Personal safety must be top priority for new college students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – As students settle into their residence hall rooms, apartments or wherever they will call home during the academic year, their thoughts are on meeting the neighbors, learning their way around and finding their classes. During this time, personal safety and security also should be a top priority.

During the first six weeks of classes new students are more likely to encounter safety issues because their defenses are down, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Simple safety measures will help students have a great start to their first year at Penn State and develop good habits to help keep them safe throughout their lives.

Rebecca Bywater, Threat Assessment and Community Education manager at Penn State, offers these safety tips for students:

1. Always lock your door.

“You wouldn’t leave your front door open at home, so treat your home away from home the same way,” Bywater said, emphasizing that doors should be locked whether students are inside, leaving for class or just visiting with friends down the hall.

In addition, don’t allow unescorted guests into residence halls. Residence halls are controlled by 24-hour electronic access. Residents are required to use student identification cards for admittance and a resident must escort every guest.

2. Know the phone number for University Police. Students need to program 814-863-1111 into their cell phones.

3. Never walk home alone. Walk with friends or use Penn State’s free, dusk-to-dawn security escort service to avoid walking home alone. Just call 814-865-WALK.

4. Limit alcohol consumption. Always be aware of what is going on, and don’t let alcohol cloud judgment.

5. Be aware of surroundings. Pay attention while walking, instead of texting or listening to an iPod. Students should call police if they notice suspicious or unusual behavior.

Penn State offers educational programming about dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. "Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses nationwide, and we take it very seriously here at Penn State," said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs. "We have devoted numerous resources to sexual assault education, awareness, prevention, victim advocacy and support services."

As part of the education component, all incoming first-year students are required to complete an online training module dealing with sexual assault awareness before arriving on campus. Penn State AWARE is designed to educate students about sexual assault and sexual harassment, and to develop practical safety skills. The training module takes about 45 minutes to complete, and is offered in conjunction with Penn State SAFE, an online alcohol education program.

While these tips and training modules will help Penn State students be safe, it’s hard to foresee every potentially dangerous situation. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in four college women will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. In 94 percent of cases of sexual assault of college students, the perpetrator is known to the victim, and fewer than 5 percent of rapes or attempted rapes of college students were reported to law enforcement officials.

Victims of sexual assault, have options and help available through:

-- The Center for Women Students: 814-863-2027
-- Centre County Women's Resource Center: 1-877-234-5050 (24-hour hotline)
-- The Center for Counseling and Psychological Services: 814-863-0395
-- Student and Family Services: 814-863-4926, or the crisis line at 814-863-2020

For more information on resources, visit the Center for Women Students website at: http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/womenscenter/awareness/rapeandassault.shtml online.

Bywater warns students about the dangers of Facebook and other social media services. Updating locations or statuses can clue stalkers into a student's location, or let thieves know they aren’t home. Social media services offer a fun way to meet new people, but students should be cautious about with whom they connect, and should consider carefully what the material they share may reveal about them to strangers.

Bywater also reminds students to be mindful of their belongings. Don’t leave anything unattended; laptops, iPods, textbooks and wallets are among the items that most often are stolen. Students can purchase cable locks and electronic tracking software for their laptops, available at local retailers.

For additional information, services and resources available to the Penn State community, visit http://www.police.psu.edu online.

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Last Updated September 03, 2013