A stupid mistake I can’t afford to keep making

I’ve done some stupid things in my life.

  • I cheated on a quiz in sixth grade.
  • I’ve had my dad kill spiders in my room when I’m home. And I’m 21.
  • I made a Myspace and actually agonized over my Top 8 at one point in time.
  • I wore leggings in 2000, way back before they were cool.

But probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done is walk around like I have nothing to fear.

Well, that was just vague enough to be ominous and probably freaked out my parents, but I mean it.

Here’s the thing…

We’ve all heard the statistics: 25 percent of college-aged women will be raped or experience an attempted rape in the four years they are on campus, according to a Department of Justice report ABC news mentions in an article.

I’m sure some people would call it paranoia or overreaction, but after reading some blog posts that talk about self-defense and how women should be approached by strangers, I can’t help but think that I have been woefully unaware of my surroundings. (Both links provide excellent information on staying safe and avoiding danger in public places).

The second article, in particular, makes an interesting point about how women view situations in their everyday lives. The guest blogger, Starling, writes to a well-intentioned man hoping to approach a woman for a casual conversation:

Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man.

To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.

“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is.

At first, I started at the notion that preventing assault is a part of my daily life. But then I considered it some more. Some might chalk it up to some kind of feminist diatribe, but women do bear the brunt of these worries. It’s nothing against men; it’s just something they don’t really have to deal with. I can’t honestly admit I’ve never considered what could happen to me if I walk around alone on campus, or anywhere for that matter, at night.

When I walk home, I am constantly looking around. I try avoid the dark. I cringe when passing empty areas or parking garages. And I am always grasping my phone and keys. I would be remiss to state so cavalierly that I haven’t been worried up to this point, but only recently have I taken pains to make sure I don’t keep making the same stupid mistakes.

Being a somewhat cynical, but not doom-and-gloom, type of person, I see some easy solutions we can all undertake, and make sure our friends undertake, to try to limit the kinds of situations where people, most commonly women, get hurt.**

The Tried-And-True Buddy System

So kindergarten field trip. But so effective. My peers act like it’s the obvious solution to accompany friends home after dark, but so often I see that it just doesn’t happen. It normally goes something like this:

  • Party 1 is too drunk, too lazy or too careless to walk/drive Party 2 home.
  • Party 2 doesn’t want to make waves by insisting.
  • So Party 2 walks home once by his or herself, is fine, and doesn’t ask again.
  • Party 2 is unknowingly putting him or herself at risk.

To me, this is so incredibly dangerous. You aren’t doing your friends a favor by letting them off the hook and discouraging them from caring about your safety. You don’t win bravery or independence points by possibly putting yourself at risk. Be brutal. Be annoying. Just don’t be stupid.

FYI, the friend who offers to drive/walk me home ALWAYS gets brownie points and undying gratitude. Not just from me, but from my mother, too. This is especially true if I don’t have to ask/plead/beg. Not only is it polite to offer, but it’s just the right thing to do. It sounds harsh, but if your friends care, they’ll go out of their way to make sure you stay safe.

Befriend the Post-It (or similar notifications)

As guest blogger Starling mentions, she always leaves the name and contact information of her date on her desk so someone could find it should she not return. She also checks in with a friend via text or email to make sure she gets home safely that night/the next day.

This is an easy method we can adopt. New boyfriend drops your friend off at home after a date? Ask her to text you that she got home safe. Group leaves a party/work/function before you? Tell them you’ll call when you get home. Make sure someone is being accountable for you if you are in an unfamiliar or potentially risky situation.

By keeping each other informed and apprised of our whereabouts, we limit the chance that we are caught where no one knows where we are. Our parents aren’t here to check in every hour like they did in high school, and while I don’t think we need to babysit our friends, no one should feel alone or like they aren’t being watched out for. That’s what friends are for, right?

Use Common Sense

My intention with this post is not to scare the young women on my campus. Nor is it to be a PSA for campus safety. Nor is it to condemn the occasionally lazy friend (too much, that is). I think we college kids are so caught up in our seemingly invincible lives that we forget that even a charming campus is a real place where real people can really get hurt if they aren’t careful.

To that end, be smart. Don’t leave your friends in the dark about where you are going for long periods of time. Don’t become so impaired that you can’t be aware of your own safety. When out and about, try to remain distraction-free by limiting cell phone use and music playing.

I think we all make some careless decisions that we pretend can’t hurt us. I’ve definitely been there, and I know my friends have, too. It needles me when I know I’ve let them down or when I find out they could’ve been harmed.

If this were an Original Oratory, I’d end with some kind of call to action. But really, I can’t make any of you do anything. All I can do is write and hope someone listens.

So here goes: Even if I’m the only one who takes my advice and the advice of the cited posts, that’s one more person making an effort. It’s not enough, but it’s something. And I’m calling on you, my readers, to make that effort too.

**I am not a doctor, psychologist or any other type of professional advice-giver. I just write what I see. These tips are based on my own experiences and information gleaned from the aforementioned blog posts.

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One thought on “A stupid mistake I can’t afford to keep making

  1. Great post! This is such an important topic that doesn’t get NEARLY enough attention.

    I love the section on the buddy system. I think the most critical part of being a buddy is intervening when something doesn’t look right. Is your friend too drunk to be leaving with that guy? Is something off about the way that guy is talking to his girlfriend? What about your friend who just used the word rape in a joking way? Say something. If you see someone being abused, report it!

    All of this helps us fight our rape culture that both perpetuates and tolerates sexual violence.

    One of the biggest and most dangerous myths we have about sexual violence is the image of a rapist as “the stranger in the night.” This creates the idea that women should be afraid to go outside at night without a man with them; when in fact, women are more frequently assaulted (sexually or otherwise) by their acquaintances and intimate partners. We need to look out for each other and we need to make sure that we don’t stand back and do nothing if someone else is being abused.

    Thanks for writing about this. Our community needs to talk about this way more often!

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