Experts; back to school dangerous time for college sexual assaults

ASHLAND, Ore. — It’s back to school for many colleges and universities across the country this Fall. But according to experts, now is an especially dangerous time for students at risk of sexual assault.

It’s called “the red zone” and is a time students, particularly freshman, are most vulnerable.

National data shows more than 50 percent of college sexual assaults happen in the early months of school from August to November. However, local organizations say it’s not that sexual assault is more common during that time, it’s that people are reporting it more.

College women ages 18 to 24 are also three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.

“There is potentially a heightened risk due to the newness, people trying to get acclimated to the culture. There’s definitely partying and things that are going on in terms of creating community and meeting new people,” said Riah Safady, Coordinator for the Women’s Resource Center at Southern Oregon University.

Safady works to educate students about the dangers of this vulnerable time.

“We don’t tell students, don’t drink you will get sexually assaulted,” she said. “We want to be relatable and relevant, but we certainly ask students to be aware that alcohol can be used to create that level of vulnerability.”

A survey conducted on the university’s campus during the 2016-2017 school year showed 12 percent of responding students reported at least one experience of sexual assault.

Three percent reported they experienced rape.

“The role of an advocate is to be there in that moment with that person and really make sure that they feel validated and supported,” she said.

A big part of how the university is tackling this issue, Safidy says, is by providing a resource for students to heal through trauma. That includes empowering survivors of sexual assault to come forward.

“Making sure that they know and hear that it’s not their fault,” she said. “And really working with somebody to listen to what it is that they’re asking for and what is that they need.”

Susan Moen of the Jackson County Sexual Response Team or SART says only 15 to 20 percent of sexual violence victims report the crime. She says victims tend to feel very alone in their experience and very isolated.

“Higher numbers… it doesn’t mean higher incidents,” she said. “It means more people will feel like they will be believed and heard.”

Moen wants to encourage victims of sexual violence to come forward and know they’re not alone.

“We really want to encourage a society where if someone experiences sexual violence they feel like they can safely come forward and say this happened to me and I need help,” she said.

If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault and needs someone to talk to there are resources available.

Call 1-800-656-4673 to reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

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