Student Safety Guide

Students need to feel safe, both physically and online. While campus safety is a frequent topic of discussion, the threat of digital crime is an often overlooked element of student safety. It is important for all students to understand security and crime reporting procedures and to be aware of online risks.

Under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Police and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act), colleges and universities receiving federal funding are required to annually report campus crime statistics. Overall, the data shows a decline in on-campus crime reports in recent years; on-campus crime decreased 29% from 2001-2012 (41,596 to 29,527 reported incidents). This decrease holds for every category except reported forcible sex offenses, which rose 43% from 2001-2012.

campus_crime_carOf the reported on-campus crimes in 2013-2014, the most common were burglary (14,004 in 2014 down from 15,915 reported in 2013), forcible sex offenses (5,101 reported in 2013), and rape (4,464 reported in ’14). It is unclear whether the increased prevalence of reported sex crimes on-campus stems from an increase in incidents or from students reporting the crime more often, possibly due to sexual assault awareness campaigns. Regardless, this trend should alert students to the importance of addressing sex crimes and the need for disclosure from school administrations regarding sex crime policies and procedures.

Alongside campus safety, online security is becoming a pressing issue. As mobile devices, computers, and online tools have become more common, the threat of internet crime has evolved alongside. Digital crime affects not only the individual, but also the greater community, a point made clear by the increasing frequency and scope of massive data breaches. As a member of the online community, students need to keep security tools up-to-date and use good judgment when engaging in online activity.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is receiving more reports than ever, topping three million this past year. This surge in reporting has helped IC3 better recognize new digital crime trends and provide more effective defenses. The most prevalent online crimes reported to the FBI were auto fraud, government impersonation, extortion, real estate fraud, and confidence fraud. The National Cyber Security Alliance also lists online identity theft, stalking, bullying, and hacking among other common online crimes. According to their findings in a 2015 survey, 74% of users have limited their online activity in the last year due to privacy concerns. Sixty-four percent of responders believe online privacy should be a human right, and 92% of US internet users worry about their online privacy. These figures demonstrate an increased awareness of online safety and security in the general public, concerns that extend to the virtual campus.

Enacted in 1990, the Clery Act is a preventative measure designed to increase awareness of campus-based crime. Jeanne Clery was the victim of a brutal rape and murder at Lehigh University in 1986. Her parents, the main proponents of the law, maintained that if Jeanne had known of prior criminal incidents on campus, she would not have chosen to attend the school. Under the Clery Act, colleges and universities that receive Title IV federal funding must produce an annual, publicly available security report that covers crime statistics from the prior three years. They must also maintain a crime log that contains all reported crimes from the past seven years, provide timely warning of threats covered under the Clery Act, and provide support services—including safe transportation, safe living and working conditions, and disciplinary procedures—to students. A recent addendum expands reporting coverage for statistics and hate crimes. In 2013, the Clery Act was expanded to include provisions for all sexual violence and violence against women in the Campus SaVE Act. Additionally, the Violence Against Women Act amendments to the Clery Act now includes provisions to offer additional rights and protections to survivors of domestic violence.

The Clery Act shed light on campus crime trends across the country. It is important to remember that this data only includes reports of crimes, and not the corresponding prosecution. Downward trends in reported campus crime are possibly explained by increased awareness and improved crime prevention measures. These include campus surveillance systems, high visibility campus patrol, student education training, mobile safety apps, and increased crime reporting resources. Vigilant students should take a look at data for specific areas on and around their own campus to determine whether their school is taking appropriate and effective crime prevention steps. Those wishing to learn more about an institution’s safety profile can reference the school’s annual Clery Report and evaluate the school’s safety procedures.

What is Covered Under the Clery Act?

The Clery Act covers reported crimes in the following categories (definitions are taken from the U.S. Department of Education website, while statistics are from the NCES website):

Criminal Homicide

  • Murder & non-negligent manslaughter: Defined as the willful killing of one person by another. This excludes suicides, fetal deaths, traffic fatalities, accidental deaths and justifiable homicides (i.e. justifiable police action against a perpetrator). Incidents of murder on campuses have fluctuated over the past ten years, varying between eight murders in 2006 and 44 in 2007.
  • Negligent manslaughter: Defined as the killing of one person by another through gross negligence. This excludes traffic fatalities. Instances of negligent manslaughter are generally low, hovering between zero and three per year.

