Preventing Sexual Assault

While you can never completely protect yourself from sexual assault, there are some things you can do to help reduce your risk of being assaulted in various situations.

In Public Settings

Most sexual assaults come from date sexual assault or in social situations gone bad...but not all. Being in urban/suburban Southern California requires a good level of awareness and attention to your personal safety.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way to get out of a bad situation.
  • Try to avoid isolated areas. It is more difficult to get help if no one is around.
  • Walk with purpose. Even if you don’t know where you are going, act like you do.
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation or location feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it probably isn’t the best place to be.
  • Try not to load yourself down with packages or bags as this can make you appear more vulnerable.
  • Carry a small noisemaker (like a whistle) and/or flashlight on your keychain.
  • Make sure your cell phone is with you and charged.
  • Don't allow yourself to be isolated with someone you don’t trust or don’t know.
  • Avoid putting music headphones in both ears so that you can be more aware of your surroundings, especially if you are walking alone.
  • When driving:
    • Keep your doors locked;
    • Have extra car necessities (oil, jumper cables, etc.);
    • Try not to wait until the last minute to fill your gas tank; always keep it half-way full if you can;
    • Have your keys ready when you go to unlock your car.

In Social Situations

Approximately 2/3 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim… not by a stranger. So you need to be smart and aware even in social situations:

  • When you go to a social gathering, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, check in with each other throughout the evening, and leave together. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way out of a bad situation.
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe in any situation, go with your gut. If you see something suspicious, contact law enforcement immediately (local authorities can be reached by calling 911 in most areas of the U.S.).
  • Don't leave your beverage unattended while talking, dancing, using the restroom, or making a phone call. If you’ve left your drink alone, just get a new one.
  • Don't accept drinks from people you don't know or trust. At parties, don’t drink from the punch bowls or other large, common open containers.
  • Over half of sexual assaults committed against college students involve alcohol. Intoxication can make you significantly more vulnerable to assaults by impairing your judgment or inhibiting your physical ability to fight off an attacker. Biola has rules against alcohol for a reason.
  • Watch out for your friends, and vice versa. If a friend seems out of it, is intoxicated, or is acting out of character, get him or her to a safe place immediately.
  • If you suspect you or a friend has been drugged, contact law enforcement immediately (local authorities can be reached by calling 911 in most areas of the U.S.). Be explicit with doctors so they can give you the correct tests (you will need a urine test and possibly others).

If Someone is Pressuring You

If you need to get out of an uncomfortable or scary situation here are some things that you can try:

  • Remember that being in this situation is not your fault. You did not do anything wrong, it is the person who is making you uncomfortable that is to blame.
  • Be true to yourself. Don't feel obligated to do anything you don't want to do. "I don't want to" is always a good enough reason. Do what feels right to you and what you are comfortable with.
  • Have a code word with your friends or family so that if you don’t feel comfortable you can call them and communicate your discomfort without the person you are with knowing. Your friends or family can then come to get you or make up an excuse for you to leave.
  • Lie. If you don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings it is better to lie and make up a reason to leave than to stay and be uncomfortable, scared, or worse. Some excuses you could use are: needing to take care of a friend or family member, not feeling well, having somewhere else that you need to be, etc.
  • Try to think of an escape route. How would you try to get out of the room? Where are the doors? Windows? Are there people around who might be able to help you? Is there an emergency phone nearby?
  • If you and/or the other person have been drinking, you can say that you would rather wait until you both have your full judgment before doing anything you may regret later.

On a Date or in a Relationship

You can’t always avoid date sexual assault. However, there are things you can do to minimize the risk of sexual assault.

