High school students set to leave for college in the fall on Monday received expert counsel on ways to stay safe in the face of sexual assault. At the second annual “Know Before You Go” press conference, New Canaan’s rising college freshman were advised on precautions that need to be taken as they set out on their own.
Margie Hahn, a New Canaan resident and rising Junior at Villanova University, provided these important tips on what every college student should know at the briefing, held in the Training Room at the New Canaan Police Department:
- Supportive friends that you feel safe approaching when you are in an uncomfortable situation.
- Easy access to the phone number of a school counselor, as well as your RA (Room Advisor).
- A safe word. Margie stated that she has a “safe word” with both her parents and her friends that acts as an “SOS” signal that she could discretely text to them if in trouble.
- A roommate or friend who knows where you are at all times, especially when they are not with you.
Margie also noted that a very important aspect of staying safe is also ensuring that you are having a good time while you do so. She emphasized that although there are important precautions worth taking, students also need a healthy college experience.
“You want to find a community that cares about you. I really love that I feel safe, and that my friends and I have a place to go if we’re ever in trouble,” Ms. Hahn stated. She highlighted that one of her favorite aspects of Villanova University is the feeling of safety and community that she felt from the moment she stepped on campus.
Ms. Hahn was joined by Jackie D’Louhy of the New Canaan Department of Human Services, Hazel Hobbs, chair of the Board of Education, First Selectman Rob Mallozzi and officials with the Stamford-based Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education also were in attendance.
Together, they spoke about the value of protecting and informing youth, and what specific steps the community can take towards striving for a more cautious world.
“I am overwhelmed by how the town is protective and caring enough about students that are no longer in our public school grasp. As a father who sent his daughter to Syracuse University, it made me think very good thoughts about New Canaan and it’s outreach,” Mr. Mallozzi stated. “It is simply a wonderful thing you all are doing here today, thank you.”
Dede Bartlett of the New Canaan Domestic Violence Partnership provided a startling statistic that one in five students on any college campus will be sexually assaulted. She noted that although colleges have become much more vigilant, it is up to the individual student to have the resources to promote their own safety.
“There may be some people who do not want to talk about this issue. But I only wish those people could be with the people that are sitting here today while we listen to survivors,” Ms. Bartlett said. “Theirs is a journey that leaves lifelong scars. If this can prevent one student from being assaulted, all of our efforts were worth it.”
An essential takeaway from the press conference were the many different tips for every college student. These tips were highlighted by the speakers, and also included in a safety packet available to attendees.
Questions to Ask at Orientation:
- Who is the Title 9 Coordinator?
- Does your campus have a sexual assault counseling center?
- Do you offer sexual assault exams?
- Who can respond to reportings?
- Who can I speak to confidentially about sexual assault?
- How can I get involved? Are there existing groups on campus who cover this issue?
Students are inundated with information at orientation. That’s why it is important to keep a safety checklist. The follow-up conversations and information sessions are an extremely important part of the staying safe procedure.
How can parents keep communication open before the child is at school?
- Make sure that you are having these conversations with your child, boy or girl.
- Speak clearly and specifically about the long-term impact that sexual assault can have on a person’s life.
- Create a safety plan – what to do in case of emergency. Make sure you always plan ahead.
Squeamishness is not an option. Although some children may be uncomfortable and hard to approach about this topic, it is vital that a conversation takes place.
Things to look out for while the child is at school?
- Any change in behavior or contact. If you do not have contact with them, trust your gut instinct when they seem irritable, sullen, or when talking about a relationship.
- If they mention jealousy or controlling behavior in their relationships, have a serious conversation about their safety.
What happens when a sexual assault is reported?
- It goes directly to the Title 9 Coordinator.
- The specific behavior that made the student uncomfortable or unsafe is highlighted.
- Prevention methods are discussed.
- Further measures are taken depending on the severity of the reporting.
It is important to understand that not all students who are sexually assaulted report their assault, nor are they all women. It was stated multiple times that reporting the assault is the most important part of the process.
Resources that any student can reach out to: