Reduce Your Risk

Risk Reduction GraphicBe Assertive

  • Being assertive means that you state what you want.
  • Remember: "No" means "No." If you do not want to be intimate with another person, tell him or her clearly. Use a confident voice and body posture.
  • Match your body language to your words - while you may be uncomfortable and feel inclined to do so, don't laugh and smile while saying "No."
  • Don’t worry about being impolite. It is okay to be abrupt or rude with someone who is invading your space or making you uncomfortable.
  • Do not just "go along."
  • Watch out for warning signs or "red flags" from your partner in intimate situations.

Be Prepared

  • Carry a cell phone and money for a cab.
  • Travel with a buddy.
  • Stay in groups, as there is safety in numbers. Check in with each other and don't let anyone be isolated.
  • Plan your outings to try to avoid bad situations or plan ahead for how to handle them.
  • Stay sober. Studies indicate that about half of all U.S. sexual assaults involve the use of alcohol by the offender, the victim, or both.
    Never leave a drink unattended or accept a drink that you have not seen prepared. Educate yourself about date rape drugs and how predators use them.
  • Whenever possible, walk in areas that are well lit and populated.
  • Keep the doors to homes and cars locked. Don’t feel compelled to open them just because someone is asking you to do so. You are within your rights to be unresponsive in these situations.
  • Know where the phone is located.
  • Don't go anywhere alone with someone unless you know the person very well and trust him or her, but be aware that most sexual assaults involve people who know each other.

Be Alert

  • Trust your instincts; if a place or person feels unsafe, it probably is.
  • Watch for signs of trouble such as strangers in private areas or persons loitering in places where they shouldn't be.
  • If you sense trouble, get to a safe place as soon as possible.
  • If you feel you are in danger, attract help any way you can.

Staying Safe on Campus

We can all take steps to increase safety on college campuses. As bystanders, students can learn ways of stepping in to prevent crimes like sexual assault from occurring. When it comes to personal safety, there are steps you can take as well, and some of those tips are outlined below. No tips can absolutely guarantee safety—sexual violence can happen to anyone, and it’s not the only crime that can occur on a college campus. It’s important to remember that if you are sexually assaulted on campus it is not your fault—help and support are available.

Increasing on-campus safety

The following tips may reduce your risk for many different types of crimes, including sexual violence.

  • Stay alert. When you’re moving around on campus or in the surrounding neighborhood, be aware of your surroundings. Consider inviting a friend to join you or asking campus security for an escort. If you’re alone, only use headphones in one ear to stay aware of your surroundings.

  • Be careful about posting your location. Many social media sites, like Facebook and Foursquare, use geolocation to publicly share your location. Consider disabling this function and reviewing other social media settings.

  • Make others earn your trust. A college environment can foster a false sense of security. They may feel like fast friends, but give people time earn your trust before relying on them.

  • Think about Plan B. Spend some time thinking about back-up plans for potentially sticky situations. If your phone dies, do you have a few numbers memorized to get help? Do you have emergency cash in case you can’t use a credit card? Do you have the address to your college memorized? If you drive, is there a spare key hidden, gas in your car, and a set of jumper cables?

  • Know your resources. Who should you contact if you or a friend needs help? Where should you go? Locate resources such as the campus health center, campus police station, and a local sexual assault service provider. Notice where emergency phones are located on campus, and program the campus security number into your cell phone for easy access.

Safety in Social Settings

It’s possible to relax and have a good time while still making safety a priority. Consider these tips for staying safe and looking out for your friends in social settings.

  • Make a plan. If you’re going to a party, go with people you trust. Agree to watch out for each other and plan to leave together. If your plans change, make sure to touch base with the other people in your group. Don’t leave someone stranded in an unfamiliar or unsafe situation.

  • Protect your drink. Don’t leave your drink unattended, and watch out for your friends’ drinks if you can. If you go to the bathroom or step outside, take the drink with you or toss it out. Drink from unopened containers or drinks you watched being made and poured. It’s not always possible to know if something has been added to someone’s drink. In drug-facilitated sexual assault, a perpetrator could use a substance that has no color, taste, or odor.

