In football the red zone refers to the twenty yards directly before the end zone, where the offense should “assert its will” and score a touchdown. This phrase takes on a very different meaning in terms of college. Among administrators, the red zone is “a period of vulnerability for sexual assaults, beginning when freshmen first walk onto campus until Thanksgiving break.” Studies show that approximately 50% of reported sexual assaults occur during this Red Zone between August and October.
Campus rape is a topic that has taken the spotlight since President Barack Obama assembled a task force to investigate potential Title IX violations at 55 colleges and universities. Amongst this list of names are some of the most prestigious and well known institutions in this country. More recently The New York Times published an article that detailed how Hobart and William Smith Colleges poorly handled reported rape incidents. As a result, discussion has begun on how to properly equip colleges to handle such cases. Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times concluded that Hobart and Williams Smith were “ill prepared to evaluate an allegation so serious that, if proved in a court of law, would be a felony, with a likely prison sentence.” The gravity and consequences of rape are illustrated by the description of sexual assault as a “violating experience anyone can endure [that] can cause immediate, as well as long-term, physical and mental health consequences.”
Sexual assault at higher education institutes has become so controversial in part because it is the culmination of other hot-button issues. There is the hazy line of where college jurisdiction should end and when outside authorities should become involved. As it stands, a victim of sexual assault has two avenues to choose from if he or she decides to pursue charges: one can either rely on the school to investigate the allegation or formally file the rape allegation through the criminal justice system. Of course a victim may also choose to stay silent, an unfortunate choice that is too often taken and not encouraged.
Historically, campus rape has been grossly underreported; this trend has only recently started to be reversed. At first it may seem concerning that sexual assault incidents are on the rise at institutions, but in fact the numbers are only now beginning to reflect what has been going on for years. One reason for this is a narrow or unclear definition of rape. Sexual assault cases do not always conform to society’s traditional mold which dictates the perpetrator be a stranger that violently forces themselves upon the victim.
Another main concern is anonymity. Especially in a small school, a victim often doesn’t want to publicize the incident, and therefore risk losing friends or becoming a social pariah. This is why the trend has been for victims to prosecute through their schools versus legal authorities. Persistent is the belief that “administrators will offer the sort of support that the police will not.” Colleges insist that they can peacefully resolve the situation, cognizant of how personal and sensitive the process can be, without the harsh alienation and objectification that involving outside officers can entail. Of course by keeping such cases under wraps, prestigious schools can keep their reputations as spotless as possible without alerting parents, prospective families, alumni and other supporters.
Convinced that he or she does not want to risk becoming involved in tedious legal proceedings or sacrifice confidentiality, a victim may put faith in their institution. Unfortunately, this decision is a crossing of the Rubicon. There is only a small timeframe for gathering critical evidence that law enforcement officers need for a strong case. Various anecdotes reveal that most students who do not go to legal authorities are ultimately disappointed. The truth of the matter is that colleges are not ideal locations to properly conduct serious rape investigations, convictions, or punishment.
A college’s hearing on the case can be vastly different from typical court proceedings. In the instance at Hobart Williams and Smith, what the victim wanted — a speedy end to this traumatizing event — inevitably hurt her in that she had little time to process everything and prepare for questioning. Panelists were given free rein and proceeded to ask ridiculous and insensitive questions, going so far to ask the witness if they had seen the accused’s penis in the victim’s vagina. The ill preparation and education the panel received was obvious, contrary to what was expected. Colleges may focus on teaching the guilty person over punishing them. Taking this softer approach, reform over retribution, can be frustrating for those seeking more tangible justice or authorities wanting to stop repeat offenders.
Stewing among these issues is the underlying sexism that seems to be inherent in many rape incidents. This is evident in the fact that yelling “fire” is a more effective way to bring attention to a situation than shouting “rape.” That people still ask “what was she wearing?” after a woman reports rape; That there is even a need for the “Not Asking For It” project says a lot about what progress has been made. Feminism is something that still seems to be largely misunderstood. It is unjustly associated with degrading men or justifying promiscuity.
Rape culture has taken hold of America. The flippancy in which the Hobart and William Smith attempts at sexual assault education were received, how the college produced a “fun” video that a school paper later reported included “slut-shaming, generalizing and even being sexist in the process” further highlights this. An issue that perpetuates sexual assault is the complacency, and in some cases aiding and abetting, of fellow peers.
Rape on campus seems inextricably linked with alcohol, drugs, and Greek life. These are things which American college students have come to label as “fun” and that every college student feels compelled to indulge in. The casual relationship and general consensus is that these activities are not only acceptable but expected to indulge in the full college experience, and it is this idea that is permeating into our view of rape. No one wants to be the party pooper that interrupts a fun night and starts a scene to prevent sexual assault. Instead, “six or seven people, perhaps five feet away, were ‘looking and laughing’” as the girl was raped at Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges.
Finally and thankfully it now seems that collegiate sexual assault is being confronted. Colleges are being forced to answer hard questions from the government and from their students. Rape isn’t something that should terrify incoming students, but they need to be aware and educated. Being in a new environment, trying to fit in and suddenly having unprecedented freedom to experiment with alcohol and drugs can be a dangerous mix. Students need to go in smart; they need to know the risks. More importantly they need to demand more from their institutions in regards to sexual assault incidents; more from their peers to stand up and stop such events; and more from themselves to stand up for the justice that is rightfully deserved.
Bogdanich, Walt. “Reporting Rape, and Wishing She Hadn’t.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 July 2014. Web. 19 July 2014.
Gray, Eliza. “Why Don’t Campus Rape Victims Go to the Police?” Time. Time Inc., 9 July 2014. Web. 19 July 2014.
Jacobs, Peter. “The ‘Red Zone’ Is A Shockingly Dangerous Time For Female College Freshmen.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 14 July 2014. Web. 19 July 2014.
Krebs, Christopher P., Christine H. Lindquist, Tara D. Warner, Bonnie S. Fisher, and Sandra L. Martin. “The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study.” (2007): n. pag. National Institute of Justice.
Potter, Claire. “Inside the Red Zone: The College Rape Season.” The Chronicle. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 13 July 2014. Web. 19 July 2014.