The Red Zone: A Dangerous Time on College Campuses

Heading to college is an exciting time for many students. Buying new books, getting settled with new roommates, finding a new social group, and adjusting to new housing are just some of the changes that college students face in the early weeks of school. Students also endure a time coined by experts and academics as the “Red Zone” – a time spanning the start of the fall semester through Thanksgiving break when more than 50% of all college sexual assaults are statistically found to occur.[1]

An Inside Higher Ed (2019) article addressed the Red Zone and called for higher education institutions to take more effective preventative measures.[2] The article said:

While many colleges have programs that educate students about the Red Zone and how to avoid it, some institutions offer ineffective, “fluffy” programs that oversimplify the issue and fail to address the underlying culture that facilitates sexual violence on campus. Sexual assault prevention activists said college administrators must do more than just make students aware of the Red Zone . . . .  U.S. Department of Justice study of nine colleges found that 629 sexual assaults occurred among first-year students in September and October 2014, which was more than the assaults that occurred during the next four months combined, when 521 sex assaults were reported by first-year students.[3]

The Red Zone time frame is not coincidental as it coincides with numerous parties celebrating students’ return to campus.[4] Greek organizations also usually hold their “rush” events for people interested in joining fraternities and sororities in the first few months of the semester. New and younger students are likely to be victimized during this time because they have yet to develop a strong support system.[5] This is particularly true for women. According to one 2019 study, approximately one in four undergraduate women say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching or penetration.[6]

Some colleges teach students to intervene when they see a scenario that could lead to sexual violence, but often, students feel too scared to step in or may not know how to assist.[7] Colleges and universities use programs such as Green Dot, which teaches students how to overcome barriers when deciding to intervene in a potentially violent situation.[8]  A study of three campuses found that institutions that used Green Dot had 17 percent fewer cases of interpersonal violence compared to the two colleges that had no bystander intervention training.[9] Not all higher education institutions provide comprehensive training, and some often focus on warning students about the dangers of drinking instead of directly addressing sexual assault issues.[10]

Researchers have not yet studied ways of mitigating the Red Zone.[11] Experts agree, however, that there are things that college campuses can do to support students and prevent sexual violence on campus.[12] The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape organizes campus sexual assault prevention into four buckets: awareness, risk reduction, response, and prevention.[13] The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape says that higher education institutions should: (1) increase understanding of sexual violence and available campus resources; (2) assist students and faculty to identify warning signs of sexual violence and learn risk-reduction strategies; (3) help lessen the impact of trauma on survivors; and (4) create long-term solutions to prevent sexual violence.[14]

[1] RAINN, Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics, (2022), https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence; me too, The Red Zone: Sexual Violence on College Campuses, (2020), https://metoomvmt.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/1.5.11_The-Red-Zone-Sexual-Violence-on-College-Campuses_INFOSHEET_V2.pdf.

[2] Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, Avoiding the Red Zone, Inside Higher Ed., (September 12, 2019), https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/09/12/experts-say-new-methods-needed-combat-red-zone-campuses.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] See me too supra fn. 1; Bauer-Wolf, supra fn. 2.

[6] Nick Anderson, Susan Svrluga, Scott Celement, Survey finds evidence of widespread sexual violence at 33 universities, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/survey-finds-evidence-of-widespread-sexual-violence-at-33-universities/2019/10/14/bd75dcde-ee82-11e9-b648-76bcf86eb67e_story.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.; Ann L. Coker, PhD, Heather M. Bush, PhD, Bonnie S. Fisher, PhD, et al., Multi-College Bystander Intervention Evaluation for Violence Prevention, American Journal of Preventative Medicine, (Nov. 2, 2015), https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(15)00553-X/fulltext.

[10] Anderson, et al., supra.

[11] Id.

[12] Anne Branigin, The ‘red zone’ is the most dangerous time of year for campus sexual assault. Here’s what you need to know., The Lily,  (Sept. 11, 2021), https://www.thelily.com/the-red-zone-is-the-most-dangerous-time-of-year-for-campus-sexual-assault-heres-what-you-need-to-know/.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.; Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Campus Sexual Assault, (2022), https://pcar.org/about-sexual-violence/campus-sexual-assault.