Students reminded to look out for each other this semester

September 13, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For many students, the fall semester ushers in new classes, new routines, new living arrangements and, for some, new friends and new surroundings.

With so much going on and so many changes taking place, it can be easy for students, especially first-year students who may be living on their own for the first time, to be targeted and victimized by others.

In fact, the first six weeks of classes at colleges and universities nationwide are often referred to as the “red zone,” which is when a large percentage of sexual assaults involving college students happen across the country.

“You see a lot cases where people are targeted or victimized during the first six weeks of classes, especially first-year students,” said Jennifer Pencek, programming coordinator in Penn State’s Center for Women Students. “When you’re so new to campus, you might be experiencing things for the first time, you might be away from family for the first time, you’re trying to get to know people, and you might not have that really strong support network yet. Unfortunately, there are people who will try to take advantage of that.”

Pencek said the majority of sexual assaults that her office sees involve alcohol, and in many instances the perpetrator and victim knew each other in some capacity prior to the crime. That’s why Pencek says that consent is a vital component of any sexual activity, and it must be clearly present at all times.

“We do a lot of programming about sexual assault that centers on the topic of consent,” Pencek said. “Making sure that you have consent and making sure that the other person is comfortable with what is happening is crucial, especially if alcohol is involved. If it seems like a situation when the other person’s ability to give consent is even in question, then it’s time to call it a night.” 

Obtaining consent and knowing the boundaries of that consent is the obligation of the person initiating the act. Thus, it is imperative to:

  • Get verbal consent from your partner and don't assume you know what the other person wants. The absence of a “no” or lack of physical resistance does not mean consent is present.
  • Know if a person is incapacitated. There is no consent no matter what the person said or did previously if a person is incapacitated by alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Listen to your partner. If you are getting unclear messages, stop.
  • Keep in mind that perpetrators are responsible for sexual assaults. Perpetrators take advantage of vulnerability and seek opportunities to commit sexual assaults.

The only way to prevent sexual violence is to stop people from committing crimes, such as rape and sexual assault. However, the action steps below are things individuals can do to reduce their risk of victimization, according to Sgt. Monica Himes in University Police and Public Safety:

  • Always lock your door, even if you are inside your residence hall room, visiting with friends down the hall, or heading to the bathroom. 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.
  • Know the phone number for University Police. Students should program 814-863-1111 into their cell phones.
  • Never walk home alone. Use Penn State’s free, dusk-to-dawn security escort service to avoid walking home alone. Just call 814-865-WALK.
  • Use social media wisely. Updating locations or statuses can clue stalkers into a student's location.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Always be aware of what is going on, and don’t let alcohol cloud judgment.
  • Be aware of surroundings. Pay attention while walking, instead of texting or listening to music. Students should call police if they notice suspicious or unusual behavior.

Pencek said it’s also a good idea for friends to make a plan before going out and to look after one another throughout the night.  

“One thing we try to stress is friends looking out for each other,” she said. “Even if you’re at a party and you see something that seems off to you, there are strategies you can use to diffuse a situation and keep people safe.

“Let’s say your friend is trying to go home with someone and you know that either your friend or the other person has probably had too much to drink. Saying something as simple as ‘Hey, let’s go get something to eat,’ or ‘We’re going to leave, come with us’ can help to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation, and it doesn’t have to be a big, heroic gesture.”

As part of a University-wide effort to combat sexual assault, Penn State launched the Stand for State bystander intervention program in January 2016. Stand for State provides educational programming that empowers students to intervene when they encounter a situation that could lead to sexual misconduct, as well as when they are confronted with issues like relationship violence, mental health concerns, acts of bias, excessive drinking, and drug use. 

To learn more about the Stand for State program or to sign up for a workshop, visit

In addition to Stand for State, Penn State has programs and resources in place to help address the problem of sexual assault.

The Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response, a stand-alone office dedicated to the issue of sexual misconduct, was created in 2015 as part of a list of 18 recommendations made by the Penn State Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment to address sexual violence on campus. In addition to carrying out those 18 recommendations, the office ensures University compliance with Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on the sex or gender of employees and students. The office is responsible for handling all cases of sexual harassment, sexual violence and gender-based discrimination, and it is a resource for information about those issues or to file a complaint.

Additionally, the office is spearheading a range of initiatives across the University focused on prevention, awareness and education. For more information, or to report an incident of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating or relationship violence, stalking, or sexual exploitation, visit

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.

Along with providing free and confidential counseling and advocacy for students of all gender identities who may have been impacted by issues like sexual assault, the Center for Women Students, located in 204 Boucke Building on the University Park campus, also provides extensive prevention education and opportunities for students to get involved in efforts to prevent sexual assault. For more information, including how to request an educational program for classes or organizations, visit

“Despite our name, the center is here to help all students,” said Pencek. “We have men who come here for services, so it’s not just for women students. We also do a lot of prevention work, so it’s also not just for people who are dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault. We offer free and confidential counseling and advocacy for all students, but we also do extensive prevention programming and have two peer education groups: Men Against Violence and Peers Helping Reaffirm, Educate and Empower (PHREE).”

Additional resources, available both from Penn State and the local community, for those who have experienced sexual assault and relationship violence include:

University Police victim resource officer

University Police can assist with advice and help to find the programs and services that might be of assistance. Email Det. Vicki Litzinger at for more information, or call 814-863-0823 to schedule an appointment. The victim resource officer is located in Eisenhower Parking Deck, Room 30-C.

Sexual assault and relationship violence hotline

A hotline has been established for victims and observers to report sexual assault and relationship violence. Penn State students from any campus can call 1-800-560-1637 to access the hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Commonwealth Campuses sexual assault resources

Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response


Office of Student Conduct



Emergencies/University Ambulance Service

Dial 911 (identify yourself as a student)

Mount Nittany Medical Center Emergency Department


University Health Services


Telephone advice nurse (24 hours a day): 814-863-4463

Emotional support

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)


Center for Women Students


Centre County Women's Resource Center

814-234-5050 (24-hour hotline); 877-234-5050 (toll free)

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape

Immediate assistance hotline: 888-772-7227

General inquiries: 800-692-7445

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

24-hour hotline: 800-656-4673


Emergency — 911

University Park Police — 814-863-1111

State College Police — 814-234-7150

Patton Township Police — 814-234-0273

Ferguson Township Police — 814-237-1172

Bellefonte Police — 814-353-2320

Pennsylvania State Police (Rockview) — 814-355-7545

Centre County Emergency Communication Center (non-emergency) — 800-479-0050

Emergency phones

For emergencies, dial 911. The Campus Night Map also shows the location of emergency phones on campus. The Campus Night Map is also available at the University Police station, located in Eisenhower Parking Deck.

Last Updated April 19, 2017