It is the beginning of a new semester. You are spending extra hours on campus with your professor, preparing for the classes that you have to assist with as a teaching assistant, and returning to your off-campus apartment at a late hour.
Or it is the end of the semester and you are heading home at night after spending long hours at the university library to meet the deadlines on those take-home exams.
Or it is football season and you are returning home after the big game and an after-party that ran into the wee hours of the night.
Chances are, you will be walking alone to your car in an isolated campus parking lot or underground parking garage in at least a couple of these instances during your life as an undergraduate or graduate student. And when you do, you will be vulnerable to crimes and mishaps.
It is imperative that you protect yourself against any potentially dangerous situation by taking a few precautions and being aware of the right action to take in case some harm does befall you.
What Do the Numbers Tell Us?
The US Department of Education has made it compulsory for post-secondary institutions that participate in the federal financial aid program to disclose crime statistics on and near their campus. This involves more than 11,000 campuses around the country. The numbers are quite compelling.
Between 2005 and 2017, although criminal offenses in general on campus dropped from around 66,000 to 38,000, the story is different specifically with hate crimes and VAWA offenses (Violence Against Women Act).
In the same twelve-year span, the former has skyrocketed from 44 to 1,143 and in a four-year span (2014 to 2017), the latter has seen a significant uptick from around 12,000 to 17,000.
Estimates based on reports show that 19 to 27 percent of women (that is 1 in 5 women) and 6 to 8 percent of men are sexually assaulted during their college/campus life
While many of these crimes occur indoors (in dorms and other places on and off campus), a significant number take place in isolated parts of campus after dark. Parking lots and underground parking garages are especially prone to such attacks.
What Are the Potential Dangers?
A variety of crimes take place on campus and you could fall victim to any of them in a deserted parking lot after dark.
Attacks could range from
- alcohol-induced assault
- sexual assault
- kidnapping or
However, the measures you need to take while you are in a vulnerable location are pretty much a standard set of rules that will mitigate the chances of your being attacked in any of the above ways.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself From a Potential Attack?
While walking to and from your car:
- Keep your cell phone in an accessible pocket or in your hand so that you can dial emergency as quickly as possible.
- Wear or change into comfortable shoes so that you can run easily if you need to.
- Constantly look around you as you walk and stay aware of your surroundings.
- Do not use headphones or indulge in cell phone conversations, browsing and so on. Stay alert and avoid distractions until you are in a safer area.
- Avoid walking in between vehicles. Use the parking lot or stick to sidewalks and crosswalks.
- If you see anyone or anything suspicious, first retreat to a safe area and then call campus security, which you should keep on speed dial.
- Hold your car keys like a screwdriver so that you can use them to slash or strike an assailant.
- Carry a whistle or alarm so you can draw attention to yourself in an emergency.
- If your parking spot is visually accessible from a window, have a friend look out for you till you have entered your vehicle and driven out. Wave to them as you walk to your car.
- Wave while you walk to or from your car to give the impression that someone you know is looking at you as you do so, even if it is not the case. This will deter any potential assailant from attacking you.
- Use the main entrances and busy, well-lit access points. Avoid secluded passages and stairwells in the parking garage.
- Try to walk to your vehicles in a group when possible.
- Request an escort service from campus security. They will accompany you from your vehicle to where you need to go on campus and vice versa.
While entering or exiting your vehicle:
- Before you get into your car, quickly scan inside and underneath the vehicle to make sure that there is no one hiding anywhere.
- If you are carrying valuables in your car, keep them locked in the trunk rather than on your car seat where they can be seen and stolen. Try to ensure that you do this beforehand in a safe area, prior to entering the parking lot.
While driving and parking:
- Make sure that your windows are rolled up at all times.
- Make sure that all your car doors are locked at all times.
- Before you park your car, scan your surroundings to make sure it is safe and there is no one suspicious hanging around.
- Choose a well-lit open parking spot. It will be safer when you return to your car.
- Back into a parking space so that you can speed away easily if needed.
- Do not park next to a van that has a sliding door and do not park next to shrubbery. It will leave you vulnerable to attack when you exit the vehicle.
- In case you see something suspicious after you have parked or entered your vehicle and you are unable to drive away safely, do not exit your vehicle. Stay inside with the windows rolled up and all the doors locked and call campus security or emergency, as the need be.
- Do not stay in your vehicle after you have parked or entered it. Leave the vehicle or drive away as soon as possible. Defer answering those texts or calls until you have driven or walked to a safer area.
If you suspect that someone is following you:
- Run quickly to a populated part of the campus.
- Raise an alarm by creating noise. Scream or honk your horn or blow your whistle.
If you follow these safety tips, you should be able to stay safe during your life on campus. Universities provide resources to educate you on the dangers and the precautions you can take to protect yourself. You can find this information on your university website in most cases. You can also speak to counselors on campus who can provide you with this information, or with whom you may share any concerns.
In recent years, university policy and government regulations have come a long way in bolstering campus security and ensuring transparency. This, in turn, has helped empower the student body, so that they can keep themselves safe and also help the university security apparatus be more effective in protecting them.