At this time of the year, many students and matriculants will be making their way to university for the first time, or returning to carry on their studies.
According to Fidelity Services Group, it is vitally important for those living and working on university campuses to apply basic security rules to stay safe. The same principles they would be conscious of in their own homes need to be heightened when they leave for university.
Typical forms of campus crime include theft and robbery, but students can also be victims of more sinister crimes, such as sexual assault and kidnapping.
Charnel Hattingh, Group Head of Marketing and Communications at Fidelity, says criminals are particularly interested in students for several reasons. One is that students have laptops, computers, cellphones, i-pods and other gadgets; items that are light, portable and easy for a criminal to sell and convert into cash.
“It is essential that every student learns how to stay safe wherever they are on campus. The basic rules of crime prevention apply to everyone in a higher education environment,” Hattingh says.
She explains that crime prevention is the anticipation, recognition and appraisal of a crime risk, and initiation of some action to remove or reduce this risk.
Recalling the shocking abduction and subsequent murder of student Lee Matthews from a university campus in Sandton in 2004, Hattingh says safety in parking areas is of paramount importance.
“Never offer lifts to strangers or pick up hitch-hikers. Have your keys in your hand when you approach your vehicle so that there is no hesitation upon entering the car. Even if your car is locked, check the front and back seats before you get in,” she advises.
“If you leave campus and suspect you are being followed, immediately drive to the nearest police station or busy public area where you should stay in the vehicle with the doors locked and phone the police or a family member for help. Take note of the registration, make and model of the car you think has been following you. Take a photograph if possible.”
Recognising that socialising is a big part of student life, Fidelity urges students to keep safety top of mind at all times when they are out to enjoy themselves. The sad reality of gender-based violence in South Africa is that sexual predators see opportunity in social environments.
“Be particularly aware that alcohol and drugs interfere with your ability to make clear decisions and communicate effectively,” Hattingh says. “Perpetrators are often not strangers, but even if you know the person it is never acceptable to use force in sexual situations.”
“If you feel unsafe or think you may be at risk, leave the situation immediately. It is always best to go out in a group, with friends you trust, and to stick together. Don’t accept drinks from strangers and watch your drinks at all times.”
Tips for on-campus safety in your residence:
• Always lock your residence door, even when you are in the room.
• Residence hall doors must be secure at all times. If you find someone has propped a door open, remove the barricade and secure the door.
• Report suspicious persons you may see in residence or office corridors.
• Never open your door to strangers.
• If you have lost your residence key, report it immediately and have the locks changed.
• Do not keep residence and vehicle keys on the same keyring, and never disclose your address on your keyring.
• Preferably keep all valuables, including cash, locked in a safe.
“University is an exciting step for young adults. Many students embark on this journey completely solo and it can be overwhelming and scary,” Hattingh says. “To ensure your experience is memorable for the right reasons, mix with people who are like-minded about personal safety and who you can rely on in an emergency.”
Knowing and exercising the basics of crime prevention can go a long way towards preventing crime. However, no matter how good our knowledge, maximum benefits will only be achieved if we make crime prevention a habit.
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