the red zone

Sending a child off to college is a significant milestone for both parents and students alike. Your child is leaving the nest and spreading their wings to discover who they are in a new environment. However, amidst the excitement and anticipation, there’s a looming issue known as “The Red Zone” that parents and college-bound children should be aware of. 

What Is ‘The Red Zone’?

The Red Zone is a critical period from late summer through Thanksgiving break marked by a serious increase in vulnerability to sexual assault. During August through November, students are statistically the most susceptible to sexual assault. To be exact, over 50% of college sexual assaults happen during this time. As parents, it is crucial to approach this topic with seriousness and engage in open communication with your children to ensure their awareness, safety and well-being. 

What Are The Contributing Factors to The Red Zone?

There’s not a specific singular factor that contributes to this, but rather a multitude of factors that impact each young adult differently. During this time, it is most likely each new college student’s first time living away from home and figuring out who they are without their family around. While they are adapting to a new environment and way of living, social inexperience, and a heightened susceptibility to peer pressure may start to rise.

Exploring or experimenting with alcohol and drugs may happen and cause individuals to make choices they otherwise might not. They also may be unfamiliar with campus resources and support systems that could leave them feeling isolated and exposed. This loneliness and isolation may become breeding grounds for risky behaviors. During this time, understanding the complexities of consent and healthy relationships becomes paramount. 

What Can Be Done?

While this may seem bleak, there are steps that both parents and their children can take to combat The Red Zone. 

Ask Questions

For each prospective college your child may be interested in, ask questions targeted toward sexual assault prevention and resources. This can include what the university is doing to prevent sexual violence and support survivors, steps for more effective prevention efforts, and links to resources to other organizations doing work to end sexual violence on campus. Some universities, such as Purdue University, may host workshops and stalls at events during this time to bring awareness on campus.  

Have An Open Discussion

Those who don’t have an understanding of what inappropriate behavior is are more vulnerable. Enabling your children to be able to ‘name’ these situations gives them power. They will know without a doubt that someone has crossed a serious line with them and what steps they can take if it happens. A part of identifying this inappropriate behavior is defining consent and sexual abuse.

What Is Consent?

Consent is defined as positive cooperation through acts or attitudes under free will and with the knowledge of the nature of the act. It cannot be given by individuals who are underage, intoxicated or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or asleep or unconscious. 

Consent also cannot be given if someone feels pressured to do activities through intimidation or threats or when there are unequal power dynamics such as sexual activity between an employee or student. 

What Constitutes Sexual Abuse? 

A Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney from Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, one of America’s leading sexual assault firms, explained that sexual abuse is the crime of forcing someone to engage in sexual acts or sexual intercourse without that person’s consent. Bear in mind, that the definition of sexual assault according the the law may have different nuances in each state. Extra research regarding this can be done for each state the potential colleges are in.

Sexual abuse can refer to any type of assault against another person that is sexual in nature, such as rape or molestation. Some examples can include:

  • Sexual contact with someone drunk, drugged, or unconscious
  • Voyeurism
  • Stalking
  • Grooming
  • Image-based sexual abuse (known as “revenge porn”)
  • Sexual violence including rape, date rape, attempted rape, groping, or forced kidding
  • Threatening or intimidating someone into consenting

Resources and Support

Students preparing for college life should familiarize themselves with campus resources and support services, establish safety boundaries, and plan for safe transportation and social activities.

When students are educated on where to seek help and how to access these resources when needed they are empowered. Equipping them with this knowledge reinforces the idea that safety is a shared responsibility between individuals and the broader college community.

Having open conversations about The Red Zone can better prepare young adults to navigate the challenges that may arise and to safely enjoy their time in a new chapter of their lives.