More guidance sought to ensure students stay safe

Family support is crucial for those affected by crime

Young people, it seems, really should learn to listen to their elders. In fact, while students are one of the most likely groups in society to fall victim to crime, a recent National Union of Students (NUS) report found that parents could play a key role in ensuring their safety.

The soon-to-be-published NUS Student Crime Research report, which was carried out between January and March of this year and in which more than 3,000 students from universities in England and Wales participated, found that crime affects one in five of all students, with 43 per cent feeling that students are at a higher risk of becoming victims of crime than others in the community.

But while students felt they needed better levels of support from the police station, university security, academic departments and student unions, the report found that students affected by crime "clearly welcomed" the support of their parents and friends.

In response to the survey, which found that students are susceptible to being victims of crime regardless of whether they are at university in a city or on a campus, the NUS wants information to be sent to the parents of students before their children start university, giving guidance on how they can help them stay safe.

"The report clearly highlights the crucial role parents play in supporting students who have been victims of crime," says Ben Whittaker, vice-president for welfare at the NUS. "To reduce crime across university campuses, we must make sure parents play a key role in helping to educate students about crime prevention. The NUS will be working alongside the Home Office to ensure parents play a more prominent role in the year ahead."

According to the Home Office, people aged 16 to 24 are three times more likely to be the victims of burglary than people in any other age group. Yet 41 per cent of students surveyed by the NUS did not report being a victim of crime to the police.

Last year, the Home Office awarded the NUS £175,000 to prevent student burglary rising during the economic downturn and they channelled it into a student crime prevention campaign. As well as conducting this research, the NUS organised two national crime conferences and established a student crime website, The Lock, where students can find tips on how to stay safe. This year, the Home Office has allocated a further £160,000 for the NUS crime project, although this is being reviewed by the Home Office.

Yet for Liam Challenger, associate president of community well-being at Leeds Metropolitan University students' union, keeping safe while studying is not "rocket science". After Leeds Universities and Colleges Crime Reduction Partnership was awarded more than £70,000 by the Home Office last year, Challenger said that "partnership" between students, students' unions, parents and police officers has proved essential in combating crime.

"Universities are safe places, but it is also about changing people's culture before they arrive and making sure they have thought things through – this is when parents can come in," he says. "Students have to remember to do the same things they would take for granted at home – for example, lock all your doors and don't leave a laptop or keys next to an open window."

According to the Home Office, crimes mostly affecting students are mugging, vehicle-related theft and burglary. Yet while they report that students own more expensive consumer goods per head than the rest of the population, only 41 per cent of students surveyed by the NUS say they had any type of contents insurance.

Research by Endsleigh Insurance found that an average student's laptops, mobile phones and similar goods were worth more than £6,000. "It might seem like a little thing, but while most halls of residence have insurance, it won't usually cover laptops," says Challenger. "It is important students know to check the finer details."

History student Ben Jaf (not his real name) moved to King's College London from Swindon more than two years ago. Having been mugged last year, he was beaten up early this year by five men outside his students' union, when they mistook him for someone else. Asked if his parents had given him any advice before university, Jaf, 20, said: "Just the usual 'Keep to yourself and don't provoke anyone. If anyone tries to steal something off you, just give it to them'."

Although he chose not to tell his parents about any of his attacks for fear of worrying them, he says that he would advise students to try to walk home from nights out in large groups, as well as making sure personal goods are insured. While his phone was stolen in one of the muggings, he said he had insured it before starting university.

Yet while Leicestershire police officer Harvey Watson, who is the vice-chair of the Police Association of Higher Education Liaison Officers, says students are a "very hard population to reach", he assures parents that there are many support networks for students, once they know where to go.

"I know parents are worried when their children first leave home, but they should be encouraged to assist and support the student and make sure they are aware of all the help that is on offer," he says. "Everyone wants their kids to be safe; but ultimately, all anyone can do is help them to take responsibility for themselves."

TEN SAFETY TIPS

* Lock windows and doors when you go out. Fit doors with a Yale-style lock and with a five-lever Mortice deadlock.

* Don't leave your valuables on display in your home or your car.

* Mark your possessions with an ultraviolet pen, including your student registration number plus the initials of your university.

* Ensure that your insurance is enough to cover the theft of personal belongings.

* Don't flash mobile phones and iPods when you are out, and carry your laptop in a sports bag, not a laptop case.

* Never leave your phone or your handbag unattended, even for just a few seconds.

* Carry a personal alarm – even if you are a man.

* Watch for people crowding around you when you use a cash machine.

* Be suspicious of emails and phone calls that request too much personal information.

* After a night out, arrange to go back home with friends, or in a licensed taxi.

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