Campus works to reduce crime, ensure safety

Sarah Hillenbrand

Less than a month after the kidnapping and sexual assault of a Central Michigan University student, some women around the country are sure to be a little more safety-conscious.

At Grand Valley State University, there are many people who work to keep campus safe from any crime that could occur and provide continued help to victims of crimes or other serious offenses. While the main idea is that the victim of a serious crime is never at fault, there are a few precautionary measures available to increase one’s own safety.

“At Grand Valley State University, we understand that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault,” said Theresa Rowland, who is the Violence Against Women grant coordinator for the Women’s Center.

Rowland said victim blaming is a point of view that needs to be changed. “Continually addressing sexual assault as something that could be prevented ‘if only the victim had done blank’ versus focusing on the realities that make perpetrators motivated to and able to commit these heinous crimes is a problem,” Rowland said.

Joanne Ziembo-Vogl from the School of Criminal Justice also emphasized that the focus should be on what the offender did and not what the victim should have done.

“There is a fine line when talking about crime prevention and talking like the victim should have done something different,” Ziembo-Vogl said.

Capt. Brandon DeHaan, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety, said a major tip for students on campus is to be aware of their surroundings and to call 911 if they see anything unusual.

For the GVSU Police Department, DeHaan said appearance is a deterrent for crime happening on campus.

“Our officers are uniformed and armed and drive in marked vehicles,” he said. “I encourage the staff to be as visible as possible because high appearance is a deterrent to criminal activities. We can’t be every place at every time, so it’s important to be aware of what’s going on around us.”

DeHaan also gave students several tips to help avoid a potentially dangerous situation, such as make as much noise and draw as much attention as possible if being attacked, walk with other students as there is greater safety in numbers, park in a lighted area and plan ahead.

“Bad things can happen anywhere, including a university campus,” DeHaan said. “Students should be aware for themselves but also for the community, and if someone sees something, they should contact 911.”

Ziembo-Vogl said college campuses are prime hunting grounds for sexual assaults for both males and females.

According to a 2009 National Crime Victimization Survey, only about 21 percent of female sexual assault victims were raped by an unknown offender. “Images of sexual assault by a stranger saturate our cultural consciousness of sexual violence, but more women know who their perpetrators are,” Rowland said.

She added that according to a 2000 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, on college campuses about 90 percent of women know the person who sexually assaulted or raped them.

“In instances of sexual assault, GVSU feels strongly that the emphasis should be on the prevention of sexual assault, not just ways that women can reduce risk,” Rowland said.

Resources are available on campus to help prevent sexual assault and aid victims. For prevention, resources include the Campus Violence Prevention Team, covering the topic with freshmen during Transitions, the club Eyes Wide Open, ReACT! anti-violence peer theatre program and the safe walk program. Students who have been victims can receive help from the counseling center, the Women’s Center, as well as other campus resources available to students.

“This is a very safe campus in a number of ways, however, bad things can happen,” DeHaan said.
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