Many young people are heading off to college, enjoying their first opportunity to live away from home, make friends, and choose their classes. Young people are starting an adventure free of curfews and parental supervision. But, there is a distressing part to starting school contrasted with the expectation of new opportunities, friends, and experiences. Statistics have repeatedly shown the beginning of the first semester of college to be the “red zone”. The term “red zone” means freshman female students face greater risk of an attempted or completed rape during their first few weeks on campus. I have written about how men use alcohol as a tool to facilitate sexual assault. There are a plethora of parties the first few weeks of school along with access to alcohol and drugs. But, why do we have the red zone? What else is going on at these campuses?
Last fall at an Old Dominion University fraternity house, three signs were hung from the balcony featuring sexually suggestive messages directed at women. One sign pointed an arrow at the front door with the text “freshman daughter drop off”. The other signs read “hope your baby girl is ready for a good time…” and “go ahead and drop off mom too”. Some might say that these were just jokes. But, when these statements are added to a frat party culture where crimes are committed, they are not a laughing matter. These signs were hung for parents to see as they were dropping off their kids and the men who lived in these houses thought they were being witty writing them. These fraternity guys figuratively said, it is time for freshman women to move from daddy’s house to our house. Another sign posted at a fraternity house at West Virginia made that exact connection with the text “she called you daddy for 18 years now its OUR TURN”. Part of me is troubled that college men used “it’s” incorrectly, but the message is more problematic than the grammar. These guys are crystal clear. They believe women exist to be sexually available to them. They welcome women like a lion welcomes a gazelle to dinner. These signs are not about mutual enjoyment or what women want. These signs celebrate an opportunity to harvest a new crop of women. Freshman women, inexperienced with college party culture, are ripe for the picking in situations where alcohol is used as a tool to incapacitate and more importantly facilitate sexual assault. Clearly, these men intend to take advantage of a vulnerable population of freshman women. This is problematic and exactly why we have the hot zone. Taking advantage of people is never okay and we can have fun without hurting anyone.
As a society we have to start teaching men that women to do not exist solely to fulfill male sexual pleasure. We have to teach men that using force or coercive techniques is wrong. We have to teach men that using alcohol to incapacitate is rape. We have to combat the beliefs, attitudes, and norms that encourage men to treat women like prey and that sex is something to take from someone else. We have to start teaching men that sex must be mutual. Moreover, we have to teach everyone that consent is sexy. We have to make a consistent effort to promote a culture where men respect women, their bodies, their choices, and hold other men accountable.