  • Be aware of controlling behavior in your date or relationship. sexual assault is a crime of power and control. Most sexual assault survivors recall feeling “uncomfortable” about some of their partner’s behaviors. See ‘Recognizing an Abuser’ (below).
  • Have clear limits for “how far is too far”, and make them right now, while you're reading this. In the heat of the moment is no time to be setting boundaries. The first step in preventing abuse is to define your limits clearly to yourself and then to act quickly when a date or partner intentionally or unintentionally crosses your stated boundaries.
  • State your clear limits and be firm. It is your body, and no one has the right to force you to do anything you don’t want to do. Many people have difficulty confronting coercive behavior because they have been socialized to be “polite”. If you do not want to be touched, you can say, “Don’t touch me,” or “Stop it, I’m not enjoying this.” Tell your partner, “If you do not respect my wishes right now, I’m leaving” and then do it if your partner won’t listen.
  • Do not give mixed messages. Say “yes” when you mean “yes” and “no” when you mean “no.” Be sure that your words do not conflict with other signals such as eye contact, voice tone, posture or gestures.
  • Be independent and aware on your dates. Do not be totally passive. Have opinions about where to go. Think about appropriate places to meet (and not your room or your date’s; these are the most likely places for acquaintance sexual assaults to occur).
  • Examine attitudes about money and power in the relationship. If your partner pays for the date, does it affect your ability to say “no”? Does your date have a sense of sexual entitlement attached to spending money on your relationship? If so, then you may consider paying your own way, or suggesting dates that do not involve money.
  • Avoid secluded places where could be vulnerable. If you are unsure of a new person in your life or if this person has exhibited some of the ‘abuser’ behaviors listed below, suggest a group or double date. Meet in public places, where there are other people and where you feel comfortable. This is especially important at the beginning of a relationship until you feel you know the person better.
  • Trust your gut feelings. If you feel you are in a dangerous situation, or that you are being pressured, you’re probably right, and you need to respond. Many sexual assault survivors report having had a “bad feeling” about the situation that led to their victimization. If a situation feels bad or you start to get nervous about your date’s behavior, confront the person immediately or leave as soon as possible.
  • If you feel pressured, coerced or fearful: protest loudly, leave and, go for help. Make a scene! Your best defense is to attract attention to the situation if you feel you are in trouble. In an attempt to be nice or avoid embarrassment, you may be reluctant to yell or run away to escape being attacked. If you are worried about hurting the aggressors’ feelings, remember, the aggressor is attempting to hurt you physically and psychologically.
  • Be aware that alcohol and drugs are often related to acquaintance sexual assault. They compromise your ability (and your partner’s ability) to make responsible decisions. Biola has rules about alcohol for a reason. Be able to get yourself home, and do not rely on others to “take care” of you.
  • Be aware of inequalities in the relationship. Sexual assault is a violent display of power. Does your partner perceive differences in terms of money, experience and age as entitling them to take power over you in the relationship? Someone who sexual assaults chooses to enforce such power imbalances in a sexual context.
  • Practice self-defense. Knowing in advance how you would respond to a physical threat greatly increases your chances of escape. Anyone can learn self-defense and classes are often available free or at a low cost through schools and community context.
  • Challenge sexist attitudes that make sexual assault acceptable. People often deny the assailant’s responsibility in a sexual assault by blaming the victim. People may do this to convince themselves that only “bad” people are at risk for sexual assault and that as long as they live their lives by certain moral standards, they are safe. Everyone is a potential target of violence. People can resist sexual assault by challenging the attitude that those who are sexually assaulted “deserve” to be victimized, and by intervening on behalf of those in danger.

REMEMBER: If your prevention strategies do not work, it is not your fault if you are sexually assaulted. At any point when you are in a vulnerable situation, the other person has a range of choices; if that person chooses to commit sexual assault, that choice is 100% that person's responsibility.


Recognizing an Abuser

College provides an environment for many students to explore relationships and learn social skills, and perhaps develop serious commitments. However, inexperienced partners may not have the tools and experience needed to identify troubling behaviors. The earliest expressions of abuse aren’t always physical. Controlling habits can begin with manipulative comments or angry outbursts, either in-person or over phone, text or social media.

Sometimes it's not possible to recognize an abusive person before something bad happens. But if there are warning signs of a potentially problematic relationship, it is extremely important for you to be able to recognize them, before an abusive situation escalates. The most common indicators of high-risk emotional or physical abuse are below:

Emotional abuse

  • Tone: Seemingly harmless statements can transform into threats or insults if your partner uses a disparaging or aggressive tone.
  • Language choice: A partner blames you for things or uses coarse language, such as swear words, while speaking to you.
  • Jealousy: Your partner seems suspicious of your interactions with other people. Your partner attempts to control your interactions, isolate you, or monitor your communications with others.
  • Controlling statements: Your partner issues commands or often says you “must” or “have to” do something.
  • Pejorative language: Your partner addresses or describes you with insulting names or adjectives, such as “stupid” or “idiotic.”
  • Threats: Your partner attempts to control you with “or else” statements or negative consequences if you don’t comply with their wishes. Your partner might threaten you with physical, emotional, or verbal abuse.

Physical abuse

  • Violence: Your partner uses unwanted and forceful contact. This can include anything from wrist grabs to strikes against your body.
  • Threatening body language: Your partner uses forceful movements, such as lunging toward you, glaring at your, or aggressively invading your personal space.
  • Damaging property: Your partner has lost their temper and damaged items or property, such as by punching or throwing things.
  • Additional resource: Sexual Abuse Recovery Programs


NOTE: This page is based heavily on material gathered from the following sources. We would strongly recommend RAINN for addtional information.

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