This fall, several women have been attacked on the streets of Calgary, reminding residents that safety isn’t always a given.
But there are a few things that post-secondary students in Calgary can do to keep safe on and around campus after hours.
Stephen Tousignat-Barnes, co-ordinator of the Safewalk program at the University of Calgary, says the best way to keep safe is to try not to walk alone, whenever you can.
“The presence of one or two additional people is the greatest deterrent to an attack, period. The best example of how this works is actually Safewalk,” said Tousignant-Barnes.
SAIT, the University of Calgary, and Mount Royal University all have Safewalk programs in place to protect their students from attacks on campus.
The idea behind the Safewalk program is that there is safety in numbers.
Volunteers are available for students to call if they feel uneasy walking around campus after hours.
All three Safewalk programs use volunteers who travel in pairs while patrolling the campus.
Students can call in when they are ready to leave, and are escorted to their car or bus/train stop by the two-person team.
Safewalk volunteers at each school can currently leave the campus up to a certain distance, which differs from school to school.
Volunteers for every program undergo some training, usually in the form of self-defense and first-aid courses.
“Volunteers attend a class called ‘Safe and Sound,’ where we learn tips to stay safe and what to do in the event of an attack,” said Stepanie Kusnick of the Mount Royal University program.
SAIT and the University of Calgary both run criminal background checks on all of their volunteers.
Safewalk volunteers are distinguished by their navy blue uniforms with ‘Safewalk’ written on the back.
Volunteers must be SAIT students and they are expected to work at least three hours a week and to remain in radio contact with SAIT Campus Security during their shifts.
Safewalk receives a steady inflow of volunteers and as of October, the program had 20 active volunteers, and the numbers were increasing.
“A lot of people are willing to volunteer because it is good for resumes,” said SAIT Safewalk co-ordinator Maria Salazar.
The program is always looking for friendly, trustworthy volunteers with leadership skills.
“The more the merrier,” said Salazar.
Students interested in having Safewalk escort them can stop by the SAITSA student resource center in the Stan Grad Centre (formerly known as the Heart building.)
Students can also call or email SAITSA, and volunteers will come to their location at a prearranged time and escort them from there. Customers may stop volunteers on patrol and ask to be escorted from there as well.
Outside of campus, or when Safewalk is unavailable, there are still things students and all residents of Calgary can do to keep themselves safe when travelling on the streets at night.
It is important to be aware of your surroundings and know the path you will take, both Tousignant-Barnes and Kusnick said.
“Know which buildings you can get into if you need to get inside, know the sketchy, unlit areas and avoid them,” said Tousignant-Barnes.
Being alert and watching your surroundings can also help you react in case an emergency does occur.
“Avoid using technology while walking. Being on your cell phone or listening to your iPod can be just the distraction attackers are looking for,” Kusnick said.
“Walk with confidence, avoid looking like a victim, and it is less likely that you will become one.”
SAIT’s own Safewalk program runs from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and campus security is available whenever they are not.