College Safety Guide

College can be one of the most exciting, inspiring, and transformative times in your life. For many, it's a step towards adulthood and a career. At the same, college can also be overwhelming. The academic and social demands you'll encounter are more intense than what you found in high school. To get the most out of your time in school, you'll need to feel safe at all times while you're on or near campus. Unfortunately, not all students do. Whether that's because of their sexual orientation, religious beliefs, gender, or anything else, students don't always feel secure at school. The good news is that crime at colleges and universities is on the decline. According to the National Center for Education Statistics," the number of on-campus crimes per 10,000 full-time-equivalent (FTE) students [also] decreased, from 18.4 in 2013 to 17.9 in 2014.” Campuses are safer, but students must remain vigilant.

What is the Clery Act?

Congress sought to protect students from on-campus crime by instituting a law called the Clery Act in 1990, named for Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old woman who was raped and murdered in her dorm room four years prior. The horrific crime was widely reported and drew attention to the dangers inherent on college campuses nationwide. The law was created following a suit filed against Lehigh by Clery’s parents, who argued that their daughter would never have attended the university had she known about the 38 violent incidents that had taken place there across the previous three years. The Clery's won their case, and Congress enacted the law in their daughter's name. The law requires schools to publish an annual report of crime statistics, disclose the location incidents take place, issue warnings of crimes, compile an annual fire safety report of on-campus housing, enact policies for missing students, and implement an emergency response policy to notify students quickly if a situation on campus poses a real and present danger.

The Clery Act has had several positive effects; many schools have taken steps to improve the way their crime statistics are reported. Schools don't want to see their admissions rates drop, so they have readily complied. Simply by increasing awareness of collegiate crime, the law has helped improve the safety of students. The Clery Act focuses on the reporting of sexual violence, and it has paved the way for improvements in the way colleges prevent and respond to rape on campus. Consequently, schools are much safer now than they were decades ago.

Reported VAWA offenses
  Public Private not-for-profit Private for-profit Total
Domestic Violence 2,277 1,102 102 3,481
Dating Violence 2,377 1,455 30 3,862
Stalking 3,150 1,776 67 4,993
Total 7,804 4,333 199 12,336

Source: CSS - Reported VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) offenses by type of crime and sector of institution, 4 year and above


The Clery Act requires schools to report on seven major crimes: sexual assault, homicide, robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson, and aggravated assault. The law stipulates that schools must provide statistics for each of these major crimes, not only on campus, but nearby and at school-owned facilities located off campus. Colleges and universities must also disclose the nature of the crime and the time and date when it occurred; they must do so within two days of its occurrence. The law's requirements provide prospective students, and their parents, with a comprehensive look at crime on and around campus.

On-Campus Crime

Any place where large groups of people gather, crime will follow, and colleges are no exception. Some campuses can be dangerous because of their location in dense metropolises. Others can be small cities in themselves and suffer from the same sorts of hazards that plague urban areas. College traditions can sometimes be unlawful, including underage drinking, hazing, and drug offenses.

One crime in particular remains alarmingly prevalent on campus. According to RAINN, an advocacy group that fights sexual violence nationwide, "among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation."

Reported Criminal Offenses
  Public Private not-for-profit Private for-profit Total
Murder/Non-negligent manslaughter 24 9 2 36
Negligent Manslaughter 1 2 -- 3
Rape 2,965 2,603 23 5,591
Fondling 1,581 1,354 38 2,973
Statutory Rape 39 17 -- 56
Robbery 1,183 1,929 113 2,316
Aggravated Assault 1,699 1,348 106 3,153
Burglary 6,542 5,323 223 12,088
Motor Vehicle Theft 2,541 1,469 141 4,151
Arson 342 247 3 592
Total 16,918 13,392 649 30,959

Source: CSS - Reported criminal offenses by type of crime and sector of institution, 4-year institutions

How to Choose a Safe Campus

Prospective students and their parents have the tools to determine the safety of a particular campus; the campus crime statistics and the methods with which they were collected are readily available. Students should also familiarize themselves with available campus safety services. Many colleges offer transportation options directly to student housing and escorts who walk learners home at night. Most schools have emergency call boxes scattered across campus, and many have increased the number of security officers they employ. According to RAINN, "Among 4-year academic institutions with 2,500 students or more, 75% employ armed officers, a 10% increase in the last decade."

