About this Series
This is the 5th in a series of posts on safety from outside advocates. These posts focus on safety topics that are important to our partners, our company, and our users. We started with members of our Match Group Advisory Council, but we’ve expanded it to include other important voices in safety. We have asked our guest posters to contribute their expert insights to our Trust and Safety Center to increase awareness among our members and amplify our collaborative work to improve safety both on our platforms and in our greater community.
About the Author
Carla Ramazan is a campus organizer for Deeds Not Words and women’s activist. She will graduate from the University of Texas at Dallas this spring with a degree in political science. She is a 2020 Truman Scholar and committed to fighting for gender equality. After graduation, Carla will work in DC as a Truman-Albright Fellow before attending law school.
During the month of April, a majority of high school seniors across the country will make one of the most forming decisions of their young lives: selecting a college. For many students, college consists of four years filled with unique experiences and what some describe as “the best years of their lives,” such as living in a different city, meeting new friends, attending the occasional party, and of course, dating. As exciting as embarking on this next chapter of life may be, it’s important to also take the time to learn about an issue that is highly prevalent on college campuses: sexual violence, including dating violence and all forms of sexual assault.
Dating violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is a common problem on university campuses across the United States. According to RAINN, college-age women (ages 18-24), are at a heightened risk for sexual violence and relationship violence. Peer pressure, the presence of alcohol and drugs, and stress can all put young people at higher risks of sexual violence. There are also unique concerns associated with campus sexual violence. Victims are often part of a small community along with their abuser--they may go to school with them, work with them, or live with them. This can deprive a victim of the ability to make the most of their college experience, as they may not be able to avoid their abuser. Moreover, many young adults have limited relationship experience and may not have had the opportunity to discover what a healthy relationship should look like. It can thus be difficult for young people to recognize warning signs of unsafe or unhealthy situations.
First-year students are particularly vulnerable to dating violence as they are most unfamiliar with their new campuses and may not know where and how to report an assault. Often, first-year students are meeting and socializing with new people in situations that involve alcohol, which can enable dangerous situations. In fact, sexual violence against first-year students is so common during the first semester of college that it has been named “The Red Zone.” During the time spanning the start of the fall semester through Thanksgiving break, more than 50% of all college sexual assaults occur. As heartbreaking at this number is, there are steps each student can take to stop dating violence.
A culture of bystander intervention is imperative to prevent sexual violence at all college campuses. Bystanders may witness risky situations that could lead to violence. In such a scenario, bystanders have the opportunity to provide assistance and prevent sexual violence. Proactive bystanders can intervene in a situation by distracting either person or directly intervening to stop violence from occurring. For example, if your friend has had too much to drink, you can help them get home safely. If you see somebody being harassed, you can interrupt the situation by saying you need to speak to them privately about something. While it may not be easy to help people in such situations, by remaining, watching, and showing concern, a bystander may prevent a traumatic experience from taking place.
If you or somebody you know experiences dating violence, it is important to recognize what resources are available to you. Most colleges and universities have a Title IX Office that is committed to responding promptly when a student reports any form of sexual violence. Additionally, many campuses also offer free counseling sessions to their students. A licensed therapist on campus can often help survivors of sexual violence in the emotional and/or physical recovery process. The student counseling center may also offer support groups that focus on college dating violence. While any experience with dating violence may feel scary and overwhelming, reaching out for help and understanding available resources is the first step.
Everyone needs to be aware of this problem, and actively work to help solve it. Many campuses have student organizations focused on sexual violence prevention and other feminist issues. And even if your campus doesn’t have such an organization, you can always start one yourself! My sophomore year at UT Dallas, I founded a chapter of Deeds Not Words, an organization focused on improving the lives of women and LGBTQ+ people. Within this space, I have worked with my peers to organize issues surrounding Title IX, consent education, and bystander intervention.
It is going to take all of us to change the culture surrounding sexual violence on college campuses. With all hands on deck, we can work to ensure that the next generation of college students live in a world free of dating violence. Until that day, below are things you can do to help keep yourself and your friends safe on campus.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Familiarize yourself with campus safety resources, such as the security office, the Title IX Office, and other resources. Often, campuses offer security escorts that you can call to avoid walking alone in the dark or when you feel unsafe.
- When getting to know somebody new, meet up in public spaces or arrange a group hangout.
- Use the buddy system! Never leave your wingman or wingwoman behind.
- Maintain control over your food and drinks and don’t have anything that has been prepared out of view.
- Learn your limits when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Don’t let others pressure you into doing anything you are not comfortable with!
- Share your location with a friend who won’t be at the party and be sure to check in when you arrive home safely.
- Learn about consent and advocate for consent education and bystander intervention awareness on your campus.