Peaceful. Historic. Charming.
These adjectives are some of the many used by websites and tourism brochures alike to describe St Andrews. They all convey the same message: that St Andrews is a safe and secure town. From the plaque-adorned buildings that line the streets to the green plains of the oldest golf course in the world, the town is the epitome of quaint and picturesque. Only the hauntingly beautiful ruins of the castle and cathedral, as well as the cobblestone initials where a martyr was once burned at the stake, are reminders of the town’s bloody and violent past.
Nowadays St Andrews’ reputation as a safe and protected “bubble” is reflected in its crime statistics, which are at present, reassuringly low. The university website shows that the most common crime is theft of personal belongings, such as wallets left unattended. Crimes such as robberies and burglaries occur more rarely; even rarer still, and yet arguably more frightening, are violent crimes such as sexual assault.
In 2013 and 2014, 31 year old student Pasquale Galianni carried out two attacks on women, both classified as sexual assault, near North Haugh. On each occasion, the young woman in question was walking alone when they were grabbed by Galianni. It was reported at the time that he attempted to remove the tights and underwear of one of his victims, and placed his hand between the legs of the other. As a result, he was jailed for five years. Galianni was then cleared of an assault on a 26 year old woman with whom he had intercourse whilst she was intoxicated, as he claimed that the intercourse was consensual.
These horrific attacks are a disturbing insight into the underlying more serious crimes of violence and sexual assault that do occur in sleepy St Andrews, as well as at universities in larger and more populous cities. Although crimes of this sort are rare, it is still important for the students (who make up roughly one third of the town’s population) to be aware and to know how to protect themselves against any form of violence or danger when on a night out.
Staying with people you know and trust, particularly as the night wears on and you potentially get increasingly drunker, is a priority. Whether at The Vic or Kinkell Byre, students who are alone amongst a crowd stand out as vulnerable, particularly if intoxicated in any way. As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers, and you are less likely to come to any harm if you are with people you know and trust.
Measures are also taken to ensure that student safety is the top priority at popular destinations on nights out: Students who appear to be too drunk are turned away, and bouncers on the door look for the first sign of violent trouble.
Some risks are harder to detect, however. At the end of last semester it was said by several students that a water jug (several of which are placed atop The Union bar, accessible to all) was spiked with such a substance that those affected were violently ill for hours afterwards. As this action targeted an open and public object, it was more difficult to prevent. Nevertheless, with personal drinks, whether of an alcoholic nature or not, students should be careful to keep them in hand at all times, and never leave them unattended. Only accept drinks from people you know and trust, and if somebody you have only just met offers to buy you a drink, stay by the bar so you can see exactly what they order and what is served to you.
As the night draws to a close, the two main routes generally taken by students are to go home or to visit one of the town’s fast-food outlets. The atmosphere is ripe for spates of drunken discord and violence, possibly as a result of the large numbers of drunk students who cram in here, combined with the queue and the wait for drunk food. A disagreement or argument sparked by any small matter could quickly escalate when drunk. If such an incident does occur, as tempting as it may be to watch and even to pick sides, the better and safer option is to take your food and leave, free of any cuts or bruises.
For students who live in out-of-town halls, night buses are on hand to ensure a safe trip home. If a student is lucky enough to live in the town centre, their journey should be without fault. However, students who live in private accommodation in the part of town colloquially termed the Badlands have further to walk and are therefore more at risk. The safe option of a taxi is always available, as is the option of walking home in a group. Walking home alone, particularly over a relatively long distance, should always be done carefully and in well-lit areas.
When going out and going home, stay with people you know and trust. Discouraging friends you are with from making such a snap decision could be the best thing you do for them, as you never know what could happen behind closed doors. Students, myself included, may often take for granted how safe St Andrews appears, but the criminal activity that exists on every other university campus also exists here.
As petty as these suggestions may seem, following advice such as this is what stops a regular fun night out from turning into another crime statistic for St Andrews. Even in The Bubble, it has been shown that serious crimes of a violent and sexual nature could happen to anyone. Taking the extra step to prevent such actions is better than facing the consequences.