By Kyle Webster
Another option for personal safety was introduced to the University of Maine campus recently when free whistles began being passed out to female students and faculty.
The whistles can be used when one feels threatened, becomes incapacitated by a sudden onset of illness or is physically attacked. Deborah Mitchell, crime prevention officer for UMaine Public Safety, introduced the whistle program. Mitchell is well known on campus for her safety programs, including the Campus Walking Companions and various self-defense courses. She said the whistle program is an effort to provide an additional alternative for Public Safety.
A few years ago the Campus Walkers began handing out small plastic whistles with their telephone number printed on it. Officer Mitchell took this idea and decided to make a major program out of it with much sturdier, louder whistles. Other colleges, including Bates College in Auburn, already had similar programs and helped UMaine create this program. The American Whistle Corporation, which provides whistles for most campus programs, was contacted and likewise assisted in the creation of the program.
The whistles are metal with a Maine Black Bear engraved at the top along with the phone number for the CWC. The whistles come with directions for proper use of the whistles and a disclaimer on the consequences of misuse.
Despite the fact that this program is meant for positive reasons, there is always the possibility of misuse. Due to this, if someone is found misusing the whistles or “crying wolf,” as Mitchell put it, the suspected offender would be referred to Judicial affairs. Other colleges that utilize this program have issued fines of up to $75.
While it may seem that this program is purely positive, controversy has sprung up because the whistles are only being given to women. Mitchell says this is because there are not enough whistles, however heated debates have occurred in the FirstClass Campus Conversations folder regarding this issue.
Since there are so few whistles to be given out, only the most at-risk populations can receive them, Michell said. Statistically women are much more prone to be victims of sexual assault, therefore the female population is more in need of these sorts of programs.
“It makes me angry, as a woman, to have to have so many options, but it is a necessity,” she said.
Mitchell did point out that if a male feels extremely threatened and does have extreme concern for his own personal safety, she would not turn them down and would give them a whistle.
“I’m not here to discriminate,” she said, “merely to help those that I can.”
The 2,500 whistles cost a little over $2,500. The cost is being covered by the Safe Campus Project, which is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Office. An additional 2,500 will be purchased at the beginning of next semester.
People who use this program, just like with any Public Safety program, are reminded that it is not foolproof. Some attackers may become agitated and more likely to harm a potential victim upon the use of a whistle. A user is asked to use her best judgement in all situations.
The program seems to be very successful thus far with over 500 whistles already given out.
“This program has proved very positive,” Mitchell said, “most people really like the idea.”
Any woman who would like a whistle can get one through the CWC, at the Public Safety building or through Rape Aggression Defense training. The next RAD class begins Thursday, Nov. 8, from 5:30 to 8:30 in the Doris Twitchell Allen Village Conference Center and is free to all women on campus.