Between all the hard work and great parties to keep students busy at varsity, often the last thing they anticipate is falling victim to a crime such as rape or assault. But these crimes aren’t any less of a risk on campuses – in 2005 the crime average for Stellenbosch (where students make up 22% of the population) was higher than that of the entire Western Cape. Thankfully there are things you as a student can do to keep yourself safer on campus.
STAND YOUR GROUND
‘Self-defence is a practical, effective and accessible form of protection that empowers women,’ says COSMO’s self-defence expert Sanette Smit. ‘By knowing the basics, you can drastically increase your chance of survival in a potentially life-threatening situation.’
Along with self-defence techniques, the following common-sense rules will help you to protect yourself:
* Walk with your head high and shoulders pulled back. A posture that says you are confident and assertive makes you a less likely choice for potential attackers.
* Always carry pepper spray. Keep it in your hand so you don’t have to fumble for it in your bag.
* ‘Pay attention to body language at all times – both your own and that of others,’ says Smit. ‘Just by staying alert you can prevent a harmful situation.’
* Be extra vigilant on stairwells and in isolated or poorly lit areas.
* When it comes to avoiding sexual assault, don’t worry about being polite. Know what your sexual limits are and communicate them clearly. ‘Even if he is a friend, be clear about how far you’re willing to go,’ says Busi Dhlamini of Life Line Southern Africa.
* Smit says that if you are attacked, you should maintain eye contact with your assailant. This will scare him off, as you’ll be able to identify him afterwards.
* ‘Catch your assailant off-guard and act quickly,’ says Smit. The attacker isn’t going to wait while you decide which technique to use.
* ‘Hit what you’re aiming for. Your shots should inflict pain, not merely tick him off,’ says Smit.
Staying in a residence presents a whole new set of risks. ‘Here prevention is better than cure,’ says Dhlamini. ‘Form support groups and have open discussions about issues such as rape and violence against women. That way, everyone will feel empowered and free to speak out should they be assaulted.’
Use the following methods to make your res safer:
* ‘Get to know the people on your floor,’ advises Smit. ‘That way you’ll notice if someone is out of place.’ When you see someone you don’t know, ask questions like, ‘I’ve never seen you around before, are you new here?’ or, ‘Can I help you find someone?’ Then report any suspicious people to security immediately.
* When you leave your room, don’t leave messages on your door about when you will return. And never leave sexually suggestive messages on your phone.
* Says Smit: ‘Never compromise your safety for a roommate who asks you to leave the door unlocked.’
* Report any obscene or threatening phone calls immediately as well as unusual or dangerous ‘orientation’ rituals.