Complete Guide to Student Safety
Crime on campus is not often a student’s top priority when choosing a college to attend. Information about personal safety is quickly dismissed when a young person moves away to attend a university and is swept up in a whirlwind of social activities, adjusting to independent living, learning, and discovering new places.
But a sex offender lookup should be a priority right alongside choosing the right classes when going to college. Many of the approximately 5,300 campuses across the country have been accused of not disclosing the truth of campus crime to students, and it has been established that crime is both under-reported by college students and college administrators.
There are about 78 million students enrolled in higher education in the U.S. Authorities say that, overall, campus crime – those that have been reported – has declined 35 percent since 2005. Yet other reports show clearly that not all campus crime is reported to local law enforcement, nor is it reported to educational authorities. Colleges have processes for disciplinary action that can fly under the radar of such mandatory reporting, perhaps to keep the campus attractive to prospective students and the school’s reputation sterling.
Types of Crimes on Campus
Students are an easy target for criminals because they have predictable schedules, they often have high quality belongings, they can be young and unsophisticated, therefore easily scammed, manipulated, or robbed. In addition, many students are away from home for the first time in their lives and testing their limits, which leads to excessive drinking or other forms of substance use that leaves them vulnerable to criminals. Along with the predictable property crimes, the U.S. Department of Education says that hate crimes have spiked by 25 percent in recent years, making campuses a potentially dangerous place for minorities, Jews, and LGBTQ students.
The National Criminal Justice Reference Service data show that forcible sexual assaults have increased since 2011 but property crimes and other incidents of victimization have stayed flat or declined. The increase in sexual assault may reflect greater awareness and willingness to report to authorities. A survey of campus police agencies showed that those larger schools with 5,000 or more students were likely to be proactive in educating the population about potentially hazardous situations and to have a text or email notification system in place in case of emergency.
1. Sexual assault: This crime has been identified as one of the least-reported on campuses. Between 19 and 27 percent of women are sexually assaulted on college campuses, and surveys show those incidents are vastly under-reported, by a factor of 10. That equates to about 1 in 5 women. In the latest data available, forcible sexual assaults were shown to triple from 2005 to 2015, There is a law, called the Clery Act, named for a young woman who was sexually assaulted and killed at Lehigh University in 1986, that requires colleges to disclose statistics about crime on campus. Legislators attempted to amend and strengthen that law in 2014-2015 with a proposal called the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, but it was unsuccessful because those who opposed it claimed that it did not provide for due process for the accused. Studies have shown that the presence of fraternities contributes to the number of campus rapes, and that serial rapists often prey on multiple victims on campus – making a sex offender lookup a good idea when choosing a campus. Factors that increase the possibility of sexual assault include victimization of new, first-time students and the influence of alcohol.
2. Robbery: There has been a decline in reported robberies on campuses, from over 750 a year to just 643 in 2104. Thieves are attracted to campuses by a large number of students with new electronic gear, by the “open door” atmosphere of many dormitories, and by the large crowds that they can easily disappear into when evading police. To prepare a student for possible thefts from unprotected backpacks or open doors, start by purchasing laptop locks, U-style bicycle locks, a locking box for high-value personal items, and teaching basic responsibility and vigilance. Unfortunately, dorm robberies are not unusual and a student’s roommate may not be as careful about closing and locking doors as he should. Minimizing the dollar value of items taken to college is a proactive approach, as is teaching a young person what to do if confronted by a robber on campus.
3. Drug and alcohol crimes: One of the few areas of campus law enforcement that has experienced an increase in recent years is arrests for drug possession and use. Arrests for illegal possession of alcohol and related charges has declined significantly, to just 13.5 per 10,000 full-time students. Drug violations has increased from 10.2 violations per 10,000 students to 13.1 per 10,000 students. College is a time of experimentation and socializing with new people, but students should be aware of the drug possession and use laws in the state where they attend school; decriminalization of marijuana does not mean that possession or purchase of a certain amount is no longer a crime they can get arrested for. In addition, the consequences can be severe, as student loans may be withheld from those with such convictions.
4. Cyberbullying: Students who are living away from home for the first time may struggle to find and fit in with a new social group, making them vulnerable to bullying. Unfortunately, without the family contact and structure they had prior to attending college, the potentially devastating effects can be hidden until the student is suffering significantly. Those with prior mental health issues, in particular, should be monitored for new symptoms of depression, withdrawal, or self-harming behavior.
5. Identity theft: Student loan fraud and credit card theft have both been on the rise because bustling college campuses are places volnurable to cyber attacks and where social security numbers and student ID numbers proliferate on paperwork. Phishing scams are one way these pieces of information are acquired; students may not realize that a fake email address is just one letter different from an official college email when it seeks personal or accounts information that could lead to theft. College students using unprotected wireless networks are vulnerable to identity theft just as they are if mail is taken from mailboxes or a debit card PIN number is stolen. Using a VPN, not making transactions over a free, open wireless network, carrying only a few personal identification items or documents that are absolutely necessary, and perhaps signing up for credit monitoring that will send transaction alerts are all important safeguards.
Most students cannot be confined to a college campus during the school year. Whether they travel off campus for shopping or live off campus, it’s important to be aware of:
- local crime alerts regarding break-ins, assaults, or gang activity;
- transportation safety: traveling with a friend whenever possible, being vigilant about using ride-sharing services, taking advantage of opportunities for designated escorts after dark;
- avoiding regular, habitual trips that are easily discerned patterns of behavior a stalker or thief might take advantage of;
- use only last names on mailboxes and have important documents routed to a post office box or alternative, safe, address to avoid opportunities for identity theft;
- avoiding hazards like unsafe neighborhoods by finding alternative routes.