Be careful: We’re in the red zone

It’s that time of the year where parents are helping their kids move out, and universities are welcoming students back in. Across the country, college students are probably the most excited to be back in the classroom, specifically the freshmen.

While there is much to love about the first-year college experience, there is much to be aware of as well. Every college student should know that more than 50 percent of campus sexual assaults occur between August and November, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Every first-year student should know about the “Red Zone,” a period of time when female freshmen are most likely to be raped or experience attempted rape, beginning when freshmen first walk onto campus until Thanksgiving break.

There are numerous realities that make freshmen particularly vulnerable targets, including many beyond their control. West Virginia University offers an explanation of the Red Zone on its 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 behaviors such as experimenting with alcohol or drugs
  • Students may be new to the city, and may be adjusting to a new environment and getting oriented."

One study concluded that freshmen were two and a half times as likely as students in other years to be the victims of assault, a number that increased for rapes occurring at parties. This plays true to veterinary technology student Ajiona Lunsford’s story of assault during the summer of her freshman year. Like most students in college over the summer, Lunsford chose to spend her night drinking and dancing at a house party, which was thrown by an organization she was an active member of.

The night ended with her waking up naked in an unfamiliar bedroom, only to realize that she had been raped. She didn’t end up reporting the rape.

“Honestly I regret it, because it shouldn’t be like that. At the end of the day I should have reported it because I could save the next girl,” said Lunsford.

Lunsford was sexually assaulted during a time of vulnerability due to alcohol intoxication. Unfortunately this story is way too common on college campuses. At least half of these reported assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim or both.

In response, hundreds of colleges will spend the early weeks of this school year telling women how to avoid being preyed upon. This approach doesn’t leave much time to focus on investigating the culture of rape on campuses, which is something Lunsford is interested in taking a lead on, now as a senior at Florida A&M University.

“I feel like it should be talked about because a lot of people don’t talk about it. You only know what you know and don’t know what you don’t know, so if you don’t have someone over you saying that’s not okay, of course you’re going to think it’s okay,” said Lunsford.