  • Know your limits. Keep track of how many drinks you’ve had, and be aware of your friends’ behavior. If one of you feels extremely tired or moredrunk than you should, you may have been drugged. Leave the party or situation and find help immediately.

  • It’s okay to lie. If you want to exit a situation immediately and are concerned about frightening or upsetting someone, it’s okay to lie. You are never obligated to remain in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, pressured, or threatened. You can also lie to help a friend leave a situation that you think may be dangerous. Some excuses you could use are needing to take care of another friend or family member, an urgent phone call, not feeling well, and having to be somewhere else by a certain time.

  • Be a good friend. Trust your instincts. If you notice something that doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Alcohol Safety

Like many other substances, alcohol can inhibit a person's physical and mental abilities. In the context of sexual assault, this means that alcohol may make it easier for a perpetrator to commit a crime and can even prevent someone from remembering that the assault occurred.

What can I do to stay safe?

You can take steps to increase your safety in situations where drinking may be involved. These tips can help you feel more safe and may reduce the risk of something happening, but, like any safety tips, they are not foolproof. It’s important to remember that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, regardless of whether they were sober or under the influence of drugs or alcohol when it occurred.

  • Keep an eye on your friends. If you are going out in a group, plan to arrive together and leave together. If you decide to leave early, let your friends know. If you’re at a party, check in with them during the night to see how they’re doing. If something doesn’t look right, step in. Don’t be afraid to let a friend know if something is making you uncomfortable or if you are worried about their safety.

  • Have a backup plan. Sometimes plans change quickly. You might realize it’s not safe for you to drive home, or the group you arrived with might decide to go somewhere you don’t feel comfortable. Download a rideshare app, like Uber, or keep the number for a reliable cab company saved in your phone and cash on hand in case you decide to leave.

  • Know what you’re drinking. Don’t recognize an ingredient? Use your phone to look it up. Consider avoiding large-batch drinks like punches or “jungle juice” that may have a deceptively high alcohol content. There is no way to know exactly what was used to create these drinks.

  • Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or worried for any reason, don’t ignore these feelings. Go with your gut. Get somewhere safe and find someone you trust or call law enforcement.

  • Don’t leave a drink unattended. That includes when you use the bathroom, go dancing, or leave to make a phone call. Either take the drink with you or throw it out. Avoid using the same cup to refill your drink.

  • Don’t accept drinks from people you don’t know or trust. This can be challenging in some settings, like a party or a date. If you choose to accept a drink from someone you’ve just met, try to go with the person to the bar to order it, watch it being poured, and carry it yourself.

  • Check in with yourself. You might have heard the expression “know your limits.” Whether you drink regularly or not, check in with yourself periodically to register how you feel.

  • Be aware of sudden changes in the way your body feels. Do you feel more intoxicated than you should? Some drugs are odorless, colorless and/or tasteless, and can be added to your drink without you noticing. If you feel uncomfortable, tell a friend and have them take you to a safe place. If you suspect you or a friend has been drugged, call 911, and be upfront with healthcare professionals so they can administer the right tests.

  • Ask yourself, “Would I do this if I was sober?” Alcohol can have an effect on your overall judgment. You wouldn’t drive, make medical decisions, or ride a bike while intoxicated. Many professionals, such as doctors, teachers, and pilots, cannot be drunk while doing their jobs. Given this context, is what you’re about to do a good idea? Will you be comfortable with your decision the next day?

How to Respond if Someone is Pressuring You

Perpetrators of sexual violence often use tactics, such as guilt or intimidation, to pressure a person into something they do not want to do. It can be upsetting, frightening, or uncomfortable if you find yourself in this situation. Remember that it’s not your fault that the other person is acting this way—they are responsible for their own actions. The following tips may help you exit the situation safely.

  • Remind yourself this isn’t your fault. You did not do anything wrong. It is the person who is pressuring you who is responsible.

