Indiana Daily Student

The ‘Red Zone’: First-year students especially at risk for sexual violence

Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of sexual violence. Resources are available here.   

With students back on campus also comes parties, late nights and unfamiliar people.  

As students work to find their bearings on campus and adjust to college life in the first few months, sexual assaults spike— leaving first-year students particularly vulnerable.  

This is what’s called the “Red Zone,” a period of time each fall regarded as the most dangerous for sexual assaults on campus.  

Here is more information about what the Red Zone is, why it happens and what students need to know to practice safety for themselves and others: 

What is the “Red Zone?” 

The Red Zone is widely known as the period from the beginning of the fall semester to Thanksgiving break. During this time, sexual assaults cases have spiked on college campuses across the U.S. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reports that more than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in August, September, October or November, and that students are at an increased risk during the first few months of their first year of college.  

The phenomenon of the Red Zone has been studied since at least 2007, when the Department of Justice’s Campus Sexual Assault Survey found that 84% of women survivors reported being sexually assaulted during their first four semesters on campus. The Red Zone has since been studied and reported on by several institutions and outlets, such as the Center for Women and Familiesand multiple universities like the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Brown University

Why does the Red Zone occur?  

One reason students are more at-risk during their freshman year is because of the risks that come with independence, said Sally Thomas, Director for Sexual Violence Prevention and Student Advocacy at the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Student Advocacy.  

“This is the first time that many first-year students have been away from home and not familiar with their surroundings, not familiar with how to get back to campus, what resources are available,” she said.  

Thomas said there are often more parties at places like dorms and fraternity houses during the beginning of the school year. She emphasized that, even if someone is drinking, sexual assault is never their fault. Alcohol is a factor, she said, because perpetrators often take advantage of those who have been drinking.  

“We know that there are many perpetrators who use alcohol as a way to make someone compliant to facilitate sexual misconduct,” Thomas said. 

Maddie Butler, Title IX Coordinator for IU Student Government, said one reason first-year students are at a higher risk for sexual violence is because they don’t yet have established support networks. People who look to enact sexual violence know this, she said, and look for people who don’t seem to be surrounded by support networks.  

Many first-year students haven’t yet been exposed to thorough bystander intervention training, Butler said, which can make them less equipped to help and support their friends. According to IU’s 2019 Community Attitudes and Experiences with Sexual Assault and Misconduct Survey, 56% of undergraduate women and 63% of undergraduate men said they had received bystander intervention education before coming to IU.  

Bell Pastore, IUSG’s Student Body Vice President, said the most important part of helping incoming freshmen to be aware is getting the messaging out.  

“A lot of students come here and they may have never been exposed to this type of language or these topics before,” she said. “Which isn’t uncommon, but it just means that we have to work twice as hard to make sure that people are being cognizant of who they’re around and making sure that what they’re saying is not insensitive.”  

While parties, especially fraternity parties, are known for being hotspots for sexual violence, Pastore said she believes that seeing a collaborative effort to fight sexual violence will bring out the best solution.  

“In reality, it’s an issue that we all face together,” Pastore said.  

How can I report an incident and what resources are available?  

Butler said one of the strongest ways students can feel supported is when they feel like they know what their options for reporting are. 

“During the Red Zone, that really gets taken away because when students are new to campus they haven’t been exposed to those options yet,” she said. 

IU’s website lists resources for reporting, such as contact information for the Office of Student Conduct and campus authorities.  

Thomas said she is on call at OSVPVA 24 hours, seven days a week. Students can choose to file a report and pursue an investigation, or to only file a report. IU will only move forward with an investigation if a student doesn’t pursue one in rare cases where there is a larger threat to campus safety. 

“If they do move forward without the student— the survivor— requesting it, the survivor is told and kept updated,” Thomas said. “That helps a lot of the survivors we work with.”  

OSVPVA focuses on being transparent, so students know what they are going into when they report as much as possible, Thomas said.  

“We’re not going to sugarcoat, we’re not going to encourage or force someone to report, we’re going to lay out all the facts,” she said.  

Thomas said Confidential Victim Advocates can assist students with tasks like preparing statements and getting extensions and excused absences, and they can give students updates on investigations and meet with them to talk through their feelings.  

Thomas said she wants survivors to know it is always okay to speak up when they feel uncomfortable or when someone else is making them uncomfortable.  

“I think we need to do a lot more to empower people to feel comfortable saying, ‘You’re creeping me out, please stop,’” she said.  

Butler said the process of reporting an assault can be inherently retraumatizing because survivors often have to relive the experience. She said IUSG is working on a Title IX training which they hope to finish by the end of the year. The training will provide information to those thinking about reporting incidents of sexual violence.   

IUSG will also be holding a Red Zone forum 6 p.m. Sept. 28 in Whittenberger Auditorium, aimed at helping students know their options for reporting and how to support others. The forum will include a panel with members from the OSVPVA, student representatives and faculty experts on gender-based violence.  

Butler said she wants students to know they are justified in any course of action they choose to take in terms of dealing with the aftermath of and healing from sexual violence. She said students should inform themselves about what they can do to support their friends.  

“Just build a community that, in terms of the language we use, in terms of the support we provide, is condemning sexual violence and is supporting our friends who are opening up about their experiences.” 

Editor’s Note: Maddie Butler previously worked for the Indiana Daily Student. 

A list of resources is available here if you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or abuse.  

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