Sexual Assault

A 2000 U.S. Department of Justice Reportassault shows that 90% of campus sexual assaults are committed by individuals known by the victim.

  • Forcible: This covers any sexual act directed against a person against their will (or not forcibly if the person is unable to give consent). Forcible sexual assault includes forcible rape, forcible sodomy, forcible fondling, and sexual assault with an object. Forcible sexual offenses have increased by 76.5% since 2001, an alarming number considering that the crime often goes unreported. The rise in reports are possibly linked to increased awareness of the crime and more available resources for victims.
  • Non-forcible: This type of sexual offense includes unlawful, non-forcible sexual intercourse, including incest and statutory rape. Reports of crimes of this type have steadily decreased from 461 to 44 in ’01-’12. Non-forcible sexual assault is an underreported crime, largely because perpetrators and survivors often knew each other before the crime took place.

Aggravated Assault

This is defined as an unlawful attack by one person upon another, often with a weapon, for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. Aggravated assault declined marginally between 2001 and 2012. New initiatives to increase campus surveillance and to light public areas on and around campus help address this type of crime.


This is defined as the taking or the attempt to take anything of value from a person by force or threat of force. Reports of robbery have declined slightly over the past decade. Again, physical campus measures such as increased camera surveillance, visible campus security patrols, access to public transportation, and student training initiatives are designed to target robbers.


This is defined as the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft. By far the most common on-campus crime, burglary reports have decreased significantly from 26,904 to 18,099 between 2001 and 2012, a 32.7% decrease.

Motor Vehicle Theft

This is the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle. Incidents of reported motor vehicle theft have dropped by 51.2% from 2001 to 2012. Increased car safety features, campus surveillance, more lighting, and increased student awareness have contributed to this decline.


This is defined as any willful or malicious attempt to burn, with or without intent to defraud, the personal property of another. The number of reported incidents declined from 1,180 to 689 from 2001 to 2012.

When researching schools, students and their families can refer to the Clery Act reports for specific crime data. This information can be cross-referenced against outlined campus safety policies to determine whether a school is upholding safety standards, addressing pressing safety issues, and implementing strategic initiatives to prevent crime. Students should ask their college counselors, tour guides, and administrators to highlight their institution’s campus safety rules and procedures. Though colleges are required to disclose all criminal behavior, schools are often guilty of underreporting crimes. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions as you search for safe college campuses!