Students should:

  • Look at the school's statistics Every university is required to have them, and they can be very revealing. Look at the types of crime, how common they are, and what steps the school has taken to correct them.
  • Contact counselors Talk to counselors about the track record of the university when it comes to crime; many are candid.
  • Ask about safety and security officers on-campus Find out how active campus police are and how many officers there are per capita. Are they full or part time? How late do they work? What kind of training do they have? A handful of part-time officers with little education isn’t enough.
  • Visit the school While on campus, pay attention to how often you see call boxes and how well lit walkways are. Are the dorms easily accessible? Are there residential advisers or security personnel in residence halls? Ask the tour guide about emergency preparedness, and don’t be afraid to question students you meet about safety concerns.
  • Ask about escort and driving services Transportation to and from the library is an important service. It's important to study on your schedule and not have to worry about how you will get home. Also check if escorts are available for walking students back to their dorms.


There are many factors that can not be controlled, but there are measures that students can take to prevent themselves from becoming a victim of campus crime.

Go out in groups with people you trust

When you go out, especially at night, it’s a good idea to do so with several friends. If no one is available, make sure to stay in populated areas.

Be alert

Always be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Note the location of emergency call boxes and learn the safest route to your destination. When in unfamiliar areas, keep to well-lit paths and look for safe zones.

Don't be afraid to be rude

If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, then put some distance between you and them. Don’t go anywhere with someone who gives you the creeps, even if it’s awkward to tell him or her to leave you alone.

Know your limits

If you’re out drinking, pay attention to how much alcohol you consume. Know how much is too much and give yourself a safe cut-off. Don’t accept drinks from strangers, and don’t leave your drink unattended.

Be an escort for someone in need

If someone calls to ask if you can walk them home, don't hesitate. They are calling because they are likely in an uncomfortable situation, and it's important to know that people will do the same for you.

Take a self-defense class

A self-defense course teaches you how to punch and where to kick. Many classes teach assertiveness, verbal techniques, situational awareness, and safety strategies.

Take advantage of campus escort programs

Many campuses have some sort of escort service. This might include after-hours shuttles or campus employees who walk students home; a background check is commonly required to be a student escort. These services are usually free and are offered at late hours.

Carry a whistle, pepper spray, or personal alarm

Whistles and alarms alert the public to your location and scare potential attackers. Pepper spray causes temporary blindness by inflaming the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs, momentarily stunning an attacker. Most pepper sprays also leave a mark, which officers can see by using a black light, ensuring the victim is caught. These devices are made in small sizes which can fit into a purse or pocket.

Be aware of your social media settings

Be careful how much information you post about yourself online in public forums. Check your privacy settings to make sure your friends are the only ones who can see your posts.


Circle of 6

Called a “new line of defense against violence,” by former Vice President Joe Biden, Circle of 6 allows you to contact six of your close friends when you need someone to walk home with. The app can also help get you out of an uncomfortable situation by alerting one of your friends to give you a call. Circle of 6 is optimized for use on-campus use.

Price: Free
Availability: Apple App Store, Google Play

Designed for use on college campuses, this award-winning app allows you to instantly call 911, alert campus police, and contact friends. By pushing two buttons, you can distribute a call for help through email, text, Facebook, and phone, and your GPS will begin to track you. You can also set a timer when you feel vulnerable – if you don’t answer when it expires, it sends a message to your friends.

Price: Free trial. $9.99 a year. Availability: Apple App Store, Google Play

Someone once called CampusSafe a “virtual blue light telephone.” Founded by RIT students, the app notifies campus police of a student’s location using GPS. It also connects to healthcare and counseling services.

Price: Free
Availability: Apple App store, Google Play

When you push EmergenSee’s big red button, your phone instantly begins to record video and audio, and it transmits these, along with your GPS coordinates, to family, friends, and authorities, which allows them to monitor your situation and make the best call.

Price: Free
Availability: Apple App store, Google Play

Scream Alarm
Nothing attracts attention like a loud scream. That’s the premise of this straightforward app. It’s a single button that allows you to trigger an ear-piercing shriek.

Price: Free
Availability: Apple App store, Google Play

Kitestring is an SMS-based service that allows subscribers to send a text to a group of contacts. If you don’t check in when you’re supposed to, it automatically notifies emergency help.

Price: Free for use up to three times per month, with 1 contact. $3 a month for unlimited use
Availability: Subscribe online

Online Student Safety

It's important to remain cautious online as well. Many students share their schedules, personal addresses, photographs, and other information on social media, which predators use to commit crimes.

Always keep in mind that the internet is a public place where people can lurk anonymously, pose as someone they’re not, and capture valuable information.

Some students agree to meet people they met online in private settings. It's recommended to get to know someone in a public setting before you meet privately.

