Welcome to the Red Zone

This is no football metaphor; the “red zone” is marked by the first six weeks of school, and is well documented as the time that most sexual assaults and violent crimes occur in an academic year.

Unfortunately, I know this time all too well. I am a survivor. It’s something I can say with acceptance now, but it took years before I told anyone about the attack and several more years to fully heal. I know I didn’t ask for or deserve what happened. That was a decision the perpetrator made — it was not my fault. I was raped. Not by a stranger, but by someone I knew and trusted.

Now I work at the VOICE Center on campus. I am surrounded by women and men who are making a difference, giving power back to survivor, speaking out, and challenging the attitudes that perpetuate a rape-supportive community. Unfortunately, the “red zone” is a time that will impact many in our community — right here in Bozeman — and it is also a time when the conversation around rape needs to be redirected.

It’s a common misconception that rapes on college campuses are committed by men who have made a bad decision. The reality is that 9 out of 10 rapes on campuses are committed by a repeat predator. These “undetected rapists” (a term coined by researcher David Lisak) know that during the first few weeks of school, new students will be taking more risks to meet new people and be accepted in their new communities. Oftentimes, alcohol is a major component in these new social settings, and rape perpetrators most often rely on alcohol as their “weapon.”

This year alone it is estimated that 1 in 4 college-aged women and 1 in 33 men will survive a rape or attempted rape, but sadly only 10-20 percent of survivors will report. I don’t see these statistics changing until we collectively shift the conversation of rape away from victim-blaming and away from the beliefs that these incidents are linked solely to campuses.

Women are told from a very young age that flirting, dressing in short skirts and low-cut tops, walking alone and drinking can lead to rape. That’s textbook victim-blaming and our culture has supported these misconceptions about sexual violence for generations. By blaming the victim we make it that much more difficult to seek help. Deterring victims from reporting lets rapists off the hook. Also, these strategies have not stopped sexual assaults from happening. Sexual assaults occur every two minutes in the U.S. While risk reduction is a component to stemming the problem, it’s clearly not the cure.

Ultimately, the most productive means of reducing risk must be done as a community. When a victim speaks out, we need to believe them, even if they name someone with power and privilege. We need to support those who have been assaulted whether they choose to report or not. Further, get familiar with Bozeman resources where victims can get the help they need: the Help Center, the Sexual Assault Counseling Center and MSU VOICE Center. Knowing their contact information is a great leap toward being a responsible, supportive community member.

I’ve seen the number of men and women that are impacted by this crime, and I understand that every single one of us experienced self-blame and shame. This awakening was accompanied by a mixture of outrage, comfort and ultimately, the desire to challenge the norm — to educate. Working at the VOICE Center, I am astounded at the men and women who advocate for change in our culture by becoming active and engaged bystanders in the prevention of sexual assault. I’ve been working in the field of violence prevention for years now, and there is hope.

This article was originally published in “The Bozeman Magpie” at www.bozeman-magpie.com.

For more information and support, contact: VOICE Center, SUB 370; 24-Hour Support Line, 994-7069.