  • Campus safety departments: An effective security department is the first line of defense on campus. They should transparently report crimes while actively maintaining campus patrols and an adequate staff. The best campus safety departments work with students to achieve safety goals while cultivating an ongoing relationship with the public.
  • Safe transportation: Designed to increase accessibility to areas on and around school, transportation services can enhance campus security. Safe transportation is critical for students traveling at odd hours and those who do not wish to walk alone, particularly at night. Students should jot down emergency phone numbers and contact info for campus transportation services. Sometimes, security officials will even use their own vehicles to accommodate students who need a ride.
  • Counseling services: Counselors can help students report crimes while lending emotional support to victims. The RAINN network is an excellent place to find information on resources for sexual assault victims and counseling service providers. The network assists victims with information on health services, medical attention, and therapy. Counseling services are usually listed on school websites, but are also accessible off-campus and online.
  • Title IX officer: The Title IX coordinator prepares and distributes materials to educate members of the campus community on their right against discrimination. The coordinator’s office receives and processes student inquiries regarding harassing behavior. The office also implements grievance procedures and produces an annual report on campus sexual harassment statistics. You can usually find a Title IX link on your school’s homepage.
  • Mass notification system: Emergency notification systems vary from school to school, but information on all emergency procedures and contact information should be viewable on a school’s homepage. Common systems include text alerts, outdoor sirens, public address systems, email, and voicemail. Students might consider contacting local authorities for additional resources regarding alert systems in their area, as these systems are sometimes overseen by civil defense authorities. The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau website lists a number of schools and their alert systems.
  • Reporting: To comply with the Clery Act, all schools receiving federal funding must produce an annual campus crime report on October 1st. The database must provide information for the last four years. Reports reflect alleged criminal offenses (not convictions), and are provided by non-police authorities. The Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool is the first stop for school-specific statistics.
  • Statistical Indicators: Here, it helps to do your own research. As we covered above, all schools must report their Clery statistics. If you notice that a prospective school has poor numbers, or anything that suggests that the school makes it difficult for students to report a problem, you can assume that the administration is not adequately prioritizing campus safety.
  1. Beware Your Acquaintances: Perhaps counter-intuitively, most victims of crime and violence on college campuses are harmed by people they already know. Vigilantly vet your friends and acquaintances, and do not put yourself in a position where you are alone with someone whom you do not explicitly trust. You should also be wary of any signs of threatening or violent behavior from an acquaintance or partner: these are not people to be trusted.
  2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings: No matter where you are, it is important to keep an eye out for dangerous situations, and to be generally aware of your surroundings. Using electronic devices while walking down the street, riding the bus, or even sitting quietly can distract you from potential danger.
  3. Do Not Hesitate to Contact Authorities: If you see something, say something. This catchphrase applies to any dangerous situation. Do not waste time calling for help. Even if it’s a false alarm, it is better to call for help right away and be wrong than to wait and be right. Learning to identify unusual or dangerous behavior patterns can also help you identify risky situations. If necessary, yell, shout, or scream for help as loud as possible if you cannot reach a phone or safe zone. Making noise often deters attacks and attracts attention from bystanders.
  4. Lock Your Doors: Theft and burglary are common campus crimes. They are often preventable with minimal effort though, and students should protect their belongings. Close windows, especially when dressing, and do not leave valuables lying in plain sight. Auto theft is another common crime on campus, and students should carefully consider where they park; find well-lit parking places or park with security measures in place. Always hide your valuables, and be sure to roll up windows and double check that your doors are locked before leaving the vehicle unattended.
  5. Plan Ahead: Familiarize yourself with your campus’s layout. Learn all safe locations, including well-lit areas and walkways, security centers, campus offices, and emergency call stations. If you are walking through an unfamiliar area, stay alert: turn your music volume down so that you can hear your surroundings, and scan for potential danger. A good practice, especially while walking alone, is to turn your head and check over your shoulder occasionally to ensure that no one is following too closely behind you. At night, the streets look very different, and a GPS-enabled safety app can help you avoid unnecessary risk.
  6. Identify Dangerous Situations: Given that sexual assault is often committed by an acquaintance, students should carefully evaluate social situations. The RAINN network offers several tips for reducing the risk of sexual assault, including information on responding to pressure, alcohol safety, and social media safety. You should know what constitutes consensual and non consensual contact, and the behaviors of abusive partners. Ask if the campus offers self defense classes, or free training from the campus security office. If you feel pressured or taken advantage of, contact campus help immediately.
  7. Know Your Rights: Students need to know their rights regarding sexual assault and crime victim support. The Clery Act stipulates that schools must provide information on campus security policies and practices, along with educational materials, training, and aid to all students. Too often, crimes go unreported because victims do not feel justified in seeking help.
  8. Ride and Walk With Friends: To stay safe, you should travel with friends whenever possible. Individuals are easier targets than people in groups, and traveling with friends increases everyone’s safety. You should also know bus and public transportation schedules ahead of time. If you find yourself stranded outside and need to wait for transportation, seek an open, well-lit public space.
  9. Keep Friends and Family Informed of Your Whereabouts: Share your travel plans with trusted friends or family ahead of time and maintain contact if you change plans. Keep a log of addresses and important contact information on your phone and in your wallet or planner in case your battery dies. Never accept rides from someone you don’t know or trust. Request that your friends keep you informed of their whereabouts as well, especially if they are at a party or on a date.
  • Password Protection: Passwords are often the only line of defense between you and digital criminals. Unfortunately, people get lazy, recycling old or easy-to-guess passwords. But as cybercrime grows, and as we put more of our sensitive personal information online, we must take password safety very seriously. A good password contains a long string of symbols, numbers, and letters. If possible, passwords should be case-sensitive and unpredictable. For particularly sensitive information, change your password regularly. Never share passwords, and keep a secure, physical record of passwords should you forget them. If you stay logged on a computer or laptop, enable screen-locking so that others cannot access your secure sites. Passwords should never contain personal information.
  • Selective Sharing: A recent article quotes Larry Magid, CEO of, on the importance of being kind online: “Part of it is respecting yourself and others. Maintaining your own reputation by not posting something that will haunt you.” This is sound advice, as we often forget that we are engaged in a large online community and that our actions can have repercussions down the road. Students should also be wary of sharing too much personal information on social media sites, or non-secure forums where internet predators and scam artists can steal information.
  • Computer Protection: Anti-virus software and firewall protection are the most common front-line defenses against malicious software, and reputable online protection companies will keep their software up-to-date to address new threats. Norton AntiVirus and McAfee are two highly reputable anti-virus software companies, and often students will be able to download these programs for free or at a discount. Visiting secure HTTPS sites only can also help protect your computers from malware. Additionally, students researching sensitive material or entering personal information like bank account numbers, social security numbers, or healthcare information, should use secure web browsers and clear their browsing history and cookies.
  • Avoid Public Wi-Fi: Students should also try to use secure wifi connections. New Wi-Fi accounts should be set up with a new name (not the default name) and contain access only through a WPA2 password. Before logging on, check that the network uses WPA2 password protection. If you are hosting Wi-Fi connections, be sure to enable an option that allows you to manually approve new connections. Public Wi-Fi is now prevalent, and consequently, we can often forget we are connected to non-secure networks.

