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Avoiding Trouble and Staying Safe
International students and their families sometimes perceive campus life in the United States, especially in urban areas, as dangerous. This perception is heightened by international media coverage of violent incidents, which, fortunately, occur very infrequently. Universities and colleges in the United States want to provide you with a safe and secure environment in which to pursue your academic and social goals.
There is an escort service provided by the Campus Police if you would like to be escorted across campus or to your car. The campus shuttle also runs Monday through Friday and is an alternative to walking. For information on either of these services, contact the Campus Police at 516-5155.
"Better safe than sorry," goes the American saying. No matter how safe your campus and community appear to be, you should acquaint yourself with your new environment by reading the safety information your institution provides. Upon arrival, begin orienting yourself:
- Familiarize yourself with your neighborhood and campus by walking around in the daylight.
- Ask fellow students or staff members about areas you should avoid at night.
- Do not walk alone at night.
- Note the address and telephone of your country's nearest consulate or embassy.
- Locate the police station that serves your neighborhood.
- Locate the nearest fire-alarm box and learn how to report a fire.
- Identify the hospital emergency room nearest to your home and know what to do in case of an accident.
- Keep "emergency" numbers near your phone at home
(911 is the general emergency number in the United States.)
St. Louis has a large metropolitan transportation system, which provides inexpensive and convenient transportation for students. Riding the MetroLink and Bi-State buses is free to all UMSL students. Stay safe by observing these rules:
- When riding the MetroLink, choose a car in which others are riding and avoid riding in a car alone.
- Note the location of emergency equipment, usually located near the doors or at the end of the car.
- Do not fall asleep.
- Do not stand on the edge of the platform.
- Do not display money, jewelry, or other valuable items.
- Keep your wallet in a side pocket, keep your purse closed and in your arms.
- If someone is bothering you, change your car or inform the train operator or a security guard. Avoid confrontations.
- To avoid unwanted attention, be discreet when consulting maps.
Beware of pickpockets and purse snatchers, skillful people who may gently remove your wallet or purse.
Cars are the most common form of transportation in the United States, but they are also a very great responsibility. You can avoid a lot of trouble by observing several rules that apply to owning and driving a car:
- Automobile insurance is required in Missouri.
- Never drink alcohol and drive; you may end up in jail even if you are not in an accident.
- Lock your car and keep valuables out of sight.
- Keep your car in good operating condition.
- Keep safety equipment (e.g., a flashlight and reflectors) and a first-aid kit in the trunk.
- Observe speed limits.
- Report all accidents; failure to do so is a crime.
Crimes and "Scams"
Sadly, crime is a fact of life in the United States. University and college campuses are not immune to these problems, but help is available. The primary duty of the police is to serve and protect you, and you should not hesitate to seek their help at any time.
The most common crime on U.S. campuses is theft of property left unattended or in an unlocked room, car, or apartment. More serious crimes-such as drug dealing, assault, and rape-also occur. Some behaviors, such as sexual harassment and spouse abuse, are crimes in the United States, even though they may not be crimes in your country.
Protect yourself by exercising good sense and caution:
- Keep your dorm room or apartment locked whenever you are away.
- Do not leave your books, backpack, or purse unattended anywhere.
- Buy a good lock for your bicycle and use it.
- Learn what parts of town you should avoid at night.
- Use caution with strangers who are overly friendly, who offer you gifts, or who ask you to accompany them to an unknown place.
- Remember 911 is an emergency number you can call at any time from any telephone in the United States for help in an emergency.
- Ask a reliable friend or an international student advisor if you are in doubt about a person or an activity.
Sexual harassment is a particularly American concept and a very hot topic on campus and in the workplace. Sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other physical or verbal behavior of a sexual nature. Learn how sexual harassment is defined at your campus and what behaviors you should avoid. If you feel you are being sexually harassed it is important that you tell someone. If you have questions, contact ISSS, the Women's Center in 211 Clark Hall, telephone 516-5380 or Counseling Services in 427 SSB, telephone 516-5711.
Spouse abuse, or domestic violence, is a crime in the United States. You may feel that all domestic matters, especially those that occur within your home, are private matters, but in the United States they cease to be private once one party uses physical violence. In most states, if a couple is fighting and the police come to the scene and find evidence of assault, they are required to arrest the attacker and put him or her in jail. In some cases, both participants may be arrested. If a woman feels she is being victimized by her husband or a person with whom she is living, she should seek help immediately. Help for men whose anger becomes uncontrolled and results in domestic violence can also be found.
If you are accused of committing a crime and have been arrested, remember that you do have certain rights. You should notify an international student advisor as soon as possible. You also have the right to notify your government about your arrest or detainment. If you choose to do so, the police must inform the appropriate international consulate or embassy immediately. Your consular officers have the right to visit you and arrange for your legal representation. Many countries (for example, China, Nigeria, and Singapore) require that the consul be notified when their nationals are confined or detained. In these cases, you have no choice in the matter of whether the authorities notify your consulate; they must do so. Depending upon the severity of the crime of which you are accused, you should obtain legal assistance.
The CIA and the FBI
No doubt you have heard a great deal about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). These agencies exist to investigate very specific criminal activities. However, the chances of any international student actually encountering agents of either of these agencies is extremely remote. The only federal agency responsible for enforcing the laws and regulations governing the presence of nonimmigrants in the United States is the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In addition, you are individually responsible to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the payment of your federal taxes. If you are contacted by any other federal agency for any reason, consult an international student advisor about your rights and responsibilities.