Our Opinion: Prepare college-bound students with personal safety strategies

Talk to college-bound students about campus safety.

Speak frankly about the risks – including sexual assault, alcohol-fueled violence and hazing – and spell out your expectations for his or her conduct. Use the campus escort service at night or walk with a trusted friend. If you’re going to attend a party, guard your drink. If you see something suspicious, report it. Lock the door to your dorm room. Always.

By raising these topics, you might be labeled a buzzkill; you might even find yourself on the receiving end of that dreaded, dismissive eye roll. But amid this month’s flurry of back-to-school activity, and the typical chatter about fashion and dorm room accessories, it’s important to reinforce safety messages.

“Increased violence on campus is a harsh reality: college-aged students are at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted – often by someone they know,” cautioned the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network in a 2013 news release containing safety tips. “The first steps in staying safe are recognizing the risks and being proactive.”

For the fall semester, federal law and other factors have combined to draw extra attention to campus crime prevention.

The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, also known as the SaVE Act, championed by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Scranton, has gone into effect, stipulating how universities should try to curb sex offenses as well as how employees must respond to and report alleged offenses.

The law targets four offenses: sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. While spotlighting the new regulations during a visit this month to Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Casey talked to the Times Leader about the importance of bystander intervention. “All of us have a responsibility to take action,” Casey said. “If you have a sense that someone you know may have engaged in this conduct or you see something on campus or see something at a party, you have an obligation to act.”

Separately, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported this month on a new program called the “32 National Campus Safety Initiative.” To gauge their security protocols, U.S. universities are urged to participate in a series of safety assessments in nine areas ranging from “alcohol and other drugs” to “threat assessment,” according to promoters of the free online tool. The project is an outgrowth of a nonprofit organization formed in the wake of the 2007 shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech.

Regardless of these official strategies, parents typically have the most influence on their college-age children. Talk to your son or daughter about university life and all it offers – the opportunities, the freedom, the fun extracurriculars. But don’t leave out campus safety.

College shouldn’t be the place where the most lasting thing a young adult learns is what it feels like to be the victim of a crime.