Online Safety Tools and Tips

Virus Scanning
Virus protection software is critical to the safety of any modern computer. New threats emerge daily, and it’s important to regularly update your virus scanning program.
Use a Firewall
Firewalls protect your computer from viruses, worms, hackers, and data thieves. This software comes preinstalled on most common operating systems – Windows, Apple, and Android – and is generally turned on by default. Some people mistakenly switch them off when setting up networks. It’s important to make sure your firewall is always operational.
Privacy Settings
Many of the websites we use capture and distribute personal data. Always check your privacy settings and pay attention to the privacy policy of the sites where you post. Sites will often change their privacy settings, and it’s important to remain vigilant.
Webcam Safety
Webcams are commonly used for Skyping and Snapchatting – others use them to spy. The FBI recently recommended that computer users cover their cameras when they are not in use, and it’s as simple as attaching a small circular sticker. It’s a simple and effective way to ensure that you control who’s using your camera. Another method is to make sure to close your laptop when you’re done using your computer. Anti-malware software can detect camera-related spyware.
Backup Your Files
The simplest way to keep your data safe is to backup your files periodically. External hard drives, cloud services, and online backup services are all great options for ensuring you don't lose any important schoolwork. Moving data off your computer also prevents sensitive information from being stolen.
Change and Create Complex Passwords
Many of the passwords we use are too basic. Make sure your passwords include a combination of numbers, capital letters, and symbols. It's also important to change passwords frequently. This makes it more difficult for hackers to get into your accounts.
Update Your Software
Computer threats constantly evolve, which means it’s imperative to stay ahead of them. Consistently updating your software makes you less vulnerable to attack. Most operating systems have frequent updates to mitigate danger, and you should check yours occasionally to make sure you don’t fall behind. Apps and programs often perform bug fixes and make changes as well.

What to do if you are the Victim of a Crime

According to the Bureau of Justice, about 10% of Americans were victims of violence or property crimes in 2015. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that there were more than 27,000 incidents of crimes against persons and property on public and private school campuses in 2014.

It’s important to know what to do if you, a friend, or a family member falls victim to a crime. Take the following steps and you will get the help you need in a safe and timely manner. This can also be the first step towards the healing process.

  • Call the police: Dial 911; the sooner the better. The police respond to crimes and connect victims to advocacy groups. Getting the authorities involved will help you move towards recovery.
  • Seek medical attention: If you’ve been personally assaulted, make sure you get checked out by trained medical personnel. Many people just want to go home after a traumatic incident, but that's the best time to obtain medical evidence, which can help convict the perpetrator. Medical personnel will also connect you with support and advocacy organizations to help you begin the healing process.
  • Consult legal counsel: It’s wise to get the opinion of a lawyer if you are the victim of a crime. Attorneys can help you determine all of your legal options.
  • Seek a civil protection order: If you are the victim of assault, you can file a civil protection order to ensure your future safety. These protective orders prevent abusers and perpetrators from approaching you and provide serious repercussions if they do.
  • Request housing change: Many communities provide shelter to victims of crimes like sexual assault and stalking. This helps remove you from the situation and puts you in contact with a network of organizations dedicated to your recovery. Schools will allow you to move into a different residence in most cases.
  • Create an ongoing safety plan: Collect all of your important documents (ID, passports, license, insurances, etc.), pack a bag, and be ready to flee quickly if a threat arises. Make an arrangement with a friend or family member to stay with them for a while. Know who’s on your case at the police department and make sure you have the number to their direct line.


Many victims never report what happened to them; they’re often embarrassed and think no one will believe them, or are afraid of angering the perpetrator. This protects the criminal, impedes justice, and endangers others; criminals tend to keep committing crimes until they’re caught. According to RAINN, only 20% of female student victims, age 18-24, are likely to report sexual violence to law enforcement.

The greatest tragedy of not reporting crime is that victims often don’t get the help they need and suffer alone. Going to the police and helping them catch the criminal helps make campuses safer. Victims also receive protection, support, and help in the recovery process.

Reporting a crime isn't always easy, especially if you are the victim. It's also difficult to know where to start. Below, is a step-by-step process of how to report a crime.

Go to the police

It’s best to call 911 as soon as you can, but if you can’t, go over to campus police headquarters and give them a detailed statement. Depending on the size of the department, they might refer you to the local police. Describe exactly what happened and give them as much information as you can about the perpetrator. Answer all the questions to the best of your ability, with as much detail as possible.

