Ways to Stay Safe On and Off Campus – Don’t Be a Victim!

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Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: March 22, 2024, Reading time: 11 minutes

Your safety is an essential factor to consider in college. But while colleges recognize the need to ensure the safety of their students and make efforts to do so, crime still inevitably happens— even in the safest places and even with school security measures and rules in place.

College students are also typically vulnerable, as they are unsuspecting young adults who have just left home. They explore college campuses to get a feel of how the world works, and that increases their likelihood of becoming victims.

How To Stay Safe on Campus and Off-Campus - fact

The Most Common Crimes in College

There is an exhaustive list of crimes that may occur on a college campus. But in the typical college setting, some crimes are just more common than others, and they all evidence the need to prioritize campus security and campus safety:

Sexual crimes made up 42% of the crime rate within US campuses back in 2019, which was linked to the increase in student population.

Meanwhile, burglary, particularly of specific valuables (cell phones, laptops, wallets, jewelry) accounted for 33%, and bullying (including hazing as a “rite of passage”) as well as drug-related crimes that threaten public safety were also found to be among the most common crimes on campuses.

Stay Safe On Campus and Off Campus by Prevention

Crime is a manmade hazard, and manmade hazards can be prevented. Some crime incidents, such as theft, burglary, and intentional property damage, can be stopped, and situations where you are vulnerable to crime can also be avoided.

Choose a school and a living area that feels safe and is safe.

Choose a school and a living area that feels safe, and is safe. - Image

Your safety depends heavily on the kind of places and situations you are in. Take into consideration how you feel about your prospective living areas and schools.

Do your research. Ask students and locals about the place, and arm yourself with the knowledge of safety resources and helplines.

Find answers to the following questions on college community safety:

When applying for a school or for housing, inquire to see if you are covered by the local government’s or the institution’s anti-crime and victim compensation programs. There should be programs similar to Pennsylvania’s Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP) in place to have your back secured should anything unforeseen happen.

Check the security of your housing.

Check the security of your housing. - Image

Nothing is as terrible as experiencing a crime in your own home, where you’re supposed to be safe! Every college student must keep their windows and doors secure and in good condition to prevent break-ins and burglars.

Opting for high-end locking systems such as fingerprint, keypad, and keycard locks for your main door is also a good idea since they are not easy to pick and may even come with alarms if anyone tries to go through them.

Be mindful of your windows and doors; keep them shut and locked most of the time, especially when you are busy and preoccupied, in the bathroom, and at night when you’re asleep.

With the consent of your landlord or roommate/s, if you have any, you may also want to install security cameras around your housing unit for extra security, as allowed by federal laws.

Learn about fire safety, too! Fire hazards make an apartment building an easy target for arsonists. Stay alert to unfamiliar and suspicious people and activities.

You can also look for residential halls and rentals in many colleges that have security cameras and other reasonable security features if you’re still in the process of searching for housing.

Make locking doors a conscious habit.

Make locking doors a conscious habit. - Image

Wherever you are, never forget to lock your car doors, front doors, and bathroom doors— especially in public bathrooms.

Lock your door even when you’ll be out for “just a second” because one moment is more than enough for an assault or a theft to happen.

Locks also provide a first line of defense by slowing down perpetrators or burglars, which can lead to one of three likely outcomes:

Use the buddy system. 

Use the buddy system. - Image

The buddy system is an effective and popular practice used in college to reduce the risks of going outside. Buddy systems can be made simply by picking out a friend you can trust and working out the specifics of your system with them.

This system is for you to have someone look out for you during a night out, or even just going out in general, and for your buddy to be safe having you on the lookout as well.

Take going to parties as an example. You and your friend can keep an eye on each other’s drinks in case anyone slips something in them, help each other go home safely, and stop one another from getting too drunk.

Having a buddy can also give you a reason not to get intoxicated because you have to watch over someone.

Most of the time, criminals hesitate to attack potential victims if they are accompanied by someone else. And should they still cause you any harm or start to make you uncomfortable, either you or your buddy could raise the alarm.

Learn self-defense.

