Navigating the ‘Red Zone’ on College Campuses – Tips to Preventing and Responding to Sexual Assault 

By Meghan Wilhelm

College campuses serve as hubs for academic achievement and where many students discover and build their independence. This newfound freedom can come with an adjustment period. The shift into college life can involve forming new friendships and immersing oneself in new social scenes. Yet through this transitional period of growth and autonomy, experts are seeing a phenomenon referred to as the “red zone” come into play. 

According to the Center on Women and Families, 50% of college sexual assaults are reported in August, September, October, and November. This is the “red zone” where sexual assaults at U.S. universities spike every year beginning at the start of the fall semester and lasting through Thanksgiving break when most students go home. This  phenomenon leads to student transfers, leaves of absence and leaving school all together. According to the Know Your IX 2021 Report 39% of the students they surveyed were forced to take a leave of absence from school, transfer to a new school, or drop out of school altogether, after experiencing sexual violence.  

While any student is at risk, female first-year students are the most vulnerable. 

The Association of American Universities (AAU) 2019 Campus Climate Survey estimates undergraduate women are three times more likely to be assaulted than graduate students. This spike in sexual assaults coincides with students no longer having parental supervision and the increase in parties related to back-to-school and Greek Life recruitment. Women are more likely to be assaulted by someone they know than a stranger, and while stranger assaults can happen, they are rare. According to Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE) anywhere from 5-10% of undergraduate students are involved in Greek life. First-year females typically rush a sorority during their fall semester to connect with new friends, find a solid place to land in an unfamiliar environment or follow along with a family legacy in that organization. This can also make them a 74% more likely to be assaulted than a non-sorority affiliated woman. During rush sororities and fraternities host events together during the first month or so in college where often alcohol is present.  

So, what can we do? 

  1. Be aware of your surroundings.  

When exploring your new surroundings, keep an eye on what's going on around you. Consider sticking with a group of people you trust. If you see something happening, say something! That can make all the difference. 

  1. Always have a plan. 

When going anywhere, whether it is a party or a campus-sanctioned event, make a plan for the whole outing. Go with your trusted group and stay together. If the plan changes let everyone in the group know, that way no one finds themselves alone or in an unfamiliar place that can turn unsafe. Also, it may be a good idea to let someone who isn’t going know where you are and what the plan is, like a roommate or other friend, so you can call them for help if needed.  

  1. If you are of drinking age, protect your drink. 

Never put your drink down and if possible, keep it covered. Companies like Nightcap make reusable and disposable drink covers. Never accept a drink you did not see made yourself or a bottle you didn’t open. If you suspect someone put something in your drink, let someone know as soon as possible. If you suspect someone has been drugged, stay with them until help arrives 

  1. Consent is key. 

Many college campuses hold presentations and training for first-year students on sexual assault prevention and consent. Understanding consent and its ability to be given or taken away at any time is important. Consent must be freely given. Consent cannot be given if the person is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs. Consent is not freely given if coercion or violence is used.  Also, if consent was given in the past, it does not mean ongoing consent is assumed. If you have any other questions visit The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network page on consent.  

  1. Don’t just be a bystander. 

If you see something happening that looks unsafe, don’t just look the other way. Stepping in when you see an unsafe situation can look different for every person and situation. While stepping into a situation can make a difference, it shouldn’t put you or anyone else at risk. Some ways you can step in and intercept an unsafe situation is: 

  • Going to the person who is at risk and talking to them directly. Even if you do not know this person, act like you do. Ask them something like “Are you ready to go grab food, everyone is leaving” or even “The Uber is here, are you ready to go?”. 
  • Asking someone you trust to talk to the aggressor and pull him away from the conversation with a fake emergency or need.  
  •  Sometimes going up to a person in a pair or group is even more effective than alone. 
  •  If you think it is a more serious situation, you can always grab security, the host of the party or occasion you’re at, or even call the police to intercept.  

If an assault has already happened, many new students do not know where they can report it. College campuses have Title IX. The law states “Title IX protects students from sexual harassment in educational programs or activities operated by recipients of federal funding”. Most campuses have a Title IX coordinator or office that can aid you in reporting. To find your school's Title IX office or coordinator, search your school's name and Title IX. Whether or not the victim decides to report the assault, someone can also report as a bystander or silent witness. This at least can put something on your institution's radar if the respondent, the person accused, is another student on campus. 

Above all, if you know or love someone who has been assaulted, support them. Sometimes the best thing that you can do is say you believe them, and they are not alone. Find some tips on how to support your friend or loved one here. Some campuses or communities have support groups or meetings for fellow survivors. Finding help can be intimidating at first, not knowing where to take the first step. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a great list of resources for survivors. 

TAGS: #BWJP Announcements #Children and Teens #College #News #Red Zone #Women

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