More than 50 percent of college sexual assault occurs during first few months of fall quarter, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. This time period is known as the “red zone” and occurs at college campuses across the nation.
Anthropology professor Kathleen Young teaches a class on sex and gender roles in culture and said freshman especially are at risk during the red zone.
“It tends to be when people are away for school for the first time,” Young said. “[People] want to meet new people and socialize, so it’s important for them to know that they’re more at risk,” Young said.
Candice Orfao, a senior who trained at Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services, believes the red zone could be the result of dramatic lifestyle changes students undergo as they enter college.
“For a lot of people, it’s a very tumultuous transitional period. They’re in a new environment, and they’re still adjusting to all their peers,” Orfao said.
As students see a reduction in supervision in the college world, they could be going out and experimenting with alcohol and drugs which can jeopardize consent to sexual activities, Orfao said, stressing that sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault.
“[People] want to meet new people and socialize, so it’s important for them to know that they’re more at risk.”
Additionally, the way the college experience is depicted in the media pushes the idea that sexual activities and alcohol use are supposed to happen. This depiction, as well as toxic masculinity in frat cultures, could be a factor in sexual assault increases, Orfao said.
Part of the difficulty of reducing sexual assault during this time period is that education efforts can put too much responsibility on young women, Young said.
“It’s important that young men be aware of this as well, because intervention is really important,” Young said. “If young men can watch out for circumstances, I think it’s helpful, and that’s part of the process of education about red zones.”
Young was on Western’s first rape task force in the 80s and believes the process of reporting sexual assault has come a long way at Western.
“At that time, they didn’t believe there had been any reports [of sexual assault],” Young said. “I’m sure that it occurred, but people didn’t know who to report to.”
Giving victims a safe and respectful channel to report sexual assault violations took too long, Young said.
Ultimately, Young attributes much of the change to young women themselves.
“It’s the young women themselves that have pushed this issue, and that’s really inspiring,” Young said. “I would hope they realize they have done something really tremendous.”
Mary Janell Metzger, professor of English and women, gender and sexuality studies, said a challenge in dealing with sexual assault is that American culture can accommodate it.
The long history of treating female-identified people as objects rather than subjects is an idea that must be defied by rethinking sexuality, Metzger said. What has been learned can be un-learned, she said.
Although the red zone is a concept under discussion, the goal is not about trying to simply decrease numbers, Metzger said.
“‘Why are the numbers higher?’ is the wrong question to be asking because it seems to suggest that the height of the numbers is the problem rather than sexual assault is happening. Period.” Metzger said
Those responding to sexual assaults must deal with numbers at some level, but this won’t end sexual assaults, Metzger said.
“One of the biggest things we can do for survivors, and also to prevent other things from happening, is to talk about what is consent, what are healthy relationships and deconstruct toxic masculinity,” Orfoa said.
Western has many services available for both men and women for education and counseling. There are places to go for support, medical attention or reporting options.
We need to empower people to step in, Orfao said. People need to be educated about bystander intervention and what to do when you see something that isn’t quite right, Orfao said.
People in the Western community have responsibilities to their fellow Vikings.
“Young people, like us all, have work to do among [their] own communities. Men need to step up to other men, and women need to talk to each other and talk about the kinds of socializations that limit their choices,” Metzger said.