Self-defense: stay informed, stay safe

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October 20, 2011

11:16 PM

When word comes out that a student has been the victim of an alleged rape on campus, it’s scary, if nothing else. We tend to think we have at least a little in common with everyone who attends this school, so it’s very concerning to hear about the reported incident of sexual assault of an unnamed female by Jeffery Weaver ’13, who has been arrested and charged with one count of rape. We don’t know the circumstances behind the incident, but it is apparent that something terrible took place that night.

It’s important to note that it’s difficult to take away a lesson this case because we don’t know the details. Whether or not Weaver is guilty of rape will be for the courts to decide: until then he is innocent until proven guilty. There are only a few things we can infer: Weaver’s life will never be the same, and something between Weaver and his accuser went horribly wrong on that night. We can only hope the young woman’s life can be as normal as possible now and in the future.

Certainly the threat of sexual assault, on our campus and elsewhere, is all too real. We also know that the threat of sexual assault is all too real for young women. One in Four is named after the ratio of college-age women that report being the victim of rape or attempted rape since their fourteenth birthdays, a statistic that makes your jaw drop lower each time you say it aloud. The overwhelmingly majority of rapes are perpetrated by someone known to the victim, and it’s scary to think that some women have been violated by men they trust. It happens at the College of William and Mary, too: 37 sexual offenses in the past nine years, not including instances that have gone unreported.

We tend to think of Williamsburg as a safe place, and it really is. It’s something upon which we pride ourselves on as members of the College community. But every incident like this takes away some of the trust we place in our neighbors. We go to a psmall college in a small town, so community is that much more important. Every time a girl feels like she can’t walk alone at night or is worried to have a guy alone in her room, some of that trust erodes.

Being safe on campus is not something we should have to spend a whole lot of time thinking about. It’s almost as if those ubiquitous blue lights all across campus are there as a formality, and I can’t be the only one who thought campus police did little other than break up parties at the units. I forgot about the sexual assault presentation we all got at Orientation by the next day, but they do emphasize that the most important thing we can do for safety is simply to look out for each other. Most victims of violent crime will tell a friend long before they tell the police. Most reported on-campus sexual assaults happen in residence halls. You can’t count on someone else to manage a crisis in these situations. There may not be anyone else.

I’m not trying to tell anyone to barricade themselves in their room or carry Mace everywhere they go, and frankly, neither is Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler. I’m sure everyone would appreciate minimal changes that would make campus as safe as possible. The easiest way to do that is simply to take a second to prepare. Think about where you would go, what you would do, and who you would talk to if you found yourself in a dangerous situation. Take a quick look at the numerous resources available to students to guarantee safety and don’t hesitate to speak out if you feel uncomfortable. The report of one sexual assault on campus shouldn’t change your life, but when something that seems so abstract becomes very real, it’s worth thinking about.

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