by Brianna Hawkins, Communications Intern
As a first semester college freshman in Louisiana, many students will join thousands of other young adults who’ll live on campus or who’ll commute. However, there are sophomores whose only experience of college has been through a laptop screen. Each scenario is something that can be very exciting and stressful for a young adult. Attending college is usually their first experience being independent and it can leave many students in a place of vulnerability, especially from a safety standpoint.
While most college students focus on essentials like bedding, school supplies and food, safety can be a complex issue that is a hit or miss on the list. The reason being is because these students join campus life as newcomers who have never experienced campus life often leaving them open to the dangerous parts of college life like the red zone.
The red zone is the time between August and Thanksgiving break where new college students fill college campuses the most and sexual assault crimes become the most frequent.
In a 2007 study titled, “Risk of Unwanted Sex for College Women: Evidence for a Red Zone,” it was reported that more than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in either August, September, October, or November” (Kimble, Neacsiu, Flack & Horner).
It is important to note that since the 2007 study, sexual assaults on college campuses during the red zone season have only increased between 2007 and 2016 with the Bureau of Justice Statistics Research and Development Series reporting in a study that 70 % of college sexual assaults occur in the fall semester.
During this time period, new college students are trying to navigate college life whether it be by meeting new people, joining Greek life, or maneuvering through stress with the assistance of alcohol and drugs.
These three scenarios usually occur during large events like campus parties where new students are around a lot of people they do not know and consume alcohol and drugs – sometimes unknown.
In an article titled, “Talking to College Students About ‘The Red Zone,’ clinical psychologist Alexandra Solomon explained that campus sexual assault usually occurs in the context of partying while further research shows that alcohol is typically consumed by the perpetrator, the victim or both (2018).
However, even though students are meeting people for the first time, most sexual assaults occur in dorms with the assailant being someone they know and most likely were under the influence.
The Department of Justice reported, “… for 90% of victims of sexual assault, the perpetrator is a friend or an acquaintance” (as cited in Solomon, 2018).
Because the past two years have been heavily tainted with changes related to Coronavirus (COVID-19), some young adults who planned to attend college on campus have been forced to participate in virtual classes. One downfall for these students has been a lack of the traditional college experience most freshmen could enjoy pre-COVID-19.
However, as universities across the state and the country allow students back on campus, the idea of a “double red zone,” a term coined by the group, End Rape on Campus (EROC) has been brought to the attention of many stakeholders related to universities like parents, students and advocacy groups.
Since COVID-19 has been around approximately two years, two classes of college students lack important knowledge of the college experience in regard to safety: freshmen and sophomores.
The addition of an extra class of students learning to navigate campus life for the first time is a potential threat for universities when it comes to sexual assaults because schools have to be strategic about safety measures now more than ever.
The virtual learning pause is expected to lead to a major increase in college events for all college students alike, which increases the threat of more sexual assaults occurring at a higher rate this fall.
An important thing that everyone should remember, is that the best protection starts with learning prevention. Aside from establishing the buddy system and being alert and cautious, students should prepare themselves by understanding state laws surrounding consent (especially when alcohol and drugs are a concern), learning their university’s school policy on how to report sexual assault and becoming familiar with Title IX regulations.
Another aspect of prevention is to continue to change the conversation of how society chooses to address sexual assault in communities and even in the home. Males and females can both be sexually assaulted, and it is important that people become educated on things like consent, how to not just be a bystander and change their views of how sexuality is addressed in regard to gender.
Along with university policy and Title IX regulations, students can utilize the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LAFASA) statewide Helpline, which is run by Crisis Support Specialists to help support sexual assault survivors and their loved ones. To contact the Helpline, text 225-351-SAFE (7233) 7 days a week from 12-8 p.m. or access the online chat by going to LaFASA.org. For those who wish the phone-in option, the number is 888-995-7273. The phone in option is 24/7 and available in English or Spanish. ALL assistance is free, confidential, and anonymous.