The “red zone” means one thing to a football fan. It’s those 20 yards before the goal line.
The term means something different to people who work with rape victims. It refers to the first six weeks of the fall semester, when a glut of new students arrive on campus, on their own for the first time in their lives.
“The first month and a half of college is the time when freshmen women are most likely to be raped or experience attempted rape. This time period is known as the ‘Red Zone’ — a period of vulnerability for sexual assaults, beginning when freshmen first walk onto campus until Thanksgiving break,” according to the Centre County Women’s Resource Center.
Campus sexual assault is a big issue nationwide. In June, a Stanford swimmer was given a six-month sentence in a rape cast that ignited outrage. Last week, an 18-year-old high school graduate in Massachusetts received a two-year probation sentence for sexual assault on two unconscious victims.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said something has to change, and he wants it to be the whole culture surrounding sexual assault.
“It’s a lot like drunk driving,” he said. “It used to be accepted. Maybe frowned upon, but accepted as something that just happens. And then there was Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Now, guess what? A lot of people worry about getting caught.”
Casey sat down for a chat about the issue in State College on Wednesday, surrounded by college students coming back for the first week of that red zone.
He talked about things he wants to see make a difference, like education and bystander intervention, something Penn State has embraced. President Eric Barron accepted those and 16 other recommendations of his sexual assault and harassment task force in 2015.
“I found that every recommendation has merit and that when combined, these actions present a strong and comprehensive response to sexual violence and harassment on our campuses,” Barron said at the time.
The move worked well with recommendations from the Campus SaVE Act, something Casey introduced. It was signed into law in 2013, and amends existing federal legislation. According to the Clery Center for Security on Campus, it updated the Clery Act to improve transparency, accountability, education and collaboration.
But Casey hopes for more.
“It has to be a campuswide priority,” he said. “It has to be a different culture.”
Culture can be a loaded term at Penn State, where former FBI director Louis Freeh’s commissioned report on the Jerry Sandusky scandal tarred a flawed culture for allowing young boys to be abused. Follow social media posts about the university and you can still see bristly references to it, generally around positive things like Thon where alumni and friends say that is the culture they support.
Casey, instead, wants to see all campuses have a culture of protection for those in need, even if they aren’t necessarily looking out for themselves. If a girl is drinking more than she should, he wants her friends to help look after her. If a guy has an issue, he wants his friends to intervene and stop problems, too.
“Guys know,” he said. “It’s got to be called a shameful act. (Rapists) are cowards and should be ostracized. Real men don’t do that.”
That’s why he would like to see more education. But not in college. Not even in high school.
“We have to start earlier, like middle school or junior high,” Casey said.