The U.S. turns attention to sexual assaults and other crimes on college campuses


Photo: Illustration by Sam Barton

Students attending colleges in Ohio must recognize that crime happens on and near campus and they have to take precautions.

By Alexis Parlette, The Flyer Staff

It’s a sobering statistic, but one in five women experience rape or attempted rape in college, according to a National Institute of Justice report.

The problem of sexual assaults on campuses has been in the news a lot this spring. President Obama formed the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, and 55 colleges – including Ohio State University – learned on May 1 that they were being investigated for possible violations in how they handled sexual violence and harassment complaints.

But sexual assaults aren’t the only crimes that take place on or near college campuses. Robbery, burglary and aggravated assault can also be problems when a large number of people are living and working together in a concentrated area.

Colleges spend thousands of dollars recruiting potential students, and students want a college where they can study and work without feeling the need to look over their shoulder.

Ashley Laurent, a junior at Fairmont High School, is looking for a prospective college and she’s narrowed her choices to Ohio State University, Ohio University, Toledo and the University of Cincinnati. With everything else to consider in selecting a college, Laurent hasn’t given much thought to the safety factor.

“The only unsafe part I can think of is getting there because you have to drive there,” Laurent said.

In fact, traffic around college campuses can be a bit crazy. “There have been several instances of people getting hit by cars and severely injured when crossing the street,” said Alyson Miller, a 2012 Fairmont graduate who is wrapping up her sophomore year at the Ohio State University. “But another big safety risk that comes with living in the city is potential criminal activity.”

Chris Roush, a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, agrees with Miller. The 2012 Fairmont grad says he feels pretty safe at UC but thinks that being out at night is a bad idea.

“I believe the most unsafe thing you can do is decide to travel alone at night,” Roush said. “In any city, there’s nothing but trouble when it is dark out, so the best decision you can make is to take one of the many shuttle systems or drive yourself.”

A variety of crimes

But staying off the streets doesn’t guarantee safety. A recent Associated Press article reported that overall crimes near the UC campus dropped by 25 percent in the past five years, but burglaries are on the rise.

College safety chartTwelve burglaries occurred near the UC campus in 2012, according to the Campus Safety and Security Analysis Cutting Tool. That appears consistent with the burglary figures for three other major Ohio universities, with both Ohio State and Ohio University reporting 14 off-campus burglaries, and Miami University slightly higher with 17 reports in 2012. All in all, more burglaries were reported near the universities than any other crime. (See chart.)

Many students have never had anything bad happen to them during their college career. A couple of students had strange encounters and decided it would be better to avoid creating any problems for themselves.

“A man came up to the bus stop and was obviously intoxicated,” said Miller. “My friend and I were talking to each other, and he just kind of stood in the middle of us and stared at me. I moved our conversation several feet over because I just figured he was being strange, but he did the same thing again. That was strange enough for us, so we just walked to a different bus stop.”

Roush shared another example of sketchy situations on campus and what students should do if something seems off. “I have never been directly threatened, but there have been some instances where I felt uneasy about a certain group of individuals. Whether they were looking at me funny or I felt they were conversing about me, I was unsettled, so I just turned and walked in the opposite direction,” he said.

In terms of sexual assaults, Ohio State reported 21 on-campus incidents in 2012, compared to 17 for Miami, 9 for OU and 7 for UC.

Safety plan awareness

Some students say they don’t think colleges do a good job of publicizing their safety plans.

“If there is a safety plan, it’s obviously not advertised very well,” Miller said. “Ohio State is a massive school and has around 50,000 students, so I imagine it’s a bit harder to synchronize. There have been a few threats to campus safety, and the areas have just been evacuated or kept secure with police.”

But Nathan Bare, a freshman at OSU, said he does notice OSU’s security. “We don’t have anything as structured as A.L.I.C.E.,” he said. “There is an emergency alert system that emails every student if there is any kind of known threat on or near campus. Students can also sign up to have these alerts sent to their phones via text.”

Jessica Wuensch, a Fairmont grad who is completing her sophomore year at Ohio University, said she feels her school does pretty well in warning its students about potentially dangerous activity on and off campus.

“We have had A.L.I.C.E. trainings for students and staff,” Wuensch said. “I haven’t gone to one, but I would like to. It is an important skill to know, and more people are realizing how important it is.”

Despite the fact that Ohio University is in a much smaller city, Athens, compared to OSU’s more urban setting in Columbus, the crime statistics for the two schools aren’t all that different. According to the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool, OSU had 49 on-campus crimes in 2012, compared to 41 for OU. When it came to off-campus crimes, OSU reported 24 compared to OU’s 18.

Joe Barton, a sophomore at Miami University, says his college does send safety alerts to students, but some of them end up being about less-than-serious events.

“I know that we do receive crime emails when things happen at dorms like fires, sexual assaults, etc., but they almost always turn out to be nothing,” Barton said. “We did have an old guy running around the woods on the edge of campus last year in nothing but hiking boots – I got an email about that.”

Checking it out

Before choosing a college, some students do a background check on the college’s safety statistics and what kind of incidents it has had in the past. This can sway a student’s choice of colleges.

“Of course it influences decisions,” said Roush. “No one is going to want to live at a university where there’s a possibility of being robbed or worse.”

Wuensch believes doing a background check on a college’s safety is a good idea. “I think it is definitely something to take into consideration. I personally didn’t think I would do well in a city setting, so I didn’t really look at schools like that. Sometimes I think parents pay more attention to stuff like that and possibly sway their child’s choice.”

Barton agrees wholeheartedly with Wuensch. “Particularly if I were a girl, I would be interested to know things about drinking, Greek life and rape culture on campuses, which is usually something you won’t find in college books.”

Roush believes that UC is one of the safer campuses. “I feel very safe on campus. It’s funny, but whenever I step on campus I feel like I’ve entered a whole new world. Around campus is slightly different but not far off.”

He adds that his size is helpful with feeling safe.

“Being a large male, I feel like I have a less likely chance of getting preyed upon than others,” Roush said. “But when I come across large groups of suspicious looking characters, I do tense up a bit. I find the best defense is to act friendly. I figure they won’t punch me in my face if there’s a smile on it. Whether or not that’s completely ignorant, it makes me feel better.”

Wuensch says she feels safe whether on or off campus at OU. “I live on campus and I definitely feel safe in and around my residence hall, and I’ve always felt safe when walking uptown, even by myself,” she said.

Wuensch added that students should be aware of their surroundings and consider their options. “I feel like I know basic ways to keep myself safe, and I always have my phone in case I need to call 911. A lot of girls carry pepper spray and I think that is one of the more popular ways to protect yourself.”

There are many ways for students to protect themselves against becoming the victim of a heinous crime.

“I feel pretty safe,” said Miller. “As long as you are aware of your surroundings and smart about your actions in potentially dangerous situations, feeling safe isn’t hard. I take measures to prevent danger before it happens.”