Dear college freshman,
I just saw you in clinic a few weeks ago; your last check up before college. We talked about a lot of stuff, updated shots, filled out forms, hugged good-bye; crammed in what we could in just a few minutes. It was a great to see you.
Now that you are out of the office, away from the distractions of a buzzing phone and a thin, revealing gown; we need to talk about one more thing. Something serious. Something real. Please listen?
You have a 1 in 4 chance of being sexually assaulted in the next few years.
I’ll be honest — the reality of this threat freaks me out. Over the last few years, I have been able to protect you from illness, infections, and injuries. But this one? You are on your own.
Talking about assault can be uncomfortable and scary, but as your doc I want to leave you with information that empowered and protected me during my 4 years in college. My greatest hope is that sharing this knowledge will prepare and protect you for years to come.
What every female college freshman needs to know about assault
You are not immune. 1 of every 4 women will be sexually assaulted while in college. When you are sitting at a table with your 3 best friends, one of you will be a victim. No matter where you go to school, who your parents are, how you were raised, or where you are from — this reality includes you. In this, you are not unique. Your college experience demands attention to this personal risk, and active plans of prevention.
Your friends matter. Choosing friends who agree to support each other through the college experience is essential. Discuss with your group of girl friends your intent to watch out for each other, and the commitment to help each one get home safely. No woman left behind. If these friends leave you to fend for yourself or walk home alone, re-think the value of their friendship. When around groups of young men, observe the actions between them. Do you see them helping their buddy get an intoxicated girl to a free bedroom? Or, do they intervene and help to get the girl home safely? Choose to hang out with men who show respect towards women; they will be more likely to show respect to you.
Most young men will not commit sexual assault in their lives. But, 10% do. Research is shedding light on the characteristics of college-aged attackers, including their tendency to be repeated offenders. Sadly, these repeat male offenders do not believe their actions are inappropriate and rarely change their behavior without intervention. They commonly choose victims within social networks, and refrain from using violence that causes physical evidence. Use your smarts to ignore vengeful rumors, but if trusted friends and upperclassman repeated tell you to stay away from a guy — pay attention. As much as I want you to meet individuals with fairness and acceptance, choosing to privately interact with suspected offenders is a high-risk situation.
Most assaults have alcohol central to the plan. Research has shown that the majority of the perpetrators and victims of sexual assault have been drinking. Alcohol will decrease your ability to resist an attack, and can impair the attackers ability to interpret your sexual intent. Alcohol intoxication does not excuse illegal or immoral behavior, however it increases the chance these behaviors occur. If you choose to consume, know your limits. Drink only things you have poured or opened yourself. Avoid homemade “punches” with unknown alcohol content. Never accept a open drink from a stranger.
Use your voice. Use your phone. Especially in circumstances involving alcohol, men may interpret “no” as “try later.” Repeated, direct refusals are sometimes necessary to make your sexual intentions clear. When your safety is at risk, traditional female politeness goes out the window. Be firm, be clear, and repeat your message. Meanwhile, use what you have in your pocket to get help. Check out apps like Circle of 6 (free) or Lifeline Response (paid). These apps can be direct connection to friends or authorities if you feel threatened. At minimum, choose a neutral “code word” to text a trusted group of friends in case things are getting out of hand. Empower yourself with a plan.
Be brave. You have the power to save someone’s life. As a member of a college community, consider yourself responsible to intervene or get help if you are observing a threatening situation. Don’t underestimate your impact and your ability. Be bold. Be brave. Be a hero.
Know where to go. Many campuses have assault prevention groups to spread prevention messages throughout campus groups and the Greek system. Consider joining the cause. To learn more about the dynamics of a healthy relationship, check out Love is Respect. And if you believe you are a victim of assault, turn to your local campus crisis center, or go online to the National Sexual Assault Hotline. You are worthy of, and deserve, help.
I’m one of the hundreds that are happy for you, excited for you, and looking forward to living in a future that you have the power to create. Have fun. Be safe. Stay in touch.
P.S. One last thing — I don’t care how cool the free tee-shirt is. Don’t sign up for the credit card.
Natasha Burgert is a pediatrician who blogs at KC Kids Doc.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com