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The Red Zone: The Other Freshman 15

For most people, the “red zone” is football terminology, especially in the New River Valley community where many are Hokie football fans by default. In football, the red zone refers to the area between the 20-yard line and the goal line, where teams have a higher probability of scoring.


The Red Zone has another definition, though, referring to the period of time between students’ arrival on campus and Thanksgiving – about 15 weeks for most schools. Research shows that female students, particularly freshmen, are at an increased risk of being sexually assaulted during this time period.

In fact, according to the Campus Sexual Assault Study by the US Department of Justice, more than 50% of college sexual assaults occur between August and November. The study also reported that freshmen and sophomores were at greater risk for victimization than juniors and seniors.


New students may be feeling insecure and trying to fit in. They are adjusting to a different routine and a new geographical area. As they meet new people, they may participate in activities that they’ve never participated in before. Freshmen are also away from their parents for the first time and experiencing increased independence, which may lead to experimenting with alcohol or other drugs. These factors can contribute to higher sexual assault rates among younger college women.

The Campus Sexual Assault Study referenced above reported that one in five female students will experience rape or sexual assault during their college years. It also found the following:

  • The majority of sexual assaults occurred when women were incapacitated due to their use of substances, primarily alcohol.
  • The large majority of sexual assault perpetrators were men that the victims knew and trusted, rather than strangers.
  • More than 95% of sexually assaulted students never report the attacks.

The National Institute of Justice identifies several factors that may increase sexual assault risk, including location, namely, off campus parties, and day of the week, citing that the majority of sexual assaults occur on weekends.

Many universities have begun emphasizing the danger of the Red Zone through awareness events, placement in print materials and on websites, and more. While some universities don’t specifically define the Red Zone, most have adopted ways to educate students on sexual assault. Virginia Tech and Radford University are among hundreds of schools across the US that require all incoming students to complete the online course “Haven–Understanding Sexual Assault” by Everfi.


In addition to being educated about the increased risk during this time period, there are also some practical steps you can take to help reduce your risk:

  • If you’re going to drink, consider how you can drink responsibly and limit consumption, since most instances of sexual assault occur when one or both parties are intoxicated.
  • Trust your instincts and if a situation feels unsafe, go with your gut.
  • Plan first dates in public places or in groups.
  • If you’re going to a party, go with friends and plan to look out for each other.
  • Avoid isolated areas where you can’t be seen or heard, and avoid walking alone, especially after dark.
  • Establish your sexual boundaries and clearly communicate those to your partner. Your partner should listen to you and respect your boundaries.

For more safety tips, check out these 5 Questions to Ask Yourself at the Start of Party Season.


If something has happened and you or a friend has been a victim of sexual assault, get help. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, no matter what the circumstances.

The first step is to seek medical attention, even if you think you do not have any injuries. Your health care provider can check for internal injuries. If the assault has occurred within the last 72 hours, consider having a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) exam, especially if you think you want to report the assault to the police now or in the future. The Virginia Community Solutions to Sexual and Domestic Violence provides a helpful summary of some FAQs regarding this exam. PERK exams are available at the Carilion New River Valley Medical Center in Radford.

You can decide whether or not you want to report the assault to the police and the university. Check out Virginia Tech reporting options and Radford University reporting options, including a confidential reporting form.

Other resources are available to you as well, for support and counseling. Counseling is often an important step toward healing after a sexual assault. Both Virginia Tech and Radford University have resources for victims of assault. Some of these are confidential and some are private. Virginia Tech explains the difference between a confidential and a private resource:

Confidential resources cannot share identifying information about you without your written consent. Exceptions can be made in response to court orders, when child or elder abuse is involved, or if there are serious threats to hurt one’s self or others.

Private resources are required to report incidences to the Virginia Tech Title IX Coordinator. Other university departments may also be involved as a means to help survivors or protect the campus community. Among Virginia Tech’s offices and departments, most offer privacy, NOT confidentiality, to those who report abuse.”

Valley Women’s Clinic is a confidential resource. We are here to listen to you and to assist you in getting you the help you need if you have been the victim of sexual abuse. If you are worried about an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, Valley Women’s Clinic can provide you with a free pregnancy test as well as free testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea. We can also provide referrals for other medical or counseling services you may need.


Because of the approximately 15-week period of vulnerability and the 1 in 5 statistic, the heartbreaking reality of sexual assault on college campuses is the other freshman 15. Far more serious than the dreaded weight gain of the first year of college, we want students, especially freshmen, to be aware of these statistics and informed about how to avoid risky situations if possible. We also want you to know that we at Valley Women’s Clinic, as well as others in the community, are here if you need help.

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