Learn self-defense. - Image

Take self-defense classes or even martial arts classes if you have time. Even just basic courses can help out a significant amount. Self-defense training prepares you to appropriately respond to attacks and dangerous situations, either by de-escalating them, avoiding them, or interrupting them.

Once you know self-defense, you can also use this to protect others in immediate danger— your skill might save another life, apart from your own.

You also have the option to get self-defense weapons to use when you are in a pinch, such as pepper sprays, card knives, and pointed rings, or you can also learn how to create and wield makeshift self-defense weapons, like putting your keys in a fist. 

Recognize situations when you are vulnerable.

Recognize situations when you are vulnerable. - Image

Vulnerable situations can be something as common as walking or driving alone, making a withdrawal or a cash deposit, being alone in a parking lot, wearing flashy accessories outside, and visibly carrying valuables such as your laptop.

Victims in such circumstances have been robbed at knifepoint or gunpoint, sexually assaulted, and stolen from.

Know when you are in a vulnerable position or situation and leave as soon as you can. Be aware of your surroundings always, especially if you are alone. An excellent way to leave a vulnerable situation or to at least decrease the risk is to look for well-lit areas or places with a lot of people and security cameras and go there.

Attackers are less likely to make their move where they can be seen by other people.

Staying Safe During Risky Situations

Many things are unforeseen. In the case that you are unable to prevent a risky situation and find yourself in one, it’s essential to know and take appropriate safety measures to mitigate the danger you may be in.

Know what to do when being followed.

Know what to do when being followed. - Image

Being followed is, unfortunately, a very common problem, especially for young women walking alone. But regardless of your gender, this can happen to you, and you’ll need to trust your instincts in this situation.

In the case that you feel like you are being followed but still need to confirm it, you may do so by: 

If the pursuer continues to appear and now you are confident you’re being followed, you may do the following:

Never hesitate to call the authorities.

Never hesitate to call authorities. - Image

In situations where you hear unusually loud noises, such as screaming, crashing, or gunshots, call 911, the campus police if you are at school, or the local police immediately. Never try to go near the noises to assess the situation yourself, as you could get involved in the ruckus and get injured.

In situations where you see someone wielding a weapon dangerously in public, such as a gun, knife, or a long blade, walk away quickly but calmly and call the police, unless it’s a harmless film set or a cosplayer.

Whatever the situation is, as long as you aren’t being held hostage, within the perpetrator’s line of sight, and not directly being threatened by the perpetrator to make you put your phone down, always call the authorities.

It’s also always a good idea to have a personal safety app installed and emergency contacts loaded onto your phone. Always keep your phone charged when you are out.

Stay calm but alert. Avoid rash and uncalculated actions.

Stay calm but alert. Avoid rash and uncalculated actions. - Image

This rule applies to witnessing any crime and to almost every dangerous situation, especially in knifepoint/gunpoint robbery, hostage situations, or any situation in general where the perpetrator can cause immediate harm when triggered.

Try not to appear panicked and scattered should you ever be confronted or faced with a risky situation. This makes you look more anxious and, thus, a more vulnerable victim. Instead, take a few deep breaths and get your thoughts together.

Do not try to attack the perpetrator if you’re unsure of it unless they are in very close proximity to you and you need to attack as self-defense or if attacking is your last resort.

Chances are, if you attack the perpetrator from a distance, such as impulsively hurling an object at them or challenging them into combat, your uncalculated attack will fail. This may result in them getting triggered, and they will try to put you down to control the situation.

Remove yourself from the situation.

Remove yourself from the situation. - Image

The best way to leave or get through a situation is quietly and unharmed.

Hiding or going for a quiet escape before calling for help may be the best option for some situations, such as break-ins and public violence, where perpetrators may attack you upon seeing you.

But if you are caught in the middle of a heated situation, or if you are directly subjected to assault, threats, attack, robbery, or any other offense, common sense and instinct should tell you when you must run.

But in the rare case of being unable to leave, such as being held hostage, remain as calm as possible; wait it out and patiently try to negotiate your safety.

Additional Information: