Red Zone: First weeks of college most dangerous for sexual assault

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CLEVELAND -- With students back on college campuses, experts say there's more to worry about than new classes. The first six weeks of the school year are known as the "red zone" because of a spike in reports of sexual assault during the period.

“The statistics on undergraduate sexual assault are pretty staggering,” said Sarah Trimble, Chief External Affairs Officer for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

Research from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network found 23% of female students and 5% of male students experience sexual assault as undergraduates.

The danger is heightened for new students at the start of the school year, the red zone, when students haven’t yet developed a strong safety net and face new social pressures, including with alcohol and sex.

“Commonly, we find that instances of rape and sexual assault include binge drinking, encouragement to participate in a hook-up culture on campus,” Trimble said.

Attorneys Kristina Supler and Susan Stone, co-chairs of the Student & Athlete Defense group at the law firm Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, represent students in sexual assault cases, which can involve criminal and university proceedings.

They said there’s increased awareness about the issue among students.

“With the impact of #MeToo on college campuses, it's changed the landscape surrounding consent and sexual experiences in general,” Supler said.

Colleges have policies and train incoming students about sexual harassment, assault and consent.

Stone said parents need to talk to their kids about healthy relationships, the risk and potential consequences of sexual encounters, and the need for sober and verbal consent.

“Parents need to say the issue of sexual assault is going to be top of mind, and because it's the elephant in the room, or the elephant in the bar, you need to be careful,” Stone said.

Supler said parents should have an updated “sex talk” with college-bound children to discuss consent, drugs and alcohol.

“Consent should be an ongoing discussion, should be communication with a sexual partner,” she said.

Experts also said students should look out for each other and have a plan to speak up about dangerous situations.

Stone said anyone who feels they are the victim of sexual assault should talk to a trusted advisor on campus. Additionally, she said that a student accused of sexual assault should consult with someone who can give sound advice before giving a statement.

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center has a 24/7 Crisis and Support Hotline at 216-619-6192 (text or call) or visit clevelandrapecrisis.org/chat.

Information about help for survivors on local college campuses is available at clevelandrapecrisis.org/services/campus-services/

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