Your “to do” list when going back to school

By Beth Morrison, HAVEN CEO

Beth and her son

This weekend, while shopping for some household items, I ended up in the midst of some serious back to school shopping, moms and daughters/sons getting ready for college dorm life. Listening in on their conversations about whether or not they needed a toaster, what color rug goes with the lamp, the size of fan, reminded me of shopping with my son two years ago for his first year at MSU.  Now a seasoned junior and apartment dweller, my back to school shopping days appear to be over (for now).

The recent sexual assaults in Ann Arbor are a fitting reminder that the prep work for college is more than about the right size sheets for the extra long dorm mattress. Our sons and daughters (even seasoned juniors) need to hear from us about being safe and responsible.  I suspect that most parents will talk with their college age child about the dangers of drinking, especially binge drinking. Most colleges spend a lot of time at orientation and through student/parent communication, discussing this important issue.

But just as critical is the needed conversation about sexual assault. In a 2000 study by the Bureau of Justice it is estimated that the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions may be between 20% and 25% over the course of a college career. Among college women, 9 in 10 victims of rape and sexual assault knew their offender, many being assaulted on a date. A 2007 study by the National Institute of Justice found that most rapes occurred in September, October and November and with Freshmen and Sophomore women being most at risk. Many in the field question these statistics and the fact that they may in fact under represent the number of sexual assaults, as it is also estimated that only 20% of such crimes are ever reported to law enforcement or other authorities.

So parents, once that shopping is done, here is your next “to do list:”

Parents of Young Men

  • Talk about men’s responsibility in ending sexual assault.  Talk about the role of a bystander, what to do when you believe a woman is in danger of being assaulted by a peer.
  • Discuss consent – what is the legal definition, what is the practical definition – only yes means yes.
  • Discuss equality within a dating relationship.
  • Discuss the role that alcohol can play – someone who is drunk is not able to give consent – ever!

Parents of Young Women

  • Talk about the difference between “risk reduction” and “prevention.”  As women, we hear constantly about how we can “prevent” being raped but the reality is that these tools are only ways in which we might be able to reduce the risk of an assault. True prevention of a rape, lies in the behavior of the potential rapist, NOT in the victim.  Saying we can “prevent” being raped, is setting up a victim of rape to feel blame and to be blamed when an assault occurs.
  • Risk Reduction ideas:  walk in groups, let others know your whereabouts/plans for the day or evening, monitor alcohol/drug consumption, have a plan for yourself and friends who might become intoxicated, create a safety plan for yourself and your roommates/friends.
  • Become aware of campus safety features. Many colleges have programs that provide escort service from campus buildings, parking lots, etc.
  • Talk about equality in dating relationships.
  • Let your daughter know that no matter what, you are there for her. If she has been drinking, at a party, etc and she is victimized, let her know that you are still there for her and won’t judge her on her choices. She needs to know that she will be supported, believed and cared for if an assault occurs.

Those reading this article who are not parents of a college student are not off the hook. Ending rape is the responsibility of the entire community!  We must all speak out against rape. We must all become active bystanders – speaking out against abusive beliefs and behaviors. We must insist on prevention education in our local school systems. We must work diligently to hold perpetrators accountable.

Please join HAVEN in our efforts, here are two fact sheets about teen dating violence and teen sexual assault that might help you, your family or a friend.


1 Comment

Filed under Call to action, HAVEN news

One response to “Your “to do” list when going back to school

  1. Sarah

    Great information and very true. Kids needs to be much more informed before they leave for college and need to know how to act in dangerous situations. When i was away at college my parents bought me a Mace Pepper spray to carry on my key chain – i personally still carry one to this day, you never know. Here is one i like:

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