Red Zone: The time when campus sexual assault is at its peak
Every fall, incoming students wonder what their next few years here will look like. In their introductory floor meeting, first-year students receive practical and useful information about college and are shown a video about consent, a reminder of the unspoken side of the college experience: campus sexual assault.
On their first night on campus, hours after viewing the video, students received an alert, notifying them that a sexual assault had occurred on South Chapel Street, blocks away from their dorms. And thus, the university dives headfirst into the “Red Zone.”
The Red Zone is a three-month period between move-in day and Thanksgiving break when sexual assaults occur on campus at disproportionately high rates, particularly for female first-year students. According to the Department of Justice, the largest portion of college sexual assaults occur in September and October.
According to Joanne Sampson, program coordinator for violence prevention in the office of Student Wellness and Health Promotion, the transition to a novel college environment is a primary contributor to the Red Zone.
“We know in the first several weeks students are more vulnerable to sexual misconduct because they are in a new environment,” Sampson said. “They might be homesick or just unsure of their new environment, which can lead to them being targeted.”
Ellen Schenk, a junior Munson Fellow, or peer mentor for first-year students in the Honors Program, said she has seen this trend in her role as a Fellow.
“This may be the first time that students are away from their families or the first time they go to a party and they may not be aware of the potential dangers,” Schenk said. “But it’s important to educate those asking for consent and emphasizing it is a clear yes.”
It is vital, then, that students receive education in these critically dangerous months. Students come in with varying knowledge of consent and sexual misconduct, but go through several different trainings in their first few months.
Sexual assault education occurs during New Student Orientation, Haven online training, Reader’s Theater at 1743 Welcome Days, the Our UD program at floor meetings and wellness sessions during First-Year-Seminar. This programming exposes students to several aspects of sexual misconduct, including understanding consent, healthy relationships, bystander intervention and campus resources.
First-year student Kya McIntyre is going through this programming currently and believes it has been valuable.
“I’m glad they make everyone do the trainings — it makes everyone engaged in the issue and making sure it is not a taboo topic,” McIntyre said.
While sexual assault may be particularly prevalent in the Red Zone, it is a pressing issue year-round. According to Sampson, long-term education and constant awareness are effective in reducing stigma and increasing knowledge. According to Sampson, the Sexual Offense Support (SOS) poster campaigns play a large role in this, conveying messages of victim support and education.
Due to stigmas around sexual assault, Schenk believes that it’s important to address misconceptions. For example, keeping in mind that both men and women can be victims of sexual assault vitally important to a culture shift.
Educational programs are also moving towards a bystander intervention approach in order to train students to safely intervene in potentially dangerous situations.
“I think it’s important for students to know how to watch out for each other,” Schenk said.
The two-hour “Bringing in the Bystander” program out of Student Wellness and Health Promotion has been facilitated for over 2,000 people at the university, according to Sampson.
The university has made progress in addressing sexual assault, in large part due to the activist student groups like V-Day, Students Acting for Gender Equity (SAGE), It’s On Us, kNOw MORE and SOS.
“This is an ongoing process requiring a comprehensive culture shift, and we’re moving in a positive direction,” Sampson says.
She wants to see professors normalizing discussions of sexual assault in the classroom by talking about bystander intervention and other resources for students.
There are several resources for students on-campus that have experienced sexual assault, including the SOS 24-hour crisis line (302-831-1001), press 1), Student Wellness and Health Promotion, Center for Counseling and Student Development and the Title IX office.