With the start of school upon us, one issue I am certain that all of you, as current and future college parents, care deeply about is the personal safety of your children.

If your sons and daughters have yet to head off to college, you have concerns I am sure, but also a greater degree of control over their behavior and schedules. Once your young adult is away at college, however, the control disappears and you are probably wondering: how safe is it and what can I do to help?

While statistics only tell part of the story, you should be aware that a federal law, originally passed by Congress and signed by former President Bush in 1990, does require all colleges and universities to track and publish campus crime statistics.

Specifically, by October 1 each year, schools must produce and distribute an annual report detailing campus crime statistics for the past three years. Colleges and universities are also required to provide policy statements, descriptions of their crime prevention programs, and protocol for investigating and prosecuting alleged sex crimes.

By the same date, schools also must give all current employees and students a copy of their annual security report or distribute an official notice with a brief description of its contents. Colleges and universities must announce the report’s availability and its specific Web site address, along with directions for obtaining a printed copy.

In addition, schools are required, under this law, to keep an accessible public record of all crimes reported to campus safety or security, and to ensure that all prospective students and employees are made aware of the availability of all of the information described above.

While the collection and dissemination of crime statistics is valuable, the intention of the law is to go beyond mere reporting of numbers, and to create a mechanism for colleges and universities to track and monitor their progress in deterring campus crime. The data does, of course, create benchmarks, through which schools can measure themselves from a campus safety perspective against other institutions, as well as to determine areas and trends that may need more attention on their own campus or in close proximity.

This proximity point is very important. Not only are colleges required to cite the crimes that occur on campus, they also must work with the appropriate local law enforcement agency to report those crimes that occur near a campus, or on public property within a campus.

The law specifies that a crime is considered “reported” when a victim or witness notifies a campus security officer or the local police of the incident. The most common crimes on college campuses are incidents of theft or vandalism, but assaults, including sexual assaults, are a reality that you should certainly be aware of and consider talking to your young adult about before the school year begins.
It is a statistical – and sad – fact that the majority of campus crimes are perpetrated by students themselves. Often these “crimes” are relatively harmless youthful indiscretions involving a practical joke and/or silly, repairable vandalism of property. Many times, however, the crimes are much more serious and often, these offenses involve alcohol or drugs.

For sexual assaults in particular, a common denominator is often alcohol and/or drug use by the perpetrator, the victim or both. Research also reveals that the vast majority of situations involving sexual assault occur between acquaintances.

So while it is extremely important to remind your young adult to take basic safety measures such as locking their dorm room and not walking alone at night, it is also important to have a more nuanced conversation with your son or daughter about the friends and acquaintances they will develop and how they should try to determine the age-old notion of trust.

Remind your son or daughter that it is natural to want to believe the best in people. But also warn them that there are people who can mask their intention to do harm and who choose to prey on the vulnerability of others.

The fact is that these people can be anywhere; I am sure you know some in your community or in your workplace. Unfortunately, they can also be on a college campus.

I know that this is not exactly an uplifting column, but I hope that it does encourage you to talk to your son or daughter about the uncomfortable issue of personal safety as part of your “letting go” process.