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Column: As women, taking every precaution against violence is still not enough

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DTH Photo Illustration. Two UNC students take a nighttime jog, photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

Before I left for college, my family ensured that I understood a few simple things about going to school: be kind to your roommate, call home often and never walk alone at night.

Their final piece of advice, however, meant more than just not to walk alone in the dark. It encompassed everything my parents wanted to say to to me about staying safe at college. So while they told me to not walk alone at night, they meant to never be alone at night in general, to always be aware of my surroundings, to never be alone with someone I do not trust, to make sure my new friends have my location and that I have theirs, to tell others where I was going and to always, always be careful.

I wonder if parents have these same conversations with their sons, arming them for their college education with the knowledge of how to avoid being murdered in the dark — and perhaps a large bottle of pepper spray. Do parents indiscriminately convey safety advice to all their children, or solely to their daughters, the ones they accurately deem more vulnerable to violence?

This year has been wrought with public violence against women on college campuses — from men like the “Tucson Taker” who groped and attempted to kidnap female students at the University of Arizona, to last month's Augusta University nursing student Laken Riley, who was murdered while running at the University of Georgia.

Riley did everything right. She ran during the daytime on a popular trail, shared her location with her friends and told them where she was going and when she would be back — but she was still robbed of her life at the hands of a man who, according to Athens-Clarke County Sheriff John Williams, simply “woke up with bad intentions on that day.”

The fact that women can take every precaution possible and continue to be at risk is terrifying. It raises the question: would anything Laken Riley could have done been enough? Will anything ever be enough to guarantee complete safety for women?

I should not have to tell my friends to stop going on their daily runs, that they cannot venture into what we had previously determined as the “safe” neighborhoods of Chapel Hill because of newfound notions that nowhere is safe. I should not have to glance behind my shoulder every step I take coming back from Davis Library at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday just to make sure no one is following me, always with one earbud out and someone on the phone to make sure I make it back to my dorm.

As women, we should not have to live in fear in our everyday lives. We should not have to forcibly change our habits, to stop doing things we enjoy because someone has bad intentions. 

This is a problem which women should not have to deal with, let alone attempt to prevent. Pepper spray should not be a graduation gift, and drink testing strips should not have to be so normalized and coveted. The responsibility to keep women safe from everyday dangers should not be an individual effort. When our parents talk to us before they send us off to college, they should not have to communicate their fears for our safety, telling us what to avoid so we may not lose our lives. Instead, they should be able to encourage us to enjoy our college education, their only worry being that we won’t call home enough.