I wish I could send my daughter off to her first year of college with our “big happy guy” as she calls Stormy, one of our family dogs. He is a loyal and devoted Newfoundland-Poodle mix. If he were to head off to school with her in the fall, he would be her best friend and love-bug during what can be a lonely first six weeks of school. He’d snuggle with her on her bed and sleep in front of the door so no one could get in at night. His care and feeding would require her to get home before midnight. He can tell friend from foe and so could vet potential suitors and weed out the nogoodniks. In a word, he’d keep her safe, the most important thing I want for my daughter, during her first year of college. But college, sadly, is not Hogwarts and Stormy would not be welcome.

When I went to college in the 80s there was an air of anticipation, an opportunity to have fun and learn a few things. My parents were happy to send me off leaving one less kid in the house. Now that I’m getting ready to send my seventeen-year-old daughter to school at the end of the summer, I’m both happy and scared for her. There have been so many news stories about campus rape that I find myself more worried than excited, hence my idea of sending her with a furry, four-legged, bodyguard.

So instead of wallowing in fear, I chose to do everything I could to give my daughter the tools to keep her safe. I’ve taken everything I’ve read, synthesized it, added my own personal experience, sprinkled a touch of reality and a dash of creativity and came up with a recipe for safety. Here is what I know from the information I’ve gathered which covers newspaper articles over the last year, the SARE trial report, and Jon Krakauer’s new book, Missoula:

About twenty percent of college women will be sexually assaulted often in their freshman year, often involving alcohol. Of those rapes, only twenty percent will be reported. Why is this?

1. Rape is probably the only crime where those in authority call the victim’s story into question. Because of the lack of understanding and compassion shown to the victims of sexual assault there is reluctance to report assaults to the police.

2. Due to the element of self-blame and embarrassment (What could I have done to prevent this? What did I do to cause this?) women don’t report assaults.

3. Because of a lack of knowledge as to what constitutes rape, coupled with the fact that the victim may have been drinking or drugged, she doesn’t always know that what has been done to her is rape. “I don’t remember what happened.” “He wore me down physically and/or mentally (coercion) and I eventually gave in.”

4. A rapist may also not know that what he has done is considered rape.

The SARE (Sexual Assault Resistance Education) program for college women has been proven effective in reducing rapes on campus. It teaches women:

1. to assess the riskiness of any given situation they may find themselves in.

2. self-defense techniques in order to fight off a potential rapist.

3. to set up personal sexual boundaries, which allows them to better articulate and defend themselves.

There is a campus rape crisis because we as a society are not properly educating our young men and women about healthy relationships. We are not teaching them about alcohol consumption and how to set and recognize proper sexual boundaries. We are not teaching them what constitutes rape. If every high school senior was required to read Missoula by Jon Krakauer, I believe we could make our college campuses a lot safer for everyone.

Until there are some educational programs for both men and women in place in our schools, it is up to young women to take a “defensive driving” approaching to living on college campuses. As parents we must recognize a couple of things about college life: that our daughters will probably be drinking and having sex. Once we accept this we can help to keep them safe. I got my daughter, her closest friends and their moms together to talk about our own college experiences and safe drinking strategies. We allowed them to experiment with different drink recipes.

These are some safe drinking suggestions:

1. Always eat a meal before going out drinking. You won’t get drunk as quickly.

2. Stick to beer. If you don’t like the taste of beer you can make it more palatable by mixing it up! Try beer mixed with orange juice, ginger beer and lime juice or hard cider and cranberry juice.

3. Watch your drink. Make sure no one tampers with it or better yet, be cool and bring your own drink to the party in a cool cup or in a water bottle on a strap.

4. When you go out, stay in a group. Don’t go home alone.

5. Be proactive in your social life! Don’t just go to frat parties. Host your own with your friends! That way you can control the venue, type of beverages served and your guest list.

Educate yourself and be self-aware:

6. Take both a verbal and physical self-defense class. Sometimes you can diffuse a situation with just a conversation.

7. Figure out your sexual boundaries. How far are you willing to go? This will allow you to be assertive if a guy is trying to coerce you into having sex.

8. Be aware when you’re out. Ask yourself: Am I in a risky situation? For example, if you arrive at a party with hardly any women, leave. Nothing good is going to happen there.

9. If you are going to have sex, use a condom to prevent pregnancy and disease. People lie about having STDs.

10. If you are assaulted: Don’t be ashamed. It is not your fault. It is the rapist’s fault. Call your parents. Go to the hospital. Report the assault to the police. Let your friends know. This is the only way to get justice and to stop a rapist from striking again.

After sharing this information with my daughter, do I still want to send her to school with Stormy? Of course I do! But I need to let her go, and really, now that I think about it, I believe it was more dangerous at Hogwarts…

Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and founder of Doodle Art & Design, a lunchtime elementary school art program and summer camp. Check it out on Facebook! She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs: Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com

Kathleen Thometz

I am an artist, writer, and art instructor with four children, one husband, and two doodle-dogs. I have contributed articles to the mid.com and Chicago Parent Magazine and wrote the Artist's Eye column...