Female students at Dalhousie pretend to make a phone call to feel safe in the evenings. (Photo by: Lindsay Morey)

Women using cellphones to protect themselves at Dalhousie

Female students seek ways to stay safe following a series of assaults last month.


Dalhousie University student Caroline Hoppenheim always carries her cell phone whenever she is walking alone at night on campus. Sometimes, she fakes a phone call if she thinks someone is following her.

"I'll pretend to be on my cell phone so that I'll feel safe. Everyone has their crazy things they do," Hoppenheim says. 

More women like Hoppenheim are using their cellphones to feel safe at night in light of recent on-campus assaults against women. In November, there were three separate incidents involving three different men exposing themselves to women at Dal.

Hoppenheim, a psychology student, says she no longer walks alone at night. Her friends who used to walk by themselves have changed their ways because of last month's three assaults. Now her friends call to get a ride from Dal's Tiger Patrol.

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It doesn't hurt to have 911 on speed-dial when walking at night, especially behind the Killam Library. (Photo by: Lindsay Morey)

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Eight events related to sexual violence against female university students in Halifax, 2011.

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Roqaya Abdel Hameid's TV piece. Aired Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 on The 'Fax (King's TV News, Halifax).

Amanda Zalken, a Dal undergraduate studying English, also relies on her cell phone a lot to feel safe. Zalken has faked phone calling as a last resort but prefers to talk to a real person.

"If I'm alone and no one's around, I definitely call someone so I look busy and unapproachable," Zalken says.

Courtney Carnhan, also a psychology student, uses her cell phone to call someone late at night when walking from the Killam Library to her car.

"My friends have called me at one in the morning if they're coming back from somewhere. I'd rather them talk to me to have someone on the phone in case something happens," Carnhan says.

Hoppenheim says she'd feel more safe if there were more lights installed on campus. Zalken echoes the need for more lighting because she finds the back of the Killam creepy after dark.

Director of Security, Michael Burns says cellphones are useful to help notify police during times of distress. However, he warns students not to turn music up so loud that they're unaware of approaching people and becoming vulnerable targets.

"You should not only see what's going on around you, but hear it as well," Burns says.

Stats on sexual assaults in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia doubles the national average of sexual assaults in Canada, according to a 2009 report by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. 

In 2006, the Halifax Regional Police reported one sexual assault per day. However, a 2005 Juristat report states only eight per cent of sexual assaults are actually reported.

Reaction from Dal's Women Center

Ellen Taylor, coordinator for the Dalhousie Women's Center, argues women shouldn't have the burden of protecting themselves - having police on speed-dial shouldn't be a last resort, she says.

"In reality it's not on the onus of women to (protect themselves). It's on the university, police and our culture to take responsibility," Taylor says.

Because of the spike in on-campus assaults, the Women's Center is calling for the return of the Tiger Patrol Walking Program. This service was cancelled in early fall due to lack of demand from students, however, the driving service continues.


This story originally aired on Dec. 1, 2011 on The 'Fax, King's TV News. The news show is produced by journalism students in the TV workshop class at the University of King's College. The original TV piece was done by Roqaya Abdel Hameid.

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