I never doubted the value of my little bottle of pepper spray.
As a Washington, D.C., intern last summer, I spent countless hours on the public subway system and walked to my car at the station late at night many times. I was aware it was a station where five attempted sexual assaults had previously occurred.
Each time I made that walk, I would discreetly grasp my pepper spray—a present from my parents—and hope that I wouldn’t be making the trek to the parking garage with any of the degenerates I’d seen on the train. I didn’t realize the worthlessness of that bottle until I thought I might actually have to use it. A suspicious-acting man driving an old, beat-up car followed me through the empty parking lot until I reached my own car. It was then that I realized my complete vulnerability, a feeling that was solidified for me after attending my first year at Virginia Tech.
The false sense of security that a college campus provides is what allows women to lower their guard, unwittingly putting themselves at greater risk. Sure, we hear the horrors caused by date-rape drugs and too much drinking, but who is on guard at the bus stop, on a mid-day jog around campus, or even just in the classroom?
The answer? Nobody.
Nobody was on guard that terrible morning in April at Virginia Tech, myself included. Most universities in Virginia, including Tech, require students to check their firearms with local police or campus security. This policy didn’t stop the gunman. Nobody could defend themselves, and nobody was safe from his rampage. What’s worse is that Virginia Tech administrators previously applauded the defeated efforts by the Virginia General Assembly to allow Tech students to carry concealed weapons on campus.
Following the most recent attempt to pass a bill in early 2006, Tech Spokesman Larry Hincker self-righteously responded in a January 31st article in the Roanoke Times that, “I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on campus.”
Although a tragedy of that magnitude will hopefully be avoided in the future, we should not overlook the fact that students, particularly young women, face daily risks on college campuses.
How should young women protect themselves? For that matter, how should any innocent citizen avoid being a victim? According to the Metropolitan Police Department, you should stay alert and “wear clothing and shoes that give you freedom of movement.” Those are well-intentioned ideas, but for those of us not interning at Sports Authority, sneakers and running shorts are usually not included in our daily dress-code.