To walk alone at night: Staying safe in Oxford after dark

Posted on Oct 27 2016 - 8:01am by McKenna Wierman

(Photo by: Ariel Cobbert)

“I walked home from the Square to the Hub once,” Olivia Kelley, a senior art major, said. “It was the Arkansas game last year, [my] junior year. My friend and I made it all the way to Firehouse Subs, and then a limo picked us up because they felt bad for us.”

If you haven’t done it, you know someone who has. And if it’s never happened to you, it’s happened to someone you know. A late night out at the Square, at a party, somewhere out in Oxford, hits the witching hour.

It’s time to go home.

Maybe you were just trying to save a few bucks and took a ride home from a stranger who offered. Or maybe a group walk home from the Square turned into you at 2 a.m. wandering down a street you didn’t recognize in the dark. Sometimes, we don’t think about it; we stagger through the Oxford night, eventually finding our way home. We might be rescued by a benevolent cab driver. Other times, we come face-to-face with that terrible feeling: “I am not safe.”

Around town and over campus, there is an unease that comes with nightfall.

According to the 2016 University of Mississippi Annual Security Report, between 2013 and 2014, there were eight reported “Forcible Sex Offenses” on campus and one off-campus. In 2015, seven rapes were reported on campus and one reported off-campus. UPD’s report also documented 30 counts of “Forcible Sex Offenses” reported to the Oxford Police Department and 29 reported to the Lafayette County Sheriff Department from 2013-2015. Since the beginning of the 2016 fall semester, there have been 25 reported sexual offenses and 56 reports of sexual harassment on campus.

We shouldn’t have to be afraid of the people who shepherd us home at night, but the fact is, there will always be people who will try and take advantage. Drunk, sober, drugged, strangers, classmates, whatever — it does not matter. If someone takes advantage of you, it is no one’s fault but the person who did it.

But how many nights have we climbed practically blind into any car, truck, pedicab — anything— that meant a ride home? It turns out the friendly classmate giving you a lift may not be so sweet after all. If it hasn’t happened to you, it’s happened to someone you know.

Kelley said she thinks students are sometimes reluctant to use taxis in Oxford because they want to save money.

“[People] are like, ‘Oh I’ll just walk home,’ and that’s when bad things happen,” Kelly said. “Because they don’t want to spend money.”

Kelley and Alisa Fuller, a senior integrated marketing and communications major,  said when they were freshmen, sexual assault wasn’t something they knew much about.

“People spiking your drink, that’s the only thing I ever heard about it in college,” Kelley said. “I never heard about just you being drunk by your own choice, like, you buying your own drinks and then someone takes advantage of you.”

“My mom always told me ‘make your own drink,’ but that is the only thing she talked about in relation to sexual assault,” Fuller said. “I didn’t really know other ways that it could go down.”

Three years later, Kelley and Fuller are very aware of what is and is not considered sexual assault, thanks to education efforts from campus resources and student organizations like Rebels Against Sexual Assault.

The university is also taking more protective measure to help ensure its students get home safe at night.  UPD Crime Prevention lists several safety tips on their website, including tips for walking around town and protecting yourself while you’re driving and when you’re at home. They have also coordinated the Rebel Patrol Student Escort Service, which offers escorts for anyone concerned about walking alone on campus. There are also several emergency telephones placed strategically throughout campus. These “Code Blue” telephone poles feature a button that connects directly to UPD when pressed.

University Chief of Police Tim Potts said there are many tips students can follow to avoid being put in risky situations. The one he pushes for the most is enforcing the buddy system, which involves not only going to the party or event together but leaving together, too. Potts said people get separated, and that’s okay, but just have a plan of what to do if it happens, and do not leave without knowing where they are and that they’re okay.

Potts said if the friend can’t be contacted and it’s out of character for the person to not be with the group, it’s okay to notify the police department.

“You don’t have to wait 24 hours to file a report,” Potts said. “Get us involved early.”

Potts also recommends people letting their friends know when they are leaving somewhere by themselves. This gives the friends a time frame for the person to be home or to get where he or she is going, and it raises flags if that person isn’t there by that time.

“I don’t want to scare people, but I think too often people are comfortable in their surroundings,” Potts said.

He said on campus, people walk around so focused on their cellphones, sending a text or on social media that they’re distracted and missing so much of what’s going on around them.

“Having a daughter who is a sophomore in college up in Indiana right now, I see how engrossed she can be on the cellphone and with sending texts back and forth,” Potts said. “It’s just amazing what you can miss when you’re doing that. I would say just put it away for five minutes until you get to your location.”

In Oxford, we often find ourselves snuggling under a blanket of security that’s not as thick as we might imagine. Our police go above and beyond to keep us safe, and our campus has gone through great lengths to erect security measures so we don’t feel threatened when we walk in the dark. But monsters can hide in plain sight, and maybe instead of being afraid of whom we go home with at night, we should be conscious of how to avoid unsafe situations, recognize when we see others heading toward them and take action to help keep Oxford safe.