The neon lights are flashing in sync with the beat of the music. It’s humid and sticky with so many bodies packed together in front of the stage.
But that doesn’t bother Brooklyn Angel.
This is her first EDM concert. The genre is new to her, but her college friends are big fans of electronic music. And when they found out that Zomboy, a famous DJ, was headlining at The Ritz concert venue in Raleigh, it was decided. Brooklyn had to tag along.
Independence. Freedom. It is her freshman year of college at UNC-Chapel Hill. It feels good to be having a new experience, almost as if nothing could ruin this night.
Suddenly, a hand touches her from behind. Probably someone bumping into her. But now it is running down her body with a forceful grip that doesn’t seem to be a mistake.
She’s red in the face. He’s obviously not with her. Other people notice it too. But they avert eye contact and don’t step in.
The guy begins slapping her “in inappropriate areas” and then slips back into the crowd as she pulls away.
She tried to tell herself it wasn’t a big deal. But it was.
“These things are so normalized,” she said. “But even in a party or social setting, I don’t really think it is okay.”
Women like Brooklyn go to college campuses every fall eager to pursue their passions and make memories, but they often have something else in common: a fear for their safety.
It is not just at concerts where Brooklyn feels vulnerable.
It is waiting for the bus to class when autumn is creeping in and the mornings are getting darker and darker.
It is when she dresses up to go out in Chapel Hill — excited to wear that new, trendy piece that she saw in a magazine — and then starts to worry if her clothes look too edgy and “suggestive.”
It is when a man (her dad’s age) raves about how “sexy” she looks as she is walking home. She feels obligated to give some polite response so he won’t get mad at her for ignoring him and will leave her alone.
Sometimes Brooklyn is sitting with her male friends and there is a pause in conversation. The scenarios that she worries about start to escape her mouth, but she quickly stops herself, not wanting to sound overdramatic or paranoid.
She is not alone in her concerns.
Do you want to walk in the shoes of a college-aged woman? Here is a quick guide of things to do to protect yourself: a SparkNotes version to keep in mind.
SARAH CAISON — Do you want to run alone at night? Out of the question. Maybe during the day, but not with both headphones in.
“I think it is really hard to hear things while I’m running, like someone coming up behind me,” Sarah said. “I want to be aware.”
Keep one ear bud in; or better yet, don’t listen to music at all.
A common practice for many college women, including Sarah? Sharing your phone location with family and friends.
“We do think it’s necessary to share one another’s locations just in case for whatever reason, something happens,” Sarah said.
At least someone would be able to figure out where you were.
JENI CRUZ — Make sure you check the job description before you apply for that role. “Not too long ago, I got a job offer on Franklin Street as a waitress,” Jeni said.
But she didn’t take it.
“The hours were from 6 p.m.-12 a.m. and there was no way I was going to be walking back home that late at night.”
TAYLOR SOLOMON — If you live on the first floor, have a weapon close by to protect yourself. “I have two outdoor entrances to my room,” Taylor said.
“I’m on the back of the house downstairs, so I’m always afraid someone’s going to break in down here and it scares me and sometimes I can’t sleep at night.”
“I sleep with my box cutter and my hammer underneath my pillow just in case.”
And if you are driving home after dark and see another woman walking alone? Stop and roll down the window.
“Do you need a ride? Where are you going? Is your phone charged?” Those are the questions Taylor asks.
KENNEDY FREEMAN — Do you have a test that you need to study for? Don’t stay at the library too late. Park as close as possible and have someone on the phone from the time you walk out those doors to the time you start the ignition.
No one answering? Fake it.
“I would pretend like I was talking to my mom and telling her how studying was going and updating her, like ‘I’m almost at the car.’ And I would try to speak loudly.”
That way, if anyone is listening, they will think that someone is expecting you home. Maybe they won’t bother approaching you.
Don’t get out of the car right away once you get home.
“I would make sure I had my phone out. I would have 911 dialed and then I would turn my flashlight on and I would run from my car to my house,” Kennedy said.
“And then I would like scramble to unlock the door and once I was inside and the door was locked, I would feel better.”
LAINE LOCKWOOD — Be aware of your surroundings. “I am conscious of who is walking behind me at night when I am out and of any lingering stares.”
And trust your mom’s advice. She knows best.
“She sent my sister and I this thing about how to protect ourselves — always checking behind the back seat of our cars, always carrying our keys within our fingers, not wearing purses that are too low so that someone can grab it. You have to hold it close to you,” Laine said.
“She even suggested that we keep our hair short so no one can grab our hair to take us somewhere.”
Does all of this sound ridiculous? Over the top? That’s how many of these women felt as they shyly described the things that they have to keep in mind to stay safe.
“I don’t know if paranoid is the right word because there are a lot of things that happen that give me a reason to feel the way I do,” Kennedy said.
The social media age is a unique time to be on campus. Stories that may not be published in the newspaper or broadcast on the local channel are being told — from one woman to another.
People in the community, who otherwise would be complete strangers to one another, can share their experiences on Facebook groups and other platforms. Word spreads fast there.
Stories of being followed home late at night. Being groped. Being assaulted.
When a woman is constantly confronted with the “worst case scenario,” it changes her behavior and heightens her awareness of her surroundings.
No more naïve: “That would never happen to me,” or “My town is safe.”
It is no longer some faceless woman on the news in another part of the state that was harassed or attacked. It was a woman a few blocks away, at the same bar you go to and at the same apartment complex your friends live in.
College women are feeling a stronger bond than ever. But as Kennedy put it: “Fear shouldn’t be the thing that is bringing us together.”