Kavanaugh Hearings Spark Debate About Campus Sexual Assault as Colleges Struggle to Combat “Red Zone”

Last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has prompted a national conversation about sexual assault at a time when many colleges and universities are working diligently to raise awareness of campus sexual violence.

Many aspects of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony have brought to light some of the challenging circumstances that Title IX administrators, law enforcement, and others who handle campus sexual assault cases must contend with. For example, the hearings have brought attention to the effect that trauma has on a survivor’s memory and to the consideration regarding whether adult men should be held accountable for sexual misdeeds committed during their youth.

Additional accusations made against Kavanaugh that reportedly occurred during his time at Yale University have led female alumni to speak out about the history of hostility toward women at elite institutions. Alumnae of Yale and other Ivy League schools have shared stories with national news media about the predatory fraternities, binge drinking parties, and culture of male entitlement that led to what they claim were frequent acts of sexual misconduct in past decades.

At the same time, students and administrators across the country are making a forceful effort to combat what is called “the red zone.” This refers to the first few months of the academic year in which the largest number of sexual assaults occur, especially for college freshmen, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to Joanne Sampson, program coordinator for violence prevention in the office of Student Wellness and Health Promotion at the University of Delaware (UD), a number of factors — such as being socially isolated in a new environment and binge drinking — make first-year students more vulnerable to sexual assault during their first few weeks on campus. Many institutions are directing sexual assault prevention training toward potential perpetrators as well as potential victims.

Through a two-hour “Bringing in the Bystander” program, UD has provided education for more than 2,000 community members regarding how to intervene if they witness inappropriate sexual behavior toward another person.

Students as well as institutions are taking a harder stance on sexual assault prevention. At Ohio University (OU) in Athens, for example, students have taken a particularly zealous approach to fighting the “red zone.” In August, a group of female students using a messaging app created a group chat called Safe Walk Home to help fellow students find someone to escort them when walking alone at night. The group currently has more than 1,000 users.

Furthermore, in September, fraternity and sorority houses on OU’s campus displayed white bedsheets with phrases such as “Stand with Survivors” and “It is not consent if they are too afraid to say no” written on them. And ongoing campus rallies and events, including those hosted by male student groups, are calling on fellow students to take a stand against sexual assault while expressing support for survivors.

Photo via Matt Murphy