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  • Blue Phones & SafeWalk Programs on College Campuses

  • Location: Vancouver, Canada

    *For specificity reasons, this Wise Practice will zoom in on UBC’s programs; however, it is important to recognize that Bluelight posts and safe walking programs have been implemented all over Canada and beyond

    Bluelight security system technology and late night walking programs, such as SafeWalk, are preventative measures to ensure students, specifically women and gender queer individuals, feel safe when going about campus (especially after dark). 

    Organization: A number of university campuses globally, including University of British Columbia

    *For specificity reasons, this Wise Practice will zoom in on UBC’s programs; however, it is important to recognize that Bluelight posts and safe walking programs have been implemented all over Canada and beyond

    About the Wise Practice

    The increased campaigning and widespread awareness of sexual violence against women that arose out of the #MeToo campaign spearheaded by Tarana Burke as early as 2006 was accompanied by an increased awareness of instances of sexual assault and harassment specifically on university campuses. Sexual violence amongst college cohorts, specifically perpetuated against women (particulary queer, women of colour, disabled, international students) has been happening for decades. However, as public attention grew, college administrators felt the pressure to take action in lowering and ultimately eradicating the rates of sexual violence on campuses. 

    Bystander intervention training was one program that was developed to address tangible action other students can take to help their peers and prevent instances of sexual assault from happening. According to Psychology Today, “The best-known model of bystander intervention is the situational model created by Latane and Darley (1970). The five-step model suggests that the decision to intervene is complex: bystanders must first notice the event, interpret it as an emergency, take responsibility for acting, decide how to act, and choose to act.”

     Often, these programs are offered at the beginning of the semester (when rates of sexual assault are the highest, leading to what is known as the “Red Zone”) but are typically offered to students throughout the school year. In such training programs, issues including giving and receiving consent and healthy relationships are also addressed. The University of Guelph-Humber has one of the most well-known programs among Canadian college campuses. Its learning outcomes are described below:

    Participants will be able to…

    1. Define sexual violence, rape culture, and sexual consent
    2. Describe at least two bystander intervention strategies they would use
    3. Articulate at least two factors that influence their decision to intervene or not intervene
    4. Develop empathy for survivors of sexual violence

    These programs empower students to safely intervene when witnessing a fellow student in a situation of potential danger.

    Category

    Safety

    Goals

    Goal 1: Prevent and eliminate all forms of violence and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (NUA 13c, 39; SDG 5.2; CEDAW article 6).

    Measurement

    According to UBC’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey, SafeWalk helps about 300-600 people per month get to their location safely. Roughly 567 transports were made by the Campus Police in 2017 in addition to Safewalk, down from 805 in 2016.. UBC Campus Security reported that the sexual assault rate for UBC in 2017 was less than 2013. Considering over a million dollars was invested in blue light technology in 2017, increasing the number of blue lights on campus to 71 (4x the number of blue phones in 2014), the fact that sexual assault rates were lower is indeed promising.

    Monitoring

    Campus security coordinates the blue phone programs. UBC has a specific SafeWalk coordinator and trained volunteer walkers, which is similar to that of many other university campuses. Data is collected annually as to how many times the phones are used. UBC reported 61 calls in 2017, with 6 of them being classified as being made due to suspicious activity and 16% being emergency situations (ie. suspicious activity, medical assistance). According to one report, the number of calls made have been consistently declining since 2014. UBC Campus Security publishes annual reports reviewing the year’s events and activities.

    Lessons Learned

    Although Bluelight safety emergency phones have been effective, there is criticism that mobile apps may be more worth pursuing. However, when taking equity and accessibility into account, it is important to recognize not all students can afford technology, specifically mobile phones. Many phone batteries also die after a night out; blue light programs work regardless of access to mobile phones or battery drainage.

    Resources and More Information

    1. Do Emergency Blue Light Boxes Work?
    2. Safewalk – AMS of UBC
    3. Blue Phones – UBC Campus Security
    4. Safewalk Improves with Updates to Services