I'm not writing about dictionaries or gift certificates, but about preparation. I seem to have a lot of this to discuss lately. I would apologize, but it's important. Besides, the graduates have all been congratulated by now, and must now endure three months of gratuitous advice from even the perfect strangers they run into.
Colleges frequently don't keep track of or publish rape statistics. Many of them happen off-campus anyway. Furthermore, date rape is even harder to track.
To all those who know high school graduates, and, in most circumstances, middle-school graduates:
The New York State Troopers host a Web page that discusses date rape. It gives prevention tips, tips for assisting a date rape victim, and advice for a date rape victim.
You could print out a copy for every young man and woman you know who will be leaving parental protection and/or entering a new social life. You could stress the preventives: not drinking heavily and not leaving your drink to be doctored with RoHypnol, GHB, or who-knows-what. That they should be their own parent, and find out where they are going in advance, charge their cell phone, carry taxi money, all that.
If you are a family that does not drink or go to bars, give this to your child anyway. He or she might try a drink someday, if only to confirm your early training. He or she will go to a bar and drink soda if they decide they don't like beer, because they are meeting friends or are a designated driver. They will forget to charge their cell phone. They will spend their taxi money on a sandwich sometime. Tell them you love them no matter what. And that you want them to consider their self-preservation and the preservation of others. This comes before grades, learning, socializing: Survival and Decency First. Otherwise, the other important stuff will not matter.
Here are three examples--events I know.
Incident #1: Attempted Rape
I went to a fairly conservative college. A friend stopped a rape from occurring in his apartment complex, a complex full of young women and sons of cowboys with plenty fighting ability--in other words, "safe" and "busy". She was being pushed back into her car by a man with a knife. She screamed, which is not unusual in student-occupied apartment complexes. I went outside and yelled, and my big bad friend chased him off. She was not raped, and later identified her attacker in a police line-up.
She was smart and also lucky. That was a combination of circumstances and the person. A good graduation present would be bolstering the graduate's awareness, so they can maybe make use of their circumstances to help themselves, even a little. And also, to know that in this conflict, you start with an extreme power deficit and you should not hate yourself afterward, no matter how little you were able to change events.
Incident # 2: Date Rape and Captivity
I lived in an apartment of four girls randomly associated to pay the rent--we had no real ties. One of my house-mates that year was held captive by a student she had dated for months: a young man with good grades, good haircut, good manners, and good family. She finally escaped and ran home through several apartment complexes--naked, except for the one hand towel he allowed her. Thankfully, another of our house-mates was home.
This woman had been steadily abused, but for awhile she was still looking at his winning qualities. When she indicated she wanted to break up, he tied her up and barricaded her in his apartment. For Days. We thought she was staying over by choice, some new development. We were dumb and didn't check. (There's another lesson.) She hadn't said anything to us about her doubts. (Yet Another Lesson.)
We knew Where she was. We just didn't know How she was. And it was bad.
After this captivity, she stopped seeing him, but he kept coming by. We kept turning him away, and we should have called the police (Another Lesson) but she didn't want anyone to know--e.g., her parents. (Her Choice, and not the best one, in my view. But she was ashamed.)
She sought no other help. She could barely leave the apartment, because she knew she would see him in the neighborhood or in the classes they shared. I finally advised her fretting room-mate, the one closest to her and who had more of the details, to call her parents. She could not go on as she was. The room-mate did much better than my opinion, and convinced this young woman to call her parents herself. (Another lesson.)
Both of these happened decades ago, in a college town with old-fashioned values. Neither young woman had risky habits, not that anything implies consent for atrocious acts, you understand. The point is, anyone can be in trouble. And I think parents should advise that no matter how adult you are, the aftermath of atrocity cannot be handled Alone.
Incident #3: Slipped a Mickey
I also know a young man who was slipped RoHypnol. He only remembers three things: the camera, the needles, and the no condoms. Everything else is blacked out.
Maybe his recollection is unreliable, or about his fears, the worst-case scenario. Or maybe he could focus enough to remember the parts that scared him the most. But I believe him still. I went with him when he tested for HIV, and I went with him for the results of the test. It came back negative. He is, nevertheless, out there lost somewhere. He was a little lost before, and way lost afterward.
The last call I had from him was one of the most desperate conversations I have ever had. He was in another city, too far away for me to find, and screwed up to the max. I was powerless, and seemingly, so was he. We talked through hours of dark night in Philadelphia until he found a convenience store open with a police car in front of it. He agreed he would ask for help there and hung up on me. He did not answer when I tried to call him back. I have not heard from him since.
Date rape is not fiction. It is hell.
If you find you cannot talk about this, at least print out the NY State Trooper's page and this post. Hand it to the graduate. Kiss their forehead and tell them to read it carefully and plan ahead. Tell them to stuff these pages in that dictionary they're carrying to their new life. Someday they might need to review them again for self-preservation. Or for decency to another.
Preparation for this allows your child to work and play in greater safety at their university, and helps ensure a grand, brilliant, and happy future. That's what you're really talking about. It's what I'm writing about.