It’s real. You are going to college. You visited campus, signed on the dotted line, and started planning out the décor for your dorm room. Your freshman year of college is a time of excitement, intense learning, and independence. New friends. New experiences. New adventures.

But it’s hard to miss the increased coverage and attention on the issue of campus sexual violence. For entering freshman, it’s an uncomfortable topic that you may not want to discuss with your parents or with new friends. But there are a few things every freshman – and their parents – should know before they head off to college.

  1. Not all campuses are created equal when it comes to sexual violence prevention and response. The media coverage of the AAU’s recent campus climate survey focused primarily on the “1 in 5” statistic – one in five college women will be sexually assaulted while on campus. What the media didn’t cover was the fact that rates of sexual violence vary widely from campus to campus. For the 27 campuses surveyed by the AAU, rates of sexual violence ranged from 13% to 30%. Every student and every parent has a role to play in creating – and changing – the campus climate by asking questions about resources, demanding best practices be put in place, and in some cases organizing action like Title IX lawsuits. If you want to learn more about how to assess your campus’ approach to addressing sexual violence prevention, check out Culture of Respect’s CORE Blueprint – a set of evidence-based practices every campus ought to adopt.
  1. Many college students arrive on campus as sexual violence survivors. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 – or before they even step foot on a college campus. As you make new friends and meet people on campus, keep this statistic in mind, and be sensitive to what it might mean. While campus sexual violence continues to receive broad – and needed – attention, it’s important to remember that college campuses can play an important role in healing and recovery – not just prevention.
  1. How to access healing and justice resources beyond your college campus. As a student, it’s easy to stay in the campus bubble and focus on resources provided through your college or university. In the case of sexual violence, you and your classmates benefit from looking into the community and nationally for both information and services. For example, there are 400+ rape crisis centers across the country who can provide free and confidential counseling, legal advocacy, and other supports. This allows you to seek help without going through your parents’ insurance, and offers a neutral way of navigating campus judicial processes. Nationally, you can reach out to the sexual assault hotline (800.656.HOPE) and the Crisis Text Line, both staffed with trained volunteers who can provide referrals and support during a crisis that happened last night or years ago.
  1. What to do/say if someone you know is sexually assaulted. The AAU survey revealed another important piece of information about campus sexual violence. While only 5-28% of survivors reported sexual violence to campus authorities, 50-80% told someone on campus. If that someone is you, it’s critical that you respond in a healthy way. The most important thing you can say is “I believe you. It’s not your fault.” And if you are aware of the options s/he can take, you can start to lay them out – remembering that the ultimate gift you can give a survivor is the power to make his or her own decision about how to proceed. If you need support, contact one of the resources above – they aren’t just for survivors themselves, but also for the friends and community members who support them.

When heading off to college, the world can seem both exciting and overwhelming. Sexual violence is a tough topic to talk about, but the more we discuss it, the more we can support survivors – and the better chance we have to prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place.

If you want to help your high school classmates prepare for college, you can share our Campus Fact Sheet – something great to add to your dorm bulletin board too!