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May 22, 2024

A Back to School Letter to College Students

The first few weekends of college can really make or break your entire college experience. Your residence hall staff will probably tell you that the best time to get out and make new friends in college is in the first few weeks. That window is when everyone else is looking for new friends too. Some of you are trying to figure out which fraternity or sorority you want to join, or what club to be a part of. And understandably, many of you will find yourself at parties, bars, or on dating apps in an attempt to find them. And listen, I get it. I’ve been there.

For many of you, this is the first time in your life your parents, guardians, teachers, and coaches aren’t looking over your shoulder watching your every move. Maybe you rebel in your newfound freedom a little bit too much. I’m not here to judge.

But doing the work I do, it is easy to notice the trends. The past weekend, I took phone call after phone call as hospitals and law enforcement officers around the state called us to report sexual assaults for young people between the ages of 17-24. My heart broke with each call.

You see, working at the Iowa Victim Service Call Center, I take a lot of calls for traumatic events. Every single one is difficult. But something about this spike in calls involving college-age sexual assaults during the first few weekends of school is extra hard.

I’m not far removed from college myself. A lot of my friends are still in college. And with each call I took I thought to myself “What if this had been me? Or one of my friends? What if what was supposed to be the most exciting time in my life – the moment where I ventured off to do things for myself, meet new people, and try new things – was tainted right from the start?” Looking back, I know I found myself in plenty of situations that could have easily turned bad, but luckily didn’t. I know that some of you won’t be so lucky. And it won’t be your fault.

I’m not writing this to tell you not to go to parties, or get mad at you for drinking underage. I’m not here to tell you to avoid any situation where something bad could happen, because those are endless and it isn’t fair to ask you not to live your life just because there are bad people in the world. But I do want to offer you some resources to help you stay safe and find help in the event that something does happen.

The first is an app called Noonlight. The app is simple. If you are walking alone at night, you hold the button down until you get where you are going. Once you let go of the button, you punch in your passcode so the app knows you are safe. If you let go of the button but don’t type in your passcode, authorities will be contacted and your location will be sent along with it. This app might also be useful if you find yourself in a situation where you need to contact authorities but don’t feel safe to make the phone call and alert whoever you are with that you are contacting law enforcement. There are tons of other apps like this one, so feel free to do your research and find the one that works best for you.

The second resource I want to tell you about is our hotline. We can help you find other safety planning resources, like Noonlight, if you aren’t sure how to find them. We can also help in the aftermath of a traumatic event if something ever does happen. The truth is that I hope our advocates never need to take your call. We would love to live in a world where our services aren’t necessary. But for now, they still are. We believe you. We know this wasn’t your fault. We want to help. And we are only a phone call or text away. Call 1.800.770.1650 or text “iowahelp” to 20121.

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