  • Trust your gut. Don't feel obligated to do anything you don't want to do. It doesn’t matter why you don’t want to do something. Simply not being interested is reason enough. Do only what feels right to you and what you are comfortable with.

  • Have a code word. Develop a code with friends or family that means “I’m uncomfortable” or “I need help.” It could be a series of numbers you can text, like “311.” It might be a phrase you say out loud such as, “I wish we took more vacations.” This way you can communicate your concern and get help without alerting the person who is pressuring you.

  • It’s okay to lie. If you are concerned about angering or upsetting this person, you can lie or make an excuse to create an exit. It may feel wrong to lie, but you are never obligated to remain in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, scared, or threatened. Some excuses you could use are: needing to take care of a friend or family member, not feeling well, and having to be somewhere else by a certain time. Even excusing yourself to use the bathroom can create an opportunity to get away or to get help. Whatever you need to say to stay safe is okay—even if it may seem embarrassing at the time.

  • Think of an escape route. If you had to leave quickly, how would you do it? Locate the windows, doors, and any others means of exiting the situation. Are there people around who might be able to help you? How can you get their attention? Where can you go when you leave?

If you have to find a way out of a situation where someone is pressuring you, or if something happens that you didn’t consent to, it is not your fault. Take care of yourself, and know you’re not alone.

Meeting Offline

More and more people are seeking online connections that turn into offline encounters. According to a report (where is the link) from the Pew Research Center, 38% of single American adults have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps. There are also many ways to meet people online beyond dating sites, such as networking platforms, social media, gaming sites, and activity forums.

Talking to someone online can build a strong connection with someone you’ve never met in person, but that connection shouldn’t overshadow your commitment to safety. Consider these tips to enhance your safety when you plan to meet someone offline.

  • Pick a public place. The first time you meet someone in person, choose a public setting that is easy to find. Give the person time to earn your trust before you meet in a private location, like their home.

  • Do some research. A quick online search can help you confirm details this person has shared in previous exchanges and may give you a better visual to help you recognize them in person. You can also run a search on the National Sex OffenderPublic Website (NSOPW), a national resource that pulls data from state, territory, and tribal sex offender registries.

  • Go in with an exit strategy. Be prepared to return home safely. Meet the person at the destination instead of accepting a ride. Have cash on hand and a number for a taxi company or ride sharing app. This way, if something goes wrong or doesn't feel right during the meeting, you can be responsible for your own ride home. If you start to feel uncomfortable, you can leave at any time. You may find it helpful to tell the person you are meeting that you have plans directly following your date.

  • Tell someone about your plans. Let a friend know where you’re going, when you’re going, and how long you plan to be there. You can arrange for them to check in with you via text at a certain point, giving you the opportunity to leave the meeting if needed.

  • Hold off on revealing personal information. Don’t offer up too much personal information or history on the first encounter. Be wary of someone who asks for details that seem too personal, such as questions about your finances or your home address.

  • You’re allowed to be skeptical. If you start to feel uncomfortable or uneasy, acknowledge these feelings. Don’t feel pressured to push aside your concerns for the sake of giving someone a chance. Trust your gut.

  • It’s OK to lie. If you want to exit the situation immediately and are concerned about raising flags or upsetting the other person, it’s okay to lie. Tell them you have an appointment to make, you’re not feeling well, or that you have a family member to tend to. You are never obligated to remain in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, scared, or threatened.

  • Take extra steps when traveling a long distance. Traveling safely is always a priority, but there are a few additional safety aspects to consider when you’re traveling to meet someone in person for the first time. Before you book travel, you can ask the person to video chat to get a better sense of how they communicate in a face-to-face situation. If you don’t know someone in the area you’re visiting, consider bringing a friend along. Plan to stay in your own lodging, like a hotel or a friend’s house, and keep this address to yourself. Be responsible for your own transportation throughout the trip. Let someone from home know where you’re going and when they should expect you back.

