education or to an undergraduate/ graduate degree program at a college or university. However, it also comes with its concerns. Not only do students have to be cautious of pedestrian and motor vehicle safety as they travel to classes, caution has to also be given when it comes to protecting oneself from sexual assault. We live in an era of digital dominance and mindfulness about their surroundings can sometime take a backseat.
Personal safety needs to be at the forefront of a student’s mind when returning back to school. Awareness is the first step and knowing how to react in a dangerous situation is the next.
In order to know why personal safety is important, I think it is important to define what sexual assault is.
What is sexual assault?
It 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. Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence. The key to understanding sexual assault is to know that consent for a sexual activity to be performed was not freely given verbally or nonverbally. Rape, groping, forced kissing, child sexual abuse, or the torture of the person in a sexual manner are all examples of sexual assault.
Knowledge is power.
Did you know that many victims of sexual assault know their attacker? The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) conducted a study that showed approximately 38 percent of rape incidents were committed by a friend or acquaintance of the victim. This is why personal safety is vital; please understand that I do not want you to be suspicious of everyone you know. However, exercising good judgement is key when a situation does not look or feel right.
Breaking the silence of sexual violence is one way a survivor takes back their power. Sadly, many victims fail to report sexual assaults for reasons such as:
- Shame and/or embarrassment
- Fear of blame
- Fear of judgment from society
- Fear of retaliation
- Desire to suppress the traumatic act/memory
- Distrust of authorities
As students go back to school, I want them to know there are actionable steps they can take to increase your personal safety in and out of the classroom.
Here’s what students can do to stay safe:
- If you feel unsafe or even uncomfortable – your safety comes first – do not be afraid of what others may think of you.
- Get to know people first and then decide whether to trust them. Just because a person goes to your school, college or university, knows your friends, or spends time at your favorite hangouts, it doesn’t mean they’ll look out for your best interests.
- Be a good friend. If, for whatever reason, you have to separate from your friends, let them know where you are going and who you are with.
- Keep your phone on you. If you suspect that you or a friend has been drugged or harmed, call 911.
- Posting social media updates about your whereabouts, could allow someone to track your every move. If you wouldn’t give that information to a stranger, then don’t put it online.
- If you see something, say something. By taking action you can prevent a crime from being committed.
- Be aware. If possible, try to walk home with a friend. Use a well-lit route back and stay aware of your surroundings.
If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault, or if you have questions or need help, call the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center’s confidential helpline at 305-585-7273 or visit https://jacksonhealth.org/rape-treatment/. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Franchine Daley is the Program Manager at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center. She spent her career in the social services sector working with homeless individuals, foster youth, to sexual assault survivors. Helping those in need is her passion. Franchine can be contacted at email@example.com.