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The Top 3 Campus Safety Myths

students walking and talking on college campus

Written by College Coach Guest Authoron March 5th, 2024

Bright Horizons College Coach occasionally features blog posts written by guest authors. You’ll find more information about each guest author in the About the Author section on the blog post.

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Jessica Mertz is the Executive Director of Clery Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting campus safety and preventing violence on college campuses. Through advocacy, training, and resources, Clery Center empowers institutions of higher education to create safer environments for students, faculty, and staff. When it comes to campus safety, misconceptions can often cloud understanding of the realities students face. Below we’ll be debunking some of the most common myths we hear as campus safety experts. We hope to empower students and families with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions when applying to college. Colleges that have high reported crime statistics are more dangerous than those with low reported crimes. It seems simple: a university that has reported 100 crimes on campus is more dangerous than a university that has reported 10 crimes. But the truth is more complicated. Schools are required by the Clery Act to publish an annual security report, a document that includes specific crime data for the three most recent preceding years. Oftentimes parents see that a school has few reported crimes and assume that means the campus must be safe. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. The most pervasive issues on college campuses, such as sexual assault and stalking, are notoriously underreported. The Department of Education's crime statistics, which reflect those included in a school’s annual security report, show 6,457 reported rapes at U.S. colleges and universities in 2021. However, the Association of American Universities' 2019 Campus Climate Survey indicates that over 750,000 incidents of non-consensual sexual contact are likely to happen in a year. Additionally, statistics provided in an annual security report only reflect crimes that occur within a certain geographic area as defined under the Clery Act. That means they won’t be inclusive of all crimes that members of the school experience. Lastly, a school reporting what might seem like a high number of crimes could actually be a positive thing: students feel they can report harm done to them and trust that the university will handle their reports appropriately. Campuses located in neighborhoods with low crime rates are always safe. Many people assume that if a university is located in a safe neighborhood that must automatically mean there is little to no crime on campus. While there is an increased occurrence of certain crimes in densely populated or urban environments, the institution's location does not reduce the risk of experiencing interpersonal violence or abuse. Dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and rape constituted 50% of all reported crimes by the Department of Education in 2021. Just over 10% of all undergraduate students report experiencing dating or domestic violence and 5.8% of students experience stalking. And the vast majority (73% according to the Department of Justice) of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, meaning a friend or classmate. Furthermore, research indicates that the majority of students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience some form of hazing, which is any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them, regardless of their willingness to participate. Fifty-five percent of students involved in campus groups report being hazed, and it’s not just fraternities and sororities. The highest reported group that experienced hazing is varsity athletics (74%). It may surprise you to learn that even academic groups aren’t immune – 20% of students in honor societies report being hazed too. College students aren’t concerned about their safety. College students are often unfairly thought of as carefree and sometimes reckless. This couldn’t be further from the truth. According to a 2021 Campus Safety Survey conducted by ADT and Clery Center, 82% of college students are concerned about their personal safety and 97% consider their personal safety while on campus. While this survey shows that safety is very much top of mind for students, specific concerns may vary from person to person. When your child is evaluating schools to apply to, encourage them to consider their unique needs and notice if the campus culture addresses what’s important to them. What’s important to a cisgender male athlete (see above: hazing) may differ from the concerns of a transgender student who was bullied in high school and needs to know that a university has strong anti-harassment policies in place. Do you want to know more about what to consider about campus safety as your child gets ready to apply to college and once they’re on campus? Download Staying Safe on Campus: A Guide for Families, a free guide we created to share the many years of knowledge we have gained working with a network of thousands of campus safety specialists. We hope the guide will encourage conversations about safety all throughout your child’s college experience.

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