When Will I Feel Safe On Campus?

Posted on in On Our Radar by Esmé Ablaza


Even before the Brock Turner case, when I was applying for college last year, I told my mom I only wanted to consider schools with low rates of sexual assault. She looked at me grimly and said, “Unfortunately, I don’t think that would give you many options.”

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do to prepare myself for the fact that I might someday be among the one in five college women who are sexually assaulted each year. In theory, I shouldn’t feel a responsibility to do anything. Forget pepper spray, the buddy system, and self-defense classes. Potential rapists should be the ones getting trained to not assault their fellow students. But I have a lingering fear that something horrible could happen to me or a friend, even in the bubble of a college campus.

It’s especially scary knowing that Turner’s victim was living near me at the time of her assault. My friends and I benefited from growing up so close to Stanford—internships, fun events like dance marathons, and Instagram-worthy fountain-hopping opportunities abound. Some students from my high school even attend college frat parties. But what’s easy to forget is that sexual assault could happen to us, not just on Stanford’s campus but also on the campuses we’ll call home next year as freshmen in college.

As a first-year college student, I hope that I’ll be able to focus more on making friends and challenging myself academically than on worrying about my safety. College administrators must educate the student body on the difference between sex and rape, provide resources for survivors of sexual assault—including guidance on the reporting process—and publicly apologize when rape happens on their campus.

Next year, I hope that I will meet sensible peers who do not feel entitled to the bodies of others, no matter someone’s blood alcohol level or outfit. At the end of the day, public outrage alone won’t cure rape culture. I won’t feel safe on my college campus until I know that proper justice will be served when anyone threatens my safety—or my peers’—for the next four years and beyond. And, so far, we aren’t there yet.

Esmé Ablaza graduated this year from Palo Alto High School, where she cofounded Paly Radio. This story aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition on June 10.

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