Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Red Zone

Moving away to campus presents an exciting, but almost instantaneous, transition from the protected and familiar world of a teenager to that of a young adult. Mom simply isn’t there to provide an insistent nudge after the sixth cycle of the snooze button on the alarm clock. Nor does anyone provide reminders that the paper that counts for 50% of your grade is due in three weeks. But probably one of the biggest changes is being plopped into an unfamiliar world without an established social support system. High school students often have known many of their classmates since elementary school. While friends and interests may change, they’re still surrounded every day by familiar people.

On of the biggest adjustments in college is the necessity to fit in-- to very quickly make friendships and develop a new social network. For some this fresh start is a welcome opportunity and for others an anxiety laden necessity.  And sometimes the process presents personal risk and unwelcome life lessons. Making new friends often involves going to unfamiliar places, trusting people without knowing them for long and attending parties (where alcohol or drugs may be readily available).

And that’s why the first six weeks on campus present the highest risk of sexual assault for an incoming freshman. There’s even a term to describe for it… the Red Zone. The combination of loneliness, newfound freedoms, unfamiliarity, and vulnerability can lead to victimization. At least 1 in 4 college women will be the victim of a sexual assault during her academic career. While many people envision a rapist masked stranger jumping out of the bushes, 80% of all sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim[1].

Alcohol is a powerful correlate with campus sexual assault. In addition to minimizing inhibitions, alcohol can dampen judgment, slow reactions and reduce identification of risks.  A national study of college students found that 74% of perpetrators and 55% of rape victims had been drinking alcohol prior to the assault. In fact, memory loss or uncertainly about the events can cloud a victim’s recall about a forced sexual contact. 48.8% of college women who were victims of attacks that met the definition of rape did not consider what happened to them rape1. Many people simply don’t realize that it’s illegal to have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent.
This week’s upcoming blogs regarding the Red Zone:
Minimizing risk of sexual assault
What to do if you are raped
How to support a friend who has been sexually assaulted

[1] Bureau of Justice Stats. “Sexual Victimization of Collegiate Women” 2000, US DOJ.

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