Make a list of lost property

In the case of theft, this is an important step. Make sure you call your bank and put a hold on your credit cards if the criminal took your wallet. Many people keep a list of their valuables, including serial numbers, in case they’re burglarized.

Meet with the university

If the incident occurred on campus, it’s important to inform the school so that it can take steps to prevent similar crimes from happening. Many universities have policies in place to help victims, including time off and counseling services.

Get medical attention

It is important to have yourself examined by a healthcare provider if you have been the victim of a violent or sexual crime. Contact 800-656-HOPE (4673) as soon as possible to be connected with an experience RAINN staff member who will direct you to a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Seek counseling

For victims of violent or sexual crimes, it's important to find someone to talk to. Many victims have serious cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, and counseling helps begin the healing process.


  • Clery Center The Clery Center is dedicated to campus safety. The organization helped advocate for the Clery Act and it provides information to students and schools. The center offers a helpful resource page for students and families.
  • Know Your IX A student-led organization devoted to fighting sexual violence on campus. The group, whose name is derived from Title IX civil rights law, trains, advocates, educates, and supports student survivors.
  • National Sexual Assault Online Hotline Run by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), this hotline and online info source provides victims with advice, counseling, and services. The services are free and confidential.
  • Campus Safety and Security CSS, a U.S. Department of Education project, allows you to compare and contrast the safety data of various schools. You can search for specific universities and see trends for a variety of crimes.
  • Center for Changing Our Campus Culture A service of the U.S. Department of Justice that advocates for a safer and healthier campus environment. The organization provides online resources and information on stalking, domestic abuse, dating violence, and sexual assault. The site provides quick links for individuals trying to escape a bad situation.
  • Not Alone Not Alone is run by the Department of Justice and Allied with the Center for Changing Our Campus Culture. The organization offers research that's designed to protect students from sexual violence, date rape, and other forms of relationship abuse.
  • National Center for Education Statistics The NCES provides several sections devoted to campus safety statistics, and it’s a great resource for college-bound students.
  • The National Center for Victims of Crime website has information for those affected by crime, including victim advocacy groups, national hotlines, data on restitution, coping strategies, guides to civil litigation options, and local assistance organizations.
  • VictimConnect A national hotline for victims of crime. VictimConnect provides over-the-phone counseling and advocacy.
  • Stalking Resource Center A program of the National Center for Victims of Crime. The Stalking Center trains counselors on how to prevent stalking, investigate stalking-related crimes, and help victims, including on-campus students. Pages on the organization’s site address safety planning and provide prevention tips.
  • Internet Crime Complaint Center The FBI’s IC3 offers help with web-based crimes. The site features crime prevention techniques, a rundown of common schemes, a FAQ full of the answers to common questions, and a complaint tool for victims.
  • Identity Theft Resource Center This site has many tools to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. It also offers services for people who have had their identity stolen. Several sections deal specifically with scams aimed at college students.
  • Office of Violence Against Women A service of the U.S. Department of Justice, AVW publishes guides for women, sends out alerts, allows users to search for sex offenders, has maps of local organizations, and offers a variety of other resources to prevent violence against women.
  • Office for Victims of Crime OVC is a federal program connecting crime victims with help and resources, including the U.S. resource map, which shows local organizations where people can turn for assistance.
  • National Organization for Victim Assistance NOVA was founded in 1975 to help people in times of crisis, and it has many resources that inform victims about services available to them, including counseling and compensation.
  • National Criminal Justice Reference Service NCJRS provides access to a wide array of publications on campus safety, including works from the U.S. Department of Education, the Bureau of Justice, and the National Institute of Justice.
  • Victim Support Services Formerly known as Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crime Victims, Victim Support Services is a nonprofit based in Washington State that offers comprehensive services to crime victims. They provide information on advocacy, courtroom support, use of the media, compensation, and a 24-hour hotline. The service is predominantly for people from the Pacific Northwest, but VSS will provide referrals to local help.
  • Only with Consent A nonprofit dedicated to fighting sexual violence, OWC publishes a downloadable campus toolkit, educates students on campus, and advocates for justice.
  • PACT5 PACT5 is a national movement with the goal of preventing college sexual violence by using student-produced documentaries to raise awareness of on-campus issues. The organization’s site also provides links to available resources, including hotlines and intervention services.
  • STEP UP! An educational organization, STEP UP! teaches students how to be proactive in helping others, specifically in the case of on-campus crime. Students learn techniques like how to safely aid potential victims and prevent crimes from occurring.
  • Gift from Within One of the oldest nonprofits advocating for survivors of trauma and victimization, GFW provides an array of gentle support services and counseling.