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It’s an exciting time, graduating from high school and leaving for college. Millions of young people will head off to A&M, UT, Baylor, Texas Tech and other colleges in the next few weeks and, for the first time, they will be truly responsible for making their way thorough all sorts of new challenges like doing laundry, balancing a checkbook and staying alive. Yes, safety is a huge concern today. Even in the lush, peaceful tropics of Aruba or the nearby familiarity of Mexico, bad things happen to good people. The statistics are sobering when it comes to the safety of college women. According to one Web site (rainn.org), college age women are four times as likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population. National reports indicate that 73 percent of the women knew their assailant. Sexual assaults occur in or near the victim’s residence one-third of the time with one-half of rapes perpetrated by first or casual dates. Still, many studies reminds college women that safety on campus is nothing to scoff about. Universities routinely provide safety information and large campuses offer complimentary escorts by officers or campus volunteers for women who are out at night. Hardin House, a private dormitory near the UT campus, provides a whistle on each key chain to its residents. Pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum), another oft-suggested safety device, is made from cayenne peppers. It comes in several strengths and a variety of sprayers. The Internet has dozens of listings where pepper spray can be purchased in numerous forms and fashions such as key chains, fountain pens, pagers, pocket clips, and holsters, all in either 10 or 15 percent solutions. And it will definitely stop an attacker. “Contact with mucous membranes will cause immediate dilation of the capillaries of the eyes, result in temporary blindness and instant inflammation of the breathing tube tissues, cutting off all but breathing,” says The Pepper Spray Store (www.pepper-spray-store.com). Defense authorities say just owning pepper spray is not sufficient. Matt Numrich, a self-defense expert and owner of Elite Defense Systems, says, “Many students buy pepper spray as a quick fix, but just buying it isn’t enough.” Experts recommend familiarizing yourself with the spray, testing it every six months and getting an hour or two of training with it if possible. Other good advice for young women: There is safety in numbers; group dates are a great place to start. Never get in a car with someone you don’t know. Never let a first time date know where you live; meet in a public place for the first date or two. Don’t give out your personal information. Stay away from secluded beaches and other private spots. Make sure at least one other person knows where you are going and with whom and arrange to check in with that person at some point during the date. Most importantly, go with your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. It might save your life. – Cynthia Calvert