Carrying a cell phone may cause some college students – especially women – to take risks with their safety, a new study suggests. A survey of 305 students at one campus found that 40 percent of cell phone users said they walked somewhere after dark that they normally wouldn’t go.
A separate survey found that about three-quarters of students said that carrying a cell phone while walking alone at night made them feel somewhat or a lot safer.
“Students seem to feel less vulnerable when they carry a cell phone, although there’s not evidence that they really are,” said Jack Nasar, co-author of the study and professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University. “If anything, they are probably less safe because they are paying less attention to their surroundings.”
“Women reported feeling a greater increase in safety carrying a cell phone than did male students, probably because they felt more vulnerable in the first place,” Nasar said.
As a result, more women than men said that, if they had a cell phone they would be willing to walk somewhere after dark that they would normally not go (42 percent of women vs. 28 percent of men).
“Especially for women, cell phones offer a sense of security that may make them more willing to put themselves in risky situations,” Nasar said.
While this study is certainly useful, it is just another in a long line of victim-blaming statistics which put the onus on us to prevent crime, and not the criminals themselves. Walking alone at night, especially on a college campus, should ideally not be a risky situation, and if carrying a cell phone makes this situation safer, then isn’t that the point? Saying that carrying a cell phone makes you engage in riskier behavior is like saying that fire fighters uniforms make them more susceptible to smoke inhalation because they wouldn’t be fighting fires without it.
You can’t blame equipment or products designed to protect people for the situations within which the use these tools. That attitude simply makes people not invest in potentially live-saving technologies and adds to the culture of fear. Students should be able to walk alone at any time without fear, and cell phones are one positive step towards that ideal. Text message alert systems have already been used in numerous emergency situations on college campuses, and being able to call a friend or 911 immediately could never be seen as a detriment to one’s safety.
The only facts this study offers are that students feel so much safer with cell phones that they are beginning to go about their daily lives with a little less fear. We should stop accepting a life of paranoia and begin to fight back by embracing programs and products which give potential victims the tools to protect themselves.