Sexual Assault Prevention
Sexual violence can happen to anyone. College students should look out for their friends, speak up about sexual violence, and take steps to increase personal safety. It’s possible to relax and have a good time while still making safety a priority.
Alcohol is a factor in almost all sexual assaults on college campuses and many perpetrators of sexual assault are known to the victim. Like many other substances, alcohol can inhibit a person’s physical and mental abilities. In the context of sexual assault, this means that alcohol may make it easier for a perpetrator to commit a crime and can even prevent someone from remembering that the assault occurred.
You can take steps to increase your safety in situations where drinking may be involved. These tips can help you feel safe and may reduce the risk of something happening, but, like any safety tips, they are not foolproof. It’s important to remember that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, regardless of whether they were sober or under the influence of drugs or alcohol when it occurred.
- Make a plan and keep an eye on your friends. If you’re going to a party, go with people you trust. Agree to watch out for each other and plan to leave together. If you’re at a party, check in with your friends during the night to see how they’re doing. If something doesn’t look right, step in. Don’t be afraid to let a friend know if something is making you uncomfortable or if you are worried about their safety.
- Have a backup plan. Sometimes plans change quickly. You might realize it’s not safe for you to drive home, or the group you arrived with might decide to go somewhere you don’t feel comfortable. If your plans change, make sure to touch base with the other people in your group. Don’t leave someone stranded in an unfamiliar or unsafe situation. Download a rideshare app, like Uber, or keep the number for a reliable cab company saved in your phone and cash on hand in case you decide to leave. Always charge your cell phone and keep it with you.
- Make others earn your trust. A college environment can foster a false sense of security. They may feel like fast friends, but give people time to earn your trust before relying on them.
- Stay alert. When you’re moving around on campus or in the surrounding neighborhood, be aware of your surroundings and avoid secluded places.
- Know what you’re drinking. Don’t recognize an ingredient? Use your phone to look it up. Consider avoiding large-batch drinks like punches or “jungle juice” that may have a deceptively high alcohol content. There is no way to know exactly what was used to create these drinks.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or worried for any reason, don’t ignore these feelings. Go with your gut. Get somewhere safe and find someone you trust or call law enforcement.
- Protect your drink. Don’t leave your drink unattended, and watch out for your friends’ drinks if you can. If you go to the bathroom or step outside, take the drink with you or toss it out. Only drink from unopened containers or drinks you watched being made and poured. It’s not always possible to know if something has been added to someone’s drink. In drug-facilitated sexual assault, a perpetrator could use a substance that has no color, taste, or odor.
- Don’t accept drinks from anyone and don’t share drinks. This can be challenging in some settings, like a party or a date. If you choose to accept a drink from someone you’ve just met, try to go with the person to the bar to order it, watch it being poured, and carry it yourself.
- Check in with yourself. You might have heard the expression “know your limits.” Whether you drink regularly or not, check in with yourself periodically to register how you feel, stay in control, and don’t get in over your head.
- Be aware of sudden changes in the way your body feels. Do you feel more intoxicated than you should? Some drugs are odorless, colorless and/or tasteless, and can be added to your drink without you noticing. If you feel uncomfortable, tell a friend and have them take you to a safe place. If you suspect you or a friend has been drugged, call 911, and be upfront with healthcare professionals so they can administer the right tests.
- Ask yourself, “Would I do this if I was sober?” Alcohol can have an effect on your overall judgment. You wouldn’t drive, make medical decisions, or ride a bike while intoxicated. Many professionals, such as doctors, teachers, and pilots, cannot be drunk while doing their jobs. Given this context, is what you’re about to do a good idea? Will you be comfortable with your decision the next day?
- It’s okay to leave a situation. If you want to exit a situation immediately and are concerned about frightening or upsetting someone, it’s okay to leave. You are never obligated to remain in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, pressured, or threatened. You can also help a friend leave a situation that you think may be dangerous. Some excuses you could use are needing to take care of another friend or family member, an urgent phone call, not feeling well, and having to be somewhere else by a certain time.
- Be a good friend. Trust your instincts. If you notice something that doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Steps You Can Take to Prevent Sexual Assault:
Everyone has a role to play in preventing sexual assault. There are many different ways that you can step in or make a difference if you see someone at risk. This approach to preventing sexual assault is referred to as “bystander intervention.”
The key to keeping your friends safe is learning how to intervene in a way that fits the situation and your comfort level. Having this knowledge on hand can give you the confidence to step in when something isn’t right. Stepping in can make all the difference, but it should never put your own safety at risk.
Create a distraction
Do what you can to interrupt the situation. A distraction can give the person at risk a chance to get to a safe place.
- Cut off the conversation with a diversion like, “Let’s get pizza, I’m starving,” or “This party is lame. Let’s try somewhere else.”
- Bring out fresh food or drinks and offer them to everyone at the party, including the people you are concerned about.
- Start an activity that is draws other people in, like a game, a debate, or a dance party.
Talk directly to the person who might be in trouble.
- Ask questions like “Who did you come here with?” or “Would you like me to stay with you?”
Refer to an authority
Sometimes the safest way to intervene is to refer to a neutral party with the authority to change the situation, like an RA or security guard.
- Talk to a security guard, bartender, or another employee about your concerns. It’s in their best interest to ensure that their patrons are safe, and they will usually be willing to step in.
- Don’t hesitate to call 911 if you are concerned for someone else’s safety.
It can be intimidating to approach a situation alone. Enlist another person to support you.
- Ask someone to come with you to approach the person at risk. When it comes to expressing concern, sometimes there is power in numbers.
- Ask someone to intervene in your place. For example, you could ask someone who knows the person at risk to escort them to the bathroom.
- Enlist the friend of the person you’re concerned about. “Your friend looks like they’ve had a lot to drink. Can you check on them?”
Your Actions Matter
Whether or not you were able to change the outcome, by stepping in you are helping to change the way people think about their role in preventing sexual assault.
For more information on prevention and bystander intervention explore the Green Dot Program offered by WSU Cougar Health Services.