The Red Zone
“I would say there are always times I feel unsafe but as I’ve been here at SMU, I’ve become more aware of the dangers that I don’t think freshman are aware of,” junior Lauren Mensing said.
In the past two weeks, those dangers have become apparent to all students, faculty and neighbors of SMU. One student was raped on a run around the seemingly safe Highland Park. Another reported being sexually assaulted in a residential commons. Mentions of forcible fondling and sex offenses are found on September’s Crime and Fire Log. The front page of the Metro section of the Sunday Dallas Morning News touted a former SMU student who has filed suit against SMU for allegedly mishandling his sexual assault case.
But during this first six-week period, the so-called “Red Zone,” reports and occurrences of sexual assault may not be out of place.
The Red Zone is allocated as the time in which underclassmen, especially freshman are at risk for sexual assault. With reports coming in only four weeks into the 2014-15 school year, it appears as if SMU may be suffering from a concerning problem: fitting the trend.
A 2006 study discovered that 84 percent of college women who reported sexual assaults or coercive situations experiences the incident in the first four semesters on campus. Though ages are not disclosed in the police logs, the time between the first day of class and Fall Break is an important focus for SMU.
“The first six weeks are generally a transition time for all students. Students have all kinds of adjustment issues, making new friends and testing limits they may not have tested before. We focus our support on first year students,” Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Lori White said.
Efforts like Not on My Campus and the President’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures are making strides to improve the campus’ reaction, and prevention but some students feel that not much has changed.
“I knew a number of people freshman year who both reported being sexually assaulted but honestly, I’m not sure what’s really been done since,” one junior student said.
At SMU, the emphasis has been put on reporting instances of sexual assault.
“We want you to report to the police and others on campus and have made that a lot clearer to students than it has been in the past,” White said. “We may never know if we have more to report, if there really are more students being assaulted, or if they are being more open to report.”
With five sexual assaults reported in 2012, and another five in 2013, it does not seem like much has changed over the last few years in SMU police’s jurisdiction. But, with a reported one in five college women being sexually assaulted, instances of sexual assault are guaranteed to be much higher.
“It’s not really an SMU problem,” junior Kate Gonzales said. “It’s a deeper issue.”
Three assaults have been reported so far this calendar year and eighteen total reported since 2010. The numbers don’t add up. A recent White House study found that only “2% of incapacitated sexual assault survivors, and 13% of forcible rape survivors, report the crime to campus or local law enforcement.”
By these statistics, over 30 students each year are failing to report their assaults.
“I know that SMU as well as college across country want to create an environment where sexual assault occurrences are rare or non-existent,” White said. “But, should they occur, we want them to feel comfortable in reporting.”
The emails sent to the entire student body are a step that White feels promotes awareness. SMU spokesperson Kent Best listed three ways students can report assaults, to SMU police, SMU’s Title IX Coordinator, Samantha Thomas, and to other campus officials in the Health Center or Chaplain’s Office. In addition, educational programs and information found on the Live Responsibly website are poised to create a conversation of prevention.
Not all students feel that this information is enough.
“I want to say it’s about prevention,” Mensing said. “But in reality it’s a reaction.”
With freshman entering the last weeks of the Red Zone, SMU administrators are working to continue the conversation to prevent and educate students, who may become bystanders to sexual assaults.
“It takes all of us. The administration has certainly done many things and students have to step up and take charge of their community,” White said.