The Red Zone: Sexual Assault and the College Campus

It is my favorite time of year.  In the past couple weeks, I have former students pop their heads in my door, email me to meet up for coffee or lunch, and random hugs as I walk across campus. It is a time of reflection, new beginnings, and celebrations.

It also is a time called the Red Zone (and I’m not talking about football).  The first 2 weeks as a matter of fact are the most crucial time to be aware that students are most at-risk of  sexual assault.  Research shows that students are most vulnerable because they are solidifying their identity, new found freedom, and continually forging new relationships with other new students.  Student in essence are allowing new strangers into their “circle of trust” as Jack Burns would say it.

With this red zone impact comes great responsibility as higher education professionals.  We know that sexual violence happens to both men and women, but research ultimately indicates that women are most often times victims.  Just in the past few weeks I have heard stories from female students that include, sexual coercion from other male students, a date rape drug report, and a women that “consented” to having sex with a male within 5 minutes of meeting him, immediately regretting her decision from his aggressive proposition.  As many know, my dissertation focuses on this very issue because it is a threat to the developing female college student.  These experiences stunt their growth and success as a student and a leader.  These experiences impact their emotional/psychological life and greatly impact student persistence and retention.

I pose the question to you, what would you do if a student reports or discloses a sexual assault or rape?  Some colleagues first response is call the police and report it.  As a matter of fact, many cannot wrap their heads around the difficulty of the issue.  With the Campus SaVE implemented, there is opportunity for institutions to act and assist in the persistence of men and women, however the continued blurred lines of rape and sexual assault make it difficult for students and administration to understand and properly respond.

Women are perplexed by the steps they should take in reporting because of societal stereotypes and the double standard that still exists.  Society continues to place blame on women regarding how they dress and act (think Miley Cyrus at the VMAs while Robin Thicke passively looks on).  This victim blaming resonates cognitively and shapes their reactions and comprehension of events.  It is no wonder that they do not want to report a rape because they blame themselves after a lifetime of messages from media and society.

What can be done in higher education to combat the red zone and sexual assaults on campus?

  • Be an advocate.  There is nothing more important than bringing issues to the surface.  If you are comfortable, intentionally address the issues in class or in your office.  Let student know that you are a person who can help.
  • Educate yourself.  Know your university’s policies and familiarize with federal laws.  Department to consult are your campus student rights and responsibilities, legal rights, or judicial affairs.
  • Know the resources on and off campus.  Sexual assaults happen off campus many times.  Know where to point students to help them including a women’s center, counseling center, wellness center, local hospital/safety department.
  • Educate others. Sexual assault/sexual violence education is not just for women on how to protect themselves, it is for men as well.  We have to have conversations that foster a different level of thinking.  Talk about issues that are silenced.  Education students on the double standard.  Talk about how to distract in risky situations.
  • Develop/implement Programming. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing the topics, chances are a department on your campus does.  Incorporate these into a first-year experience curriculum, Housing, sexual assault awareness month, the red zone, RSOs, campus programming, documentaries and discussions, etc.
  • Prevention.  If you help a student to report and get help, you are creating a trickle down impact that will help save another woman or prevent something detrimental from happening again. Change starts small but will leave a lasting impact.
  • Listen and be confidential.  The best you can do is listen to a student if they disclose information to you.  Sit and allow them to tell you their experiences.  Point them to help if they request it but be a support and don’t judge.
  • Ask.  You should always ask the student how they want to proceed and not assume they want to report anything.
  • Follow up.  Remember to check in with the student to make sure they have the resources they need. It will make their experience much more reflective and beneficial, knowing someone cares.

References:http://www.acha.org/sexualviolence/docs/ACHA_PSV_toolkit.pdf
http://jiv.sagepub.com/content/23/9/1177

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