New college students are currently in the middle of the “Red Zone” — described earlier this summer by The New York Times as “a period of vulnerability for sexual assaults, beginning when freshmen first walk onto campus until Thanksgiving break.”
According to multiple studies, female students are at an increased risk for sexual assault during the first few weeks of their first semester on campus.
The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study discovered that more than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in August, September, October, or November. The CSA’s findings also indicate “that women who are victimized during college are most likely to be victimized early on in their college tenure.”
A 2008 study published in the Journal of American College Health found “substantial” support for the Red Zone. The study — conducted by a group of Middlebury College researchers — revealed that overall there were more reports of unwanted sexual experiences during the earlier part of the academic year.
Additionally, first-year students reported unwanted sexual experiences more frequently during the fall semester than older students, a difference that diminished as the year progressed.
Because of the risk associated with the Red Zone, many colleges hold sexual assault awareness seminars during new students’ first weeks.
Colleges usually cite several reasons as to why this period is more dangerous for freshman women. According to an explanation of the Red Zone on West Virginia University’s website:
- “Students are meeting new people and trying to fit in, and they may participate in certain activities for the first time
- Students have less parental supervision and increased independence, which may lead to certain behaviours such as experimenting with alcohol or other drugs
- Students may be new to the city, and may be adjusting to a new environment and getting oriented”
The Middlebury study also notes a potential problem with the classic definition of the Red Zone — it may inadvertently minimize the perceived risk for sexual assault during other parts of the academic year. As the authors write, “education about the classic red zone may place women at higher risk during lower-risk time periods if they perceive those times to be relatively safe.”
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