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The Red Zone: Sexual Assaults on the UGA Campus Peak in Fall

Every fall, freshmen students are eager to explore the party scene. While spreading their wings for the first time, some will inevitably become sexual-assault statistics within the first few weeks.

Even though the University of Georgia fares better in comparison to other schools’ reported stats overall—whether that means fewer rapes happen or fewer are reported—students are most likely to be sexually assaulted during the “red zone.”

The red zone is a time period defined by several studies, including a Department of Justice report, from the moment school starts in the fall up to Thanksgiving break. This is a particularly dangerous time period for freshmen and sophomores, who are more affected than upperclassmen. Some colleges have even taken steps to spread awareness by noting it on their websites.


The Cottage, a center for sexual assault victims located off Lexington Road behind Athens-Clarke County police station, gears up for its busy season when students come back in the fall. “We attribute it to the incoming freshman crowd as well as football season,” says Devon Sanger, adult services program manager at The Cottage. “There’s a definite correlation between a football weekend and the number of clients.

“If [a sexual assault] happens on campus, the Clery Act has to report it,” Sanger says, referring to a federal law requiring universities to report sexual assaults on or near campus. But if an incident occurs outside of campus, then “UGA doesn’t have those numbers,” adds Sanger. “I would say it’s not just on campus… It’s kind of happening everywhere.”

Flagpole examined more than four years’ worth of UGA police reports. Combined with Clery Act data for 2001–2012, they confirm the theory of the red zone. Since 2010, more than half of sexual assaults reported to UGA police occurred within the August-to-November time frame. In 2013, 85 percent of sexual assaults happened in the red zone.

Zoom in and click on the pins to see where and when sexual assaults reported to UGA police from 2010–2014 were committed. [Credit: David Schick]

The influx of brand-new freshmen every year accounts for a lot of the spike in sexual assaults in the red zone, UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson says. “You’ve got 6,000 new people in here every year that are young and bright and invincible, and sometimes they might not be as worldly to the life issues as we’d like them to be,” he says.

Stats Under-Reported

The Clery Act, which was passed in 1990 after a 19-year-old freshman was raped and murdered in her campus residence hall, requires colleges that receive federal funds to report all their crime statistics every year, as well as keep a daily crime log that is accessible to the public. But many critics claim the sexual assault numbers reported under Clery are woefully inadequate.

Williamson calls sexual assault “one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S.” About three years ago, he started to allow for anonymous reporting. Now, anyone can report it—even if they’ve heard it secondhand—and the victim doesn’t have to be involved or even talk to police. Most of these incidents are being reported by UGA employees, the UGA Health Center or another third party, and police reports often include the phrase “the victim did not wish to meet with law enforcement.”

A comparison between UGA’s police reports and the Clery Act numbers since 2010 shows that UGA’s incidents of sexual assault are consistent with the Clery data, except for a single discrepancy in the numbers for 2011 (which was off by one). UGA police Lt. Eric Dellinger was looking into the error as of press time. Williamson attributes the miscalculation to input issues, human error or problems with software. “I feel like 99 percent of the time, we’re accurate,” he says.

“Based on an article that The Red & Black did, they tried to imply that The Cottage’s numbers were higher and that somehow we were forcing people to The Cottage,” Williamson tells Flagpole. Within the past year, he’s actually worked out a deal with The Cottage where he includes their numbers in his report. Williamson says he isn’t concerned about the possibility that two anonymous reports could be the same, because his focus is on highlighting that it’s happening.

“I want to show that we’re trying to collect them every way possible to show that there is an issue, but also show the police are being transparent. We’re not trying to hide anything, Williamson says. “There’s a real concern out there that there are police in higher ed or higher ed administrations [who] are concealing numbers.”

Madison Turner is a UGA Student Government senator and an activist for sexual assault awareness on campus. She applauds the anonymous reporting efforts. “It’s important for these incidences to be reported, whether that be anonymously or not, and it takes so much courage for a survivor to come through and report,” she says.

UGA by the Numbers

More than a third of UGA’s reported sexual assaults happen in student housing, according to Clery data. Student housing, as defined by Clery, is “any student housing facility that is owned or controlled by the institution, or is located on property that is owned or controlled by the institution.”

The Russell and Creswell residence halls, both co-ed communities, are the top two dorms with the most reported incidents of sexual assault. Rape accounts for two-thirds of sexual assaults and sexual battery—nonconsensual sexual touching or groping—accounts for the other third, based on the past five years of UGA police reports.

Sanger says that in most cases—probably 90 percent or more—the victim knows the perpetrator. “[Sexual assault] looks like somebody who lives in your dorm,” she says. “It looks like somebody who’s a friend of a friend. It’s not a creepy stranger; it’s somebody you know. I’ve been here for four years, and maybe there’s been two stranger rapes. It could be somebody they meet that night, but certainly not a stranger.”

In recent years, the total number of reported sexual assaults has begun to trend upward but, compared to UGA’s peer institutions, UGA is still on the low end of the scale at 1.3 incidents per 10,000 students per year. “Those reports, I think, are good news in that our students are reporting and allowing the university to deal with those incidences,” President Jere Morehead says.


There is still a huge gap in what is and isn’t reported. According to “Not Alone,” a report published by the White House, “one in five women is sexually assaulted in college.” Based on that estimate, less than 1 percent of sexual assaults are actually reported.

Williamson acknowledges that UGA’s numbers may be lower than comparable institutions because fewer sexual assaults are reported—another reason why he is pushing to gather as much data as possible. UGA’s police department has been ahead of the game “doing stuff before it was made law,” he says.

Last month, the University System of Georgia’s Chancellor Hank Huckaby announced a new Campus Safety and Security Committee. The committee has been tasked to report on multiple aspects of campus safety, specifically including Title IX compliance regarding sexual violence, procedures regarding the Clery Act and other areas related to campus law enforcement performance.

This committee comes on the heels of a report released by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) that states “how too many institutions of higher education are failing to protect students.” The report, based on surveys issued to campus law enforcement agencies, asserts that more than 40 percent of colleges have not conducted a single investigation into a sexual assault case within the past five years. 

However, Williamson says, “If a woman does not want this followed up, the police will not follow up.” This type of crime is different from any other crime in that police adhere to the wishes of the victim. In domestic abuse, for example, it wouldn’t matter if the person being abused wanted to press charges or not; the police would pursue it, regardless of the victim’s wishes.

Until the stigma of sexual assault is lifted, survivors may never all report these crimes, and we may never know how many are really happening. But one is too many, Morehead says. “Eliminating sexual assault on campus is a high priority, the highest priority, of the university,” he says.