As students returned to campus this past week, in the back of many of their minds was the string of sexual assaults that occurred near campus in July and August. With the perpetrator of these attacks still at large and students settling into their routines, there are concerns about personal safety and the nature of the threat. It’s important for members of the University community and greater Ann Arbor area to be cognizant of these concerns and employ reasonable safety measures as the fall semester begins.
The six attacks this summer have justifiably piqued students’ attention to issues of personal safety; prevention has become a prominent term. To ensure they aren’t led into dangerous situations, students should follow the appropriate actions outlined on the Information Regarding Recent Assaults Near Campus website put together by University officials in response to the increase in attacks. But students need to also help protect their peers. Students should watch out for others in the event of suspicious activity. Awareness and community support are essential to make sure University students remain safe, according to Ann Arbor Police Chief Barnett Jones.
The creation of the website was a significant step by the University to not only provide the community with valuable information, but also show that administrators are responding seriously to these attacks. Students should take advantage of this resource and use the tools at their disposal, like late-night transportation options offered by the University. It’s necessary that students adhere to the preventative measures outlined on the site by walking in groups when possible, being aware of their surroundings and locking their doors.
Ann Arbor police and DPS have demonstrated that they are working hard to catch the one or multiple attackers by increasing their patrol hours. However, the city of Ann Arbor needs to demonstrate that they take these attacks seriously by responding to student concerns about off-campus lighting. Studies of how effective street lighting is in deterring crime are inconclusive. However, lighting improves students’ sense of personal safety and their ability to monitor their surroundings. City Council members need to respond to students’ calls for increased street lighting and make off-campus areas more secure for students.
While the recent off-campus attacks are extremely concerning, it’s important to acknowledge that these types of attacks don’t represent the norm in college campus sexual assaults. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 80 percent to 90 percent of sexual attacks on college campuses occur among people who know each other. The same study found that 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes of college students go unreported to police or other campus law enforcement.
Returning to campus for the fall semester is an exciting time and should be enjoyed by students. While the recent attacks near campus have many students concerned about their safety, taking reasonable measures on and around campus will help students to feel more secure at the University while the perpetrator(s) remains at large.