Authorities urge vigilance, offer safety tips to prevent assault

By Amina Sergazina, Staff Reporter

Pepper spray is one self-defense item that is a necessity for many living in a big city. Addison Annis

Tired after the end of her shift at work around 9 p.m., Arianna Turner, a sophomore photography major, was waiting at a Pink Line station as usual to get home and relax.

While on the train platform, an older man struck up a conversation with her. Turner politely talked to him, but when he asked for her age, 19-year-old Turner decided to say she was 16 years old so he did not try to flirt with her.

To that, the man implied he was not a stranger to dating underage girls and told Turner he was looking for a wife. The stranger proceeded to sit close Turner and attempted to put a hand on her thigh.

Turner ran away from him and saw her co-worker, whom she stood with until the train came.

“[This situation] affected me a lot; it made me more hyper-vigilant of my surroundings, [and] it made me panic,” Turner said. “Although I know that people like him exist, the fact that I had to encounter that while I was trying to do something as simple as go home was really scary for me.”

Turner got home safely that day, but women in similar situations do not always end up this lucky. While men also get assaulted and kidnapped, women are affected by it at disproportionately higher rates.

The late September kidnapping attempts of two women in the West Loop during the day have left many women scared.

Women and girls make 65% of the abducted victims of human trafficking, and more than 90% of the female victims are abducted for sexual exploitation, according to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. And according to the Rape, Assault and Incest National Network, 26.4% of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted during their time in college.

Cynthia Schumann, a watch commander in the office of Campus Safety and Security, shared three categories of safety tips. The first tip involves what to remember when outside, the second tip represents things students can do on their own and the third tip is to keep informed and stay involved.

Although fears for safety can be more common among women, Schumann said their tips for staying safe are not gendered.

Schumann said it is important to remember safety resources around campus, such as campus security in every building, fixed and roving patrol and the blue lights emergency communication system throughout campus, plus the security escort program.

Schumann said while off campus a student should not use headphones to better stay aware of their surroundings, travel light to avoid losing their valuables, travel in well-lit and high-traffic routes and share their live location with friends. Schumann also suggests using the safety tab on the Columbia Engage app to stay informed. This tab has informative videos and articles, including one for transportation.

When using ride-share programs like Uber and Lyft, Schumann said users should compare the license plate number on the app to the one in front of them, avoid falling asleep, not share personal information with the driver but do share the status of the ride with someone they trust.

In order to feel safe, some people carry self-defense items, but Columbia has a strict prohibition of weapons and the only exception is a personal-size pepper spray, said Ronald Sodini, associate vice president of Campus Safety and Security.

Sodini said the college provides free self-defense classes called “Kick@$$,” taught by qualified martial arts experts, but in the event of a real attempted theft, he suggests giving up your items and reporting the theft.

In the event of an assault, Sodini said it is important to find shelter in a nearby building, try to remember a detailed description of the assailant, call 911 and ask witnesses to wait for the arrival of the police.

Sodini said the next step is to notify Campus Security in order for them to send out a crime advisory email to alert the Columbia community and to aid the investigation and review potential security camera footage.