The “Red Zone” of sexual assault

| September 2, 2022

The ‘Red Zone’ is a period of time that typically occurs during the start of the fall semester through Thanksgiving break when a majority of sexual assault occurs on college campuses. This post explains why that is, and what you can do about it. 

Q: What is the Red Zone?
A: It’s a six-to-10-week time frame when many students are going to parties, gatherings, and other social events to celebrate their return to campus. 

New students are especially vulnerable during this time period, due to their unfamiliarity with the campus and the resources available to them if they have been assaulted. 

Q: What is consent?
A: Consent is uncoerced permission to interact with the body (or life) of another person. Consent is the presence of a Yes rather than an absence of a No. It is informed, and freely and actively given for each specific act. It can be revoked at any time. Consent is agreed upon, wanted, ethical, sexual and intimate acts. 

Q: How does alcohol affect the Red Zone?
A: Because of an increase in social gatherings during this time, there is the potential for increased use of drugs and alcohol. Alcohol is the tool that is most commonly used by perpetrators in cases of sexual assault. 

A person who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol is not able to consent. Both Maryland law and Johns Hopkins policy reflect this. Perpetrators of sexual violence will often push a person to become incapacitated or target a person who is incapacitated, because a person who in incapacitated is less likely to resist any force or coercion applied by the perpetrator. Perpetrators may also use drug or alcohol themselves to lower their own inhibitions, making it easier for them to engage in disinhibited or aggressive acts. 

Per the Johns Hopkins report on the 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, the majority of both perpetrators (67.0%) and survivors (69.8%) of sexual violence were using alcohol at the time of the violence. 

Though there is a relationship to alcohol and sexual assault, it is imperative to make clear that sexual assault is never the fault of the survivor. No matter if a person was using drugs or alcohol, if they had had sex with the perpetrator before, what they were wearing, how they were dancing, or anything else. Sexual violence is always, 100% of the time, the fault of the person who chose to interact with another’s body without that person’s express consent. 

Q: What can I do to help reduce the incidence of sexual assault on campus, both during the Red Zone and at any time of year?
A: It is up to each of us to intervene and interrupt behaviors that contribute to the violence that occurs during (and outside of) Red Zone weeks. 

We have the opportunity to intervene in three places in time: 

  • before violent behavior occurs, by creating environments and communities that are not accepting of sexual violence or behaviors that facilitate sexual violence; 
  • during sexual violent behavior or behaviors that facilitate sexual violence, we can intervene in that moment; 
  • and after the violence or the behavior occurs, we can support survivors. 

There are four ways we can intervene in these three places in time. They are referred to as the 4Ds of intervention: Distract, Direct, Delegate, and Delay. 

  • Distract. Interrupt the incident or event with something unrelated. Pretend you’re friends with the person experiencing the behavior, ask for help finding something, or ask for directions. This technique involves causing some form of distraction that will interrupt the flow of potential violence. This is useful when folks are not sure what is going on in a situation. A distraction technique can give people a chance to get out of a situation, or give other folks a window to use direct or delegation techniques. 
  • Direct. Address the behavior in the moment. Name it. Say why you are not ok with it. See if the person experiencing the behavior needs help getting out of the situation. Direct intervention involves confronting either the potential target or the person who you think is about to do the behavior. This can often be easiest if the bystander knows the people involved in a situation. 
  • Delegate. Bring someone else in to help you, maybe someone who is better suited in dealing with the behaviors. You can call friends over (theirs or yours), alert a supervisor, or alert someone with more authority in the situation. When a bystander doesn’t feel safe to approach the situation alone, they can delegate to others. This tactic is especially useful if the bystander does not know the people involved in the incident or the relationship between them. It can also be useful if a bystander does not feel like they are personally equipped to handle a specific situation. 
  • Delay. If you are unable to act in the moment because of safety concerns, location, proximity, or any other reasons, you can check back in later. Offer resources, see if they need help, and talk about why the behavior was not ok. 

Q: How can I support survivors of sexual violence?
A: Remember that Gender-Based Violence (GBV), including sexual violence, is never the fault of the survivor. It is always, 100% of the time, the fault of the person who chose to interact with another’s body or life without that person’s express permission. 

Understand there is no such thing as a “right” way for a person to respond to trauma. No two people react to trauma in the same way. Because of the hormones the human brain releases (adrenalin, cortisol, opioids, and oxytocin) during a traumatic event, survivors may respond in ways that are unexpected to folks who support them or even to survivors themselves. 

Let the person who is a survivor take the lead. Being supportive of the choices that survivors make (as long as they and others are safe) is paramount towards the regaining of autonomy. Survivors are experts in their own lives, so it is important for them to lead the way and tell you what they need, rather than the other way around. 

Convey that you believe them and that the violence was not their fault. 

Continue to care for survivors after they have initially disclosed to you. Be patient. There is no time limit for healing. 

Take care of yourself in order to be able to continue to support others. 

Set and maintain boundaries. Allow yourself to recognize when you have reached something that is out of your area of comfort or expertise. 

Share resources with survivors when you think they may be better suited to help them than you are. See the list below for on- and off-campus options. 

If you feel like you need to process your own experiences with a disclosure, you are also welcome to reach out to the resources below for additional support. 


There are two types of resources available to those who have experienced GBV: confidential and non-confidential. 

While privacy is always at the center of the work of all Hopkins staff, those staff who are confidential are able hold on to the details you share (who, what, where, when) and provide help and support without the requirement of any involvement by the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). 

Those who are non-confidential are required to share some information with OIE and can also provide support. If you are uncertain if a staff member is confidential or not, we invite you to ask them and also consult this list. If faculty and staff are not listed here, they are non-confidential. 

Confidential Hopkins Resources 

  • Associate Director of Gender Violence Prevention Alyse Campbell 
  • Counseling Center: 410-516-8278, press 1 for the on-call counselor. Serves Homewood, Peabody, and on-campus SOE students.
  • Counseling Center Sexual Assault HelpLine: 410-516-7333.  
  • Student Health and Wellness Center: 410-516-4784. Serves Homewood, Peabody, and on-campus SOE students.
  • Interfaith Center: 410-516-1880. 
  • Student Assistance Program (JHSAP): 866-764-2317. Serves AAP, BSPH, CBS, SAIS, SOE, SOM, SON, and EF.
  • Faculty & Staff Assistance Program (FASAP): 866-764-2317. Serves postdocs and residents.
  • University Health Services (UHS) Health Services: 410-955-3250 (Available 7 days a week, 8am-5pm). Serves BSPH, SOM, and SON.
  • UHS Mental Health Services: 410-955-1892. Available by phone 24/7. Press “0” to speak with the on-call psychiatrist in an emergency. Serves BSPH, SOM, and SON.

Non-Confidential Hopkins Resources 

Student-Led Resources (not confidential) 

Community Resources 


Editor’s note: former SHWB interns Quinn Kenny and Nicole Brim were substantial contributors to this article.