Police offer suggestions for staying safe

In light of recent reports of sexual and physical assaults, the State College Police Department, and Penn State University Police and Public Safety Department caution residents, students and visitors to the risks of sexual and physical assaults.

The State College Police Department is investigating five reported sexual assaults that occurred between Aug. 23 and Sept. 2. None of the assaults are related and in each of the crimes the victims reported they were acquainted with the alleged suspects. Four of the assaults occurred in the Borough of State College and occurred indoors. One of the assaults occurred in Harris Township. All of the assaults occurred during late night/early morning hours and took place during or following alcohol-related functions. The sexual assault incidents are under investigation by the State College Police Detective Section.

Additionally, the State College Police Department and Penn State University Police Services both receive reports of physical assaults that occur during large event weekends. Alcohol is most often a significant contributing factor in these assaults. As our community prepares for the influx of out of town visitors for the upcoming Penn State football season, the State College and Penn State University Police departments would like to provide students, residents and visitors suggestions for staying safe in our community.

Being a victim of a sexual or physical assault can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, race or economic status. The same is true for those who commit these crimes. By understanding and adhering to the law and expectations, and by following sound safety practices, sexual and physical assaults can be reduced or even eliminated.

Following are tips from both police departments:

Know the law

-- Be respectful. If you are uncertain whether your partner is comfortable with your behavior, ask. You can simply say, “Are you okay with this? “NO” means NO and “I’m not sure” means NO.

-- Understand that a person who is drunk is NOT legally capable of giving consent. If the other person is not capable of making an informed decision, do not have sex or any sexual contact.

-- Recognize that your needs do not give you the right to do whatever you want. Any sexual activity should be mutually desired.

-- If you’re going to drink, drink responsibly. Most sexual/physical assaults follow drinking by one or both individuals. In addition, be aware of how alcohol affects you. If drinking makes you more aggressive, you could be in danger of sexually/physically assaulting someone. Being drunk is not a defense for committing sexual/physical assault.

Tips for safety

-- Know your limits when it comes to alcohol use. If you choose to consume alcohol, do so in moderation and stop when you begin to feel the effects of the alcohol. Excessive consumption of alcohol may make you more vulnerable and significantly distort your memory and recall of events. Illegal drug use or use of prescription medications also can greatly impair your judgment and ability to care/protect yourself, and can make you more vulnerable to assaults.

-- Avoid leaving a social event or being alone with someone you just met. When you go to a social gathering, go with a group of friends and watch out for each other. Arrive together, check in with each other throughout the evening and leave together. At parties and bars, keep a friend in sight, and check in from time to time to make sure you’re both comfortable with how things are going.

-- Never leave a drink unattended or accept a drink that you did not see poured.

-- Be aware of your surroundings. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you find a way to get out of a bad situation.

-- Avoid traveling alone. Whether you are going out for an evening with your friends or just walking to class on campus, it is always safer to be with another person or with a group of people. Avoid walking or jogging alone, especially at night. Vary your route and stay in well-traveled, well-lit areas.

-- Trust your instincts. If a situation or location feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it probably is not a safe environment. Remove yourself from the situation or location. Do not allow yourself to be isolated with someone you do not trust or know well.

-- Avoid isolated areas. It is more difficult to get help if no one is around.

-- Walk with a purpose. Even if you don’t know where you are going, act like you do.

-- Avoid putting headphones or ear buds in both ears. This will allow you to be more aware of your surroundings and people in the vicinity, especially when walking alone or jogging.

-- Park in well-lit areas. If you are unable to travel with another person or group, park your car in a well-lit area. If the parking lot is dark with little activity, park elsewhere.

-- Always lock your doors and windows. Keep your home and car doors locked at all times. Have your key ready as you approach your apartment, home or vehicle.

-- Request a security escort. Call 814-865-WALK (9255). Penn State Police offer the Security Escort Service, which is designed to provide walking accompaniment for Penn State students, employees and visitors who may feel unsafe walking alone on campus at night. Call the Security Escort Service before traveling alone.

If you are sexually or physically assaulted

-- Find a safe environment, anywhere away from the attacker. Ask a trusted friend to stay with you for support.

-- Know that what happened was not your fault and that now you should do what is best for you.

-- Go to a clinic or emergency room immediately. You can decide later whether or not to press charges, but it is critical that you receive medical attention and caring support as soon as possible.

-- Report the attack to police immediately by calling 911.

-- Preserve evidence of the attack. If you are sexually assaulted do not change clothes, bathe or brush your teeth.

-- Write down all the details you can recall about the attack & the attacker.

Resource/hotline numbers:

-- Centre County Women’s Resource Center: 877-234-5050 (24-hour hotline) or 814-234-5050
-- Center for Women Students: 814-863-2027
-- Center for Counseling and Psychological Services: 814-863-0395
-- Student and Family Services: 814-863-4926 or the crisis line at 814-863-2020
-- National Sexual Assault Hotline (free, confidential counseling, 24 hours/day): 800-656-HOPE

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

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Last Updated September 07, 2013