The “Red Zone” of sexual assault

| August 22, 2023
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The “Red Zone” is a period of time that lasts from 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 we 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. Data (see Reference section below) shows that over 50% of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses occur during this time.

New students can be especially vulnerable during this period, due to their unfamiliarity with the campus, new social experiences, and the resources available to survivors. It is never a person’s fault if they experience sexual violence. It is the fault of the person who exploited vulnerabilities for their own gratification and to cause harm.

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

Though there is a relationship between 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, the survivor is not at fault.

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.

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 often push a person to become incapacitated or target a person who is incapacitated, because that person is less likely to resist any force or coercion applied by the perpetrator. Perpetrators may use drugs or alcohol themselves to lower their own inhibitions, making it easier for them to engage in disinhibited or aggressive acts. Perpetrators also rely on blame being shifted from them to the survivor when alcohol is involved.

Again, it is always the fault of the person who chose to interact with another’s body without express permission. No other crime is excused if the victim, perpetrator, or both were under the influence of drugs or alcohol; it should be the same in cases of sexual violence.

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.

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, and ethical. Consent is mandatory in all sexual and intimate acts.

Q: What does the Office of Health Promotion and Well-Being (HPWB) do to address gender-based violence at JHU, including the Red Zone?
A: HPWB hosts an array of educational and prevention programming throughout the year, including specialized programing during the Red Zone weeks. The universitywide Consent Campaign teaches students how to center autonomy, joy, and pleasure of all those involved in their intimate situations (including sexual and non-sexual intimacies).

The Gender-Based Violence Prevention (GBVP) Team is a confidential resource for students who have experiences gender-based harm, like sexual violence, abusive relationships, stalking, and sexual harassment. Read this blog post to learn more about what it’s like to meet with a member of the GBVP team.

In addition to individual meetings, the team also offers a menu of trainings that students and trainees can request for their groups on topics like consent, healthy relationships, and bystander skill building. Most of these are customizable to scenarios specific to individual student groups and communities.

HPWB also manages the required Bystander Intervention Training program that all new undergraduate students must take.

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: There are lots of things you can do. Some examples include:

  • Look for targeted programming during the Red Zone period and beyond, including programming around consent, healthy relationships, and workshops focusing on bystander skills.
  • Reach out to the GBVP team to collaborate on your own events and programs. Use this form to request trainings for your groups around gender-based violence prevention. The Consent 101, Consent and Alcohol, and Setting Up for Consent and Positive Interventions workshops are ideal for Red Zone programming.
  • Keep an eye out for the Consent Campaign, via on-campus signage and on social media. You can request Consent Campaign swag using the program request form.
  • If you are a first-year undergraduate or a transfer student, complete the mandatory Bystander Intervention Training (BIT) sessions as soon as you can to learn more about consent, healthy relationships, gender-based violence prevention, and bystander intervention skills.
  • If you’ve already completed BIT training, check out the answer to the next question for a quick refresher, and commit to using the skills to interrupt behaviors you do not want to see in your communities.

Q: How can bystander intervention skills impact the Red Zone?
A: All members of a community have opportunities to intervene upon and interrupt the behaviors that contribute to any harm that occurs in those communities.

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

  • before harm occurs, by creating environments and communities that are not accepting of sexual violence or behaviors that facilitate or permit sexual violence;
  • during harmful behavior that facilitates or permits harm (I.e. if we see the harm occurring, we have an opportunity to stop it when it is safe to do so); and
  • after the violence or harm 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 that 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: There are lots of ways to support survivors. Here are a few important ones:

  • 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 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.
  • Remember that 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

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.