It’s any university’s worst nightmare when students don’t take their own safety seriously. But while USC’s Dept. of Public Safety does an excellent job informing students about potential dangers and risk prevention in the neighborhood, it doesn’t adequately address the threats students face from their own peers.
The Daily Trojan reported last Thursday that new technology, including surveillance cameras and electronic tracking software, was aiding DPS in apprehending criminals, particularly those who steal students’ electronic devices.
In the same article, DPS told the Daily Trojan that theft in Fluor Tower was partially a result of its location on the periphery of campus. This mistakenly suggests that crime tends to be an external threat.
But the reality remains: College students can be criminals, too. According to a 2010 study released by MyBackgroundCheck.com, a website you can visit to purchase and share personal background checks, one in 29 college students has a criminal record. Nearly 20 percent of these students were booked for theft, assault or sexual abuse.
According to crime statistics published by DPS, nearly half of all reported burglaries in 2010 occurred on campus. Many students worry about being mugged on the way to and from campus, but on-campus burglaries alone occurred more than twice as often as forcible thefts.
These on-campus thefts tend to happen most frequently in classrooms, libraries and dorms. Though non-students are sometimes granted limited access to these areas, students represent the overwhelming majority of their traffic and are no doubt responsible for some of these thefts.
The “Crime Prevention Tips” section on the DPS website does little to rectify the situation. The site fails to acknowledge the potential for students to be criminals. The section on “Residential Burglary,” for example, warns against the anonymous thief who might come in through an unlocked door or window, but not the across-the-hall neighbor who might see your open door while you go to the bathroom as an opportunity.
Students not only face the possibility of peers stealing from them, but also a more serious threat: sexual assault.
According to statistics compiled by the New York Coalition Against Sexual Assault, one in four college women will be a victim of sexual assault during their academic career, and at least 80 percent of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim. Though these are national statistics, USC is not exempt.
Again, the DPS website is disappointing on its coverage of the subject. It does, at least, feature a page on “Acquaintance Rape,” but the page doesn’t go beyond treating male perpetrators of sexual violence as victims of their own ignorance. It advises male students not to “fall for the common stereotype” that “no” means “yes” — as if sexual assault was a mistake any guy could make. It also advises students to intervene on behalf of other students, commenting, “You may save the woman from the trauma of sexual assault and your friend from the ordeal of criminal prosecution.” To equate the punishment for intentional actions with the trauma of sexual assault further removes the blame from the student perpetrator.
DPS shouldn’t be making these kinds of excuses: not for student-perpetrated theft, and certainly not for student-perpetrated sexual assault. Rather, they should bite the bullet and be honest with the student body about the risks that students pose to each other.
We are a community of 40,000 students, and the ability to be accepted into USC does not guarantee a respect for property or human dignity. Students need to be reminded by public officials that there are members of the USC community who lack respect for their peers, and that we should be protecting ourselves from them as well as non-student criminals.
Francesca Bessey is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies and international relations. Her column “Open Campus” runs Wednesdays.