Circleof6Circle of 6 (iOS and Android): This well-regarded app was developed as part of the Apps Against Abuse challenge created by Vice President Joe Biden in 2011. Circle of 6 was originally intended for college students, and now includes features for teenagers, parents and friends. With just two taps, you can message six people of your choice, providing a safe and discreet way to call for help via text, phone or chat. Circle of 6 U is a customized version of the app built for participating colleges and universities. There are currently 300,000 users in 36 countries.

Onwatch-Logo-1OnWatch (iOS and Android): Another winner of the White House Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge, OnWatchOnCampus alerts friends and emergency responders to your GPS location with just two taps. It can also send help messages via social media, phone, chat or text. You can also set a timer to send messages, and the app allows users to connect to hotlines where you can report sexual assault, dating violence, and domestic abuse.

watchovermeWatch Over Me (iOS and Android): “Built by women, for women,” this app enables users to set a specific time frame they want the app to “watch over” them. Friends are alerted if the user does not check-in during this period, or if the timer runs out. It also allows the user to safely upload pictures and information regarding their whereabouts and who they are with. Users can also call for help simply by shaking the phone, even if it is locked; this activates the phone’s silent alarm, emergency calling feature, and video camera function. The app also flags high crime areas via GPS and sends notification warnings to users when they enter unsafe areas.

The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network is the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the nation. The organization’s website offers help resources—including a sexual assault hotline and a search engine for local counseling centers—along with information for survivors and concerned citizens who want to help prevent sexual assault.

Culture of Respect is dedicated to “strengthening sexual assault prevention and response on college campuses” and provides resources for individuals, their friends and parents. Resources include sexual assault statistics, campaigns and links to organizations with similar missions.

The Clery Center For Security On Campus describes itself as “a clearinghouse of information for victims and their families regarding Clery Act compliance and Title IX guidelines.”

Not Alone provides help and resources for students who have either been victimized by sexual assault or know someone who needs help. The site includes information regarding crime reporting, individual rights and policy, and procedure guidelines for schools. The resources page includes several links to advocacy and survivor services organizations, K-12 resources, and higher education resources.

The National Center for Victims of Crime has remained committed to helping crime victims rebuild their lives, providing individuals and families with advocacy and support. The organization is a hub for collaboration among local, state, and federal partnerships.

Safer Campus is committed to supporting students in their grassroots campaigns to address issues of campus safety and policy regarding sexual violence. This is a great resource for activists to learn the ins-and-outs of organization and strategy for student movements.

One in 6 offers support resources for male survivors of sexual assault. Help resources and guidance are offered online and through support channels.

Know Your IX is a youth and survivor-led organization helping students “end sexual and dating violence in their schools,” and was founded in 2013. Know Your IX has a strong mission, intuitive website, and a variety of resources to help you learn about the Clery Act, Title IX, and statistics on gender-based violence. This is an excellent and all-encompassing resource for students looking to keep tabs on higher education policy regarding sexual violence.

The Campus SaVE Act is an update to the Clery Act. Find all info on this updated legislation and the Violence Against Women Act.