Better safe than sorry

University should be memorable for good reasons. Isabel Hardman looks at how Freshers can keep themselves safe.

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Katie had left for safe than dress ball at her University looking forward to a memorable night out. The memories are still with her. They have left her with panic attacks, nightmares and a reluctance to drink in public. 

She had met a stranger in fancy dress at the ball and struck up a conversation. Leaving him with her drink, she made a visit to the toilet. Draining the drink upon her return was the last clear memory she had of the evening. The following morning she awoke in a bathtub.

This is not an isolated story. In the next few weeks tens of thousands of potential Katies will converge upon University for the first time. University is a wonderful liberation, but it also entails new risks and responsibilities.

Personal safety may not be the most exciting thing to consider in the midst of the excitement of arriving at University, but it will help ensure that you really do enjoy yourself.

Garry Leeson, Health and Safety Officer at Nottingham University, says, “There is an element of naivety amongst Freshers. For the majority this is their first time away from home.”

Considering the number of laptops, stereos and cars taken to University, it is hardly surprising therefore that a third of students have been victims of crime, with the average cost of student burglary around £900. Make sure your accommodation is securely locked whenever you leave it, even if for only a few minutes. Never leave valuables on show in your house or car and alert porters if you see someone suspicious in your hall.

It is likely that you have only visited your University once before arriving. Try to secure a map of the area and ask Freshers helpers and other students which areas to avoid. Do not stray into unlit areas and walk facing oncoming traffic.

If you are returning to your accommodation alone, pre-book a taxi through a licensed minicab office. Your Student’s Union will normally have a list of recommended cab firms. Wait for the taxi in a well-lit place, and sit in the back of the cab with your mobile phone close at hand.

Most Student Unions supply personal alarms either free or at a very minimal cost. These are available in a range of sizes to fit pockets and handbags and emit such a loud noise that would-be attackers may be frightened off.

The start of university is a perfect opportunity to meet new people, but remember that you will have known the people around you for only a few days. Go on dates in public places and remain cautious even if you think you have got to know your date quite well.

Do not be arrogant – 80% of young people in Britain do not consider themselves to be at risk of catching a Sexually Transmitted Infection, in spite of the fact that a new case is diagnosed every 15 seconds. Student bodies are fully aware of this and will take every opportunity during the first few weeks to foist endless supplies of free condoms upon students, leaving them with little excuse.

Most students remember their first few weeks of University through a haze of alcohol. Enjoy all the deals offered by bars and nightclubs, but try to prevent the haze becoming drunken blindness. Remember that alcohol can dull your instincts and leave you lost or in a compromising situation.

Another advantage of the easy and inexpensive availability of alcohol during Fresher’s Week is that drinks can be replaced. If you suspect that your drink has been tampered with, or you have left it unattended, simply buy another one. Date rape drugs such a Rohypnol are colourless, odourless and often tasteless. If you start to feel at all odd, alert a friend or member of staff in the pub or bar and do not allow a stranger to ‘help’ you. Although women are seven times more likely to targets of drink spiking than men, everyone is at risk.

“Having my drink spiked ended my enthusiasm for University,” says Jack, who dropped out of his course two weeks after arriving. “I though it only happened to girls, so I didn’t look out for myself. The experience was horrible. The hospital thought I had been doing drugs and I developed paranoia following the incident. I just couldn’t cope.

“I should have been so much more careful, but I had this stupid idea that taking precautions would get in the way of my fun.”

Staying safe

  • There’s no place like home – lock it up and keep it safe.
  • Don’t show off – if you want to keep your possessions, keep them to yourself.
  • It’s good to talk – if you are walking home alone, call a charity helpline such as Nightline, which is run by students. Most Nightline organisations are happy to talk to students as they walk home.
  • Safety in numbers – stick together with other students.

If you need further advice, visit the information section at www.nusonline.co.uk or www.suzylamplugh.org. 

For more information and support on drink spiking and date rape, call the Rape Crisis helpline on 0115 900 3560 or visit www.roofie.org.uk.

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