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Advice for women on avoiding sexual assault and staying safe

Dr. Shana Maier Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Director of the Master’s in Criminal Justice Program Widener University

Women have all heard the common wisdom on how to stay safe and avoid sexual assault: be alert, walk in groups, don’t talk to strangers. But the fact is, nearly three-quarters of female sexual assault victims know their attackers, according to the 2010 National Crime Victimization Survey. With such overwhelming odds that someone you know could be a danger, it’s vital to know how to protect yourself and take control of your own safety. Following this advice can help reduce a person’s likelihood of becoming a victim of sexual assault and rape.


Do institute the buddy system

If you’re going out, make sure you don’t go alone. Especially at night, it’s always safer to travel in groups of friends or to use the Buddy System we all remember from grade school. If you would like to leave the party earlier than the rest of your friends, make sure one of them walks you to your car or residence rather than trusting someone you just met that night.

Do tell someone where you are

Just as with the Buddy System, it’s crucial that a friend always knows where you are. If you are going on a date, be sure to tell someone all about it—who, when, and where. Also, make sure to meet for the date at a public location and provide your own transportation.

Do watch your alcohol consumption

As you drink—if you’re a female—your risk for sexual assault increases. A woman who chooses to drink is never to blame if she’s assaulted. However, it’s important to arm yourself with the facts so that you can monitor your own habits and control your own situation.

Do learn methods of self-defense

While most women are not trained in the martial arts, it’s important to learn some basic methods of self-defense that can help you in the event a stranger or someone you know becomes sexually aggressive. While a kick to the groin can help, there are other important strategies to know and use in a situation where you feel threatened. Having that training can give you a confidence in lieu of a debilitating fear if assaulted.


Do not leave the group

Never leave—or let someone else leave—with a new person your group just met. Leaving with someone you hardly know could mean putting yourself in increased danger. The person who strays from the group may find herself in a troubling situation with no one who cares about her well-being there to help and intervene.

Do not assume you are safe with someone you know

In movies and on TV, we’re used to seeing acts of sexual assault that are committed by complete strangers. But that’s not the norm in reality. The majority of sexual assault and rape cases are actually committed by someone we know. Before you go out with someone alone, always ask yourself, “How well do I know this person?”

Do not ignore your instincts

If you feel uncomfortable with a person or unexpectedly find yourself in a potentially dangerous position, follow your gut and get out immediately. If you are having trouble, call someone for help. It’s moments like these that having told someone where you’re going can save your life: he or she can help you get out of a potentially threatening situation and can call the police if further assistance is needed.

Do not let males off the hook for rape prevention

While some risk reduction strategies may work, more effort should be dedicated to conveying the message that rape is a violent crime and is unacceptable. Efforts should continue to educate bystanders who witness sexual violence or potential sexual violence on ways to intervene, and involve men to take responsibility in ending sexual violence and educating others on preventing sexual violence.

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It’s vital that we understand where our misconceptions are interfering with our safety when it comes to the risk of sexual assault. Know that complete strangers aren’t necessarily your greatest danger; sometimes the risk grows when you let your guard down with someone you just met—enough to stray from a group of friends or go to an unfamiliar location alone. Take control of your own safety and be aware of your surroundings and watch out for your friends when you can. Together, you and your friends can help protect each other and avoid potential danger.

If you or someone you know is a victim of rape or sexual assault, seek immediate medical attention before changing clothes or bathing. Also know that most counties offer victim advocates to assist and guide you. 

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Dr. Shana MaierAssociate Professor of Criminal Justice and Director of the Master’s in Criminal Justice Program

Dr. Shana Maier is an associate professor of criminal justice and director of the Master’s in Criminal Justice program at Widener University. She is also the author of a new book due out June 2014 titled, Rape, Victims, and Investigations (Routl...

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