Safety Planning

For many people who have been impacted by sexual assault, current and long-term safety can be an ongoing concern. Safety planning is about brainstorming ways to stay safe that may also help reduce the risk of future harm. It can include planning for a future crisis, considering your options, and making decisions about your next steps. Finding ways to stay and feel safer can be an important step towards healing, and these plans and actions should not increase the risk of being hurt.

Safety planning when someone is hurting you:
  • Lean on a support network. Having someone you can reach out to for support can be an important part of staying safe and recovering. Find someone you trust who could respond to a crisis if you needed their help.

  • Become familiar with safe places. Learn more about safe places near you such as a local domestic violence shelter or a family member’s house. Learn the routes and commit them to memory. Find out more about sexual assault service providers in your area that can offer support.

  • Stay safe at home. If the person hurting you is in your home, you can take steps to feel safer. Try hanging bells or a noise maker on your door to scare the person hurting you away, or sleep in public spaces like the living room. If possible, keep the doors inside your house locked or put something heavy in front of them. If you’re protecting yourself from someone who does not live with you, keep all the doors locked when you’re not using them, and install an outside lighting system with motion detectors. Change the locks if possible.

  • Keep computer safety in mind. If you think someone might be monitoring your computer use, consider regularly clearing your cache, history, and cookies. You could also use a different computer at a friend’s house or a public library.

  • Create a code word. It might be a code between you and your children that means “get out,” or with your support network that means “I need help.”

  • Prepare an excuse. Create several plausible reasons for leaving the house at different times or for existing situation that might become dangerous. Have these on hand in case you need to get away quickly.
Safety planning when someone is stalking you:
  • Tell someone you trust. Stalking shouldn’t be kept a secret. Tell your parents, loved ones, a trusted adult, or the local police to determine if a report can be made.

  • Be prepared to reach out. If possible, keep your cell phone charged and have emergency contact numbers programmed ahead of time. You may want to save these contacts under a different name. Memorize a few numbers in case you don’t have cell phone access in the future.

  • Change your routine. Be aware of your daily routine and begin to alter it overtime. Switch up the way you commute more often, taking different routes or different modes of transportation.

Visit the Stalking Resource Center for more ways to stay safe.

Safety planning when leaving the person hurting you:
  • Make an escape bag. Pack a bag that includes all important papers and documents, such as your birth certificate, license, passport, social security card, bills, prescription drugs, and medical records. Include cash, keys, and credit cards. Hide the bag well. If it’s discovered, call it a “hurricane bag” or “fire bag.” If you are escaping with children, include their identifying information as well.

  • Prepare your support network. Keep your support network in the loop. Let them know how to respond if the perpetrator contacts them.

  • Plan a destination. If you’re not going to stay with someone you know, locate the nearest domestic violence shelter or homeless shelter.

  • Plan a route. Then plan a backup route. If you are driving, have a tank of gas filled at all times. If you rely on public transportation, know the routes departure times. Many public transportation systems have mobile apps that update their schedules and arrival times.

  • Important Safety Note: If the dangerous situation involves a partner, go to the police or a shelter first.

Feeling Safe After an Assault

If you have experienced sexual assault, there are steps you can take to feel safer.

  • Make use of on-campus resources. Merced College provides services to students, including Campus Police, Student Health Services, Personal Counseling, and security escorts. Merced College also has a partnership with Valley Crisis Center, who can provide additional support and services.

  • Request a schedule change. If you have classes with the perpetrator, you can request a change from your college administration.

  • Access off-campus support services. If you are concerned about anonymity, you can seek out resources located off campus in the community, like Valley Crisis Center.

  • Seek a civil protection order (CPO). A CPO, sometimes also referred to as a temporary restraining order (TPO), is a legal document that bars an individual from certain types of contact with the person who is awarded the order. An individual who violates the terms of the restraining order can face criminal charges. Each state has its own rules and regulations for Sexual Assault CPOs.

  • Create a safety plan. If you are concerned for your ongoing safety, it can be worthwhile to create a safety plan. Safety planning is about finding ways to be safe in the present while planning for your future safety as well