DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Today in Your Health we're continuing our series on sexual assaults on college campuses. In a moment we'll hear about the role drinking plays in putting students at risk, but first the role the calendar plays. Female college students might be at higher risk of sexual assault as the new school year gets underway. Here's NPR's Jane Greenhalgh.
JANE GREENHALGH, BYLINE: It's sometime called the, red zone, from the first day on campus to Thanksgiving break, students away from home for the first time trying to fit in, no parental supervision, parties with alcohol, it's a time some say female students are at highest risk of being sexually assaulted.
BILL FLACK: It's assumed that the highest risk period is at the beginning of the first semester. So, maybe the first couple weeks to the first couple of months.
GREENHALGH: Bill Flack is an associate professor of psychology at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He'd seen posters on campus warning female freshman to be wary of the red zone, but there wasn't much evidence to back it up. So he did two studies on two different campuses and what he found was surprising.
FLACK: On one campus, we did find a classical red zone. The beginning of the first year, but on that same campus, there was also increased risk during the winter period.
GREENHALGH: In the winter term at this small liberal arts college, students only take one class, leaving lots of time for partying. And on the second campus...
FLACK: Risk was not any higher at the beginning of the first year but rather it was higher at the beginning of the second year.
GREENHALGH: That coincided with sorority and fraternity rush - again, lots of partying.
FLACK: Research turns up time and again risk factors that are strongly associated with campus sexual assault, and primarily of course that boils down to alcohol consumption.
GREENHALGH: And it's the combination of alcohol and students who are on their own for the first time that can make the first few weeks of school dangerous. Research shows it's a very small percentage of male college students who commit most of the assaults when alcohol is often involved. Melissa Osmond is the associate director for health promotion at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
MELISSA OSMOND: There are certain individuals who are predators and prey on people who are vulnerable. And primarily in a college setting, statistically speaking, it's young women and young women coming into a new environment; add alcohol to the mix; and these predators are looking for who is vulnerable.
GREENHALGH: But Osmond says it's a mistake to think the first few weeks or months are the only dangerous time.
OSMOND: I truly believe it could happen any time, and it doesn't have to be in the first six weeks or 15 weeks. It's not always, you know, freshmen women. It can happen at any time during your college career.
GREENHALGH: A White House task force on campus sexual assault recommends each college do a survey of its own campus so it can figure out what's happening and develop ways to stop it. Jane Greenhalgh, NPR News.
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