Guest writer: Jennifer Cassetta, clinical nutritionist, personal trainer and self-defense expert.
After going to college in the Bronx, New York City, I became more and more aware of the dangers that living in a big city come with. Luckily, I graduated and moved to Manhattan unscathed, but I know for sure there were women I went to school with whom were not as lucky as I was. Several of these women were violently sexually assaulted, but here's the thing: NOBODY EVER TALKED ABOUT IT.
Nowadays, things are different. It seems as if the headlines always contain some horrible story of sexual assault on college campuses around the country. My biggest question is: are these assaults happening more now or are we just hearing about it more? I don’t think we’ll have the answer to that. But, what we do have now is more people taking a stand against sexual assault, and that is a great thing!
More victims of are coming forward to report their attackers which is great for three reasons:
- First, the victim can begin to heal, with better access to the necessary tools and resources.
- Second, other people know and can hopefully steer clear of this abuser (if the predator remains on campus).
- Third, the predator has to face consequences (albeit the fact that some are still getting away with it, even after they are reported to college authorities).
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), more than 50% of campus sexual assaults occur during August, September, October and November. Even scarier, freshman women are more likely to be raped during their first 6 weeks of college, according to officials from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. These first 6 weeks are considered a “red zone.”
By now, most students are officially back to school and out of the “red zone”. But, that doesn’t mean that we can all go back to business as usual. Here are my top tips to keep your awareness heightened at all times and how we can take a stand against sexual assault:
Trust your gut.
Listen to your intuition, especially about people. If you sense that someone is malicious or suspicious, keep your guard up. The instant you start to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a situation, immediately try and remove yourself from that situation.
Back it up with body language.
Powerful communication begins with powerful body language. Walk erect with your shoulders back and make eye contact whenever possible. Even if you are feeling unsafe, use body language to trick yourself into a more confident mode if you have to tell someone off or defend yourself verbally.
Carry a pepper spray.
Whether you’re going to school in a big city or near cornfields, it’s always important to be able to protect yourself. Carrying a SABRE pepper spray on your keychain or on your arm, puts one more line of defense between you and your attacker. It also helps keep you aware and alert. Many campus bookstores will sell it, and if yours doesn’t, you can grab one at the nearest sporting good store or Target.
Practice bystander intervention.
You are more likely not to be a victim of sexual assault than to be, so here’s how to take a stand for someone else.
If you see someone being taken advantage of, follow these steps...
- Assess your level of responsibility.
My hope is that we take a more global approach to this. "I want to help because you are a fellow human" is a good start! We are not only stepping in to help our sisters, friends and fellow students, but anyone that we see being taken advantage in our path.
- Assess the situation.
How dangerous is it for you to step in and help directly? Perhaps the victim is being abused by someone on drugs or with a weapon or maybe the victim is in a bar surrounded with other people and you see someone slip something into her drink. These scenarios are totally different and your confidence level should reflect whether or not you are safe enough to handle the situation or if you need to go to step 3.
- Gather help and resources.
This is your action step. In some cases it will be safe enough for you to step in and remove the victim from the situation. Other times, you may need to call for back up. Other friends or bystanders may be able to help you, or you may have to escalate the situation and call 911 to get help from the police.
After the situation, remember there are always resources to help victims of sexual assault. Pass on the RAINN hotline to a victim of sexual assault for free counseling and other resources. Victims can call (800) 656-HOPE, or chat online.
Together, there is always something we can do to take a stand against sexual assault.