Monday, August 22, 2011

Welcome Back to School, Sorta

It's the start of a new semester at my university; welcome back, fellow collegians. I don't know if you read your university-related spam, but our Assistant Vice-President of Public and Environmental Safety has decided to welcome us back with this admonishment: "Today, I ask all of you to start thinking about safety as a shared responsibility." A list of safety-related advice follows. Oy.

"But Kyrie," I am imagining you saying, "shouldn't you look after your own safety? Isn't that common sense?" To answer your second imaginary question first, I am not a fan of so-called "common sense." I see that term as an excuse to go by one's gut instead of thinking things through, which, though sometimes useful, definitely has its limitations. To answer the main question, though, if you want to do things to make yourself feel safer, by all means. But it's not your responsibility to render yourself as safe as possible at all times. We all have differing priorities and lifestyles. We can't all "avoid using ATM machines at night," and sometimes we want to turn off the AC rather than "lock[ing] the windows and doors of your car, apartment and residence hall."

What we do have an obligation to do is not commit crimes.* And, if crime prevention is the job of anyone, it's the job of the law enforcement and security personnel on campus. Any rational person, however, will realize that the police cannot anticipate and stop every crime from being committed. That's pretty obvious.

So what is the point of that email? To me, it reads as a pretty transparent attempt to preemptively deflect responsibility to those crimes are committed against, aka, victim blaming. Perhaps they hope that if more students believe that having their bike stolen is their own fault, the police will have to do less paperwork. Perhaps they hope that if a student is hurt or killed on campus, they can save face by pointing out that the student was walking alone after dark.

We've all seen these tactics used frequently and forcefully against rape victims: what was she wearing, how much did she drink, why was she alone with him. As a result accused rapists are rarely arrested and convictions occur at the rate of 13%. And that's just for the rapes that are reported, which are only 40% of rapes. This is what you get from heavy victim blaming. Do we really want all campus crime to be treated this way?

If the university really wants to help students be safer, it can provide statistics about the most common crimes committed on campus and where and when they occur. It can provide info about safety resources available on campus. And it can provide info about how to report and prosecute a crime if and when one occurs.

*In all fairness one of the "tips" in the email is about reporting suspicious activity, which, okay.

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