The first few weeks of school are an exciting time for incoming freshmen and transfer students. Everything is new, there are so many opportunities to explore, and there’s a lot of fun to be had before your teachers start piling on the assignments. However, the beginning of the school year is also the time that new students should be most alert about on-campus crimes. Studies show that most sexual assault survivors are attacked in the first six weeks of college. This period of time is known as “the Red Zone”, and students are thought to be more vulnerable during these weeks because they are unfamiliar with their surroundings and because there are more opportunities for perpetrators to strike during social situations, like back-to-school parties.
During this time, it’s important to look out for yourself as well as your friends. Many survivors of sexual assault will isolate themselves physically or emotionally as a result of their experience, so all students should be able to recognize these behaviors and know the signs of victimization. If a friend seems constantly tired, depressed, or withdrawn, loses their appetite, sleeps excessively, has emotional outbursts, or exhibits any other behavior that seems out of character, encourage them to talk to you about what’s going on in their life. Let them know that you care and you are willing to help if they are going through a hard time. If you find that someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, you can assist them through the recovery process and to speak out about it. The National Center for Victims of Crime suggests spending time with others, re-establishing a normal daily routine, getting adequate rest and nutrition, and finding outlets such as exercise as ways to cope with a personal crime. You can help a friend with this by checking in on them regularly, and offering to do some of these things with them if they are not prepared to return to a daily routine by themselves. However, it’s very important to still allow them privacy and autonomy.
Deciding to seek help following a sexual assault is a very personal decision. Even if a friend makes a decision that you don’t agree with following sexual assault, it’s imperative to remain supportive and understand that they have chosen what they feel would best help them recover. Some survivors opt to seek counseling but not take legal action; some report the assault to police and some report it to their school; some prefer not to receive any professional help at all. If they do decide to seek help; look for resources on your campus and in your community that could benefit them, and if not, make sure that they have a strong support system in their family and friends. The biggest thing you can do to help is simply be there for them no matter their choice.
If you suspect that someone you care for has been a victim of sexual assault, remember these signs and ways to help. Be aware of the Red Zone at the beginning of each school year. Always put your safety and the safety of your friends first to have the best year possible!