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USU waging war on sex crimes

Red Zone Day helps educate students about the problem

LOGAN — It's not just football season on college campuses, it's sexual-assault season.

The time between the start of fall classes and the Thanksgiving break is when college women are most likely to be sexually assaulted, says Rachel Brighton, Utah State University's sexual assault prevention coordinator. Freshmen women away from home for the first time and trying to fit in are particularly vulnerable, she says.

"You've got students who are coming to campus experimenting with new freedom, meeting new people," Brighton says. "There are those who would take advantage of that vulnerability."

USU officials call that time the "Red Zone." To educate students, USU recently sponsored Red Zone Day, featuring information on sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence, anger management, self-defense, mental health, abusive relationships and, especially, alcohol abuse.

Brighton says rapists are more likely to use alcohol as a weapon than a gun or a knife.

"It makes it difficult for someone to resist unwanted sexual actions," she says.

Brighton, who heads USU's Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information office, urges students to follow the "zero-one-three" alcohol guidelines, which recommend people pregnant or under 21 have zero drinks. Others should have only one drink per hour, and no one should have more than three per evening or on consecutive days.

Michelle Lofthouse, a 20-year-old sophomore from Pleasant View, says she has known freshmen women who have put themselves at risk of sexual assault by going alone to parties and drinking too much.

"A lot of them would be telling me it was just them and a lot of guys," she says. "They think, 'I don't have my parents telling me what to do. Let's go have 11 shots even though I'm only 90 pounds."'

Brighton recommends women be careful about the places they go and the people they hang with. Women who go to parties should go with friends "to watch out to make sure others will not take advantage of them," she says.

It's also important for men to pick up on the signals women are sending, she says. If a woman says no, Brighton says, she means no.

If a woman freezes up, says she wants to leave or has "a deer in the headlights look," men should back off, Brighton says.

"There can be a variety of ways of throwing signals out — to say, 'Not tonight. Not with you."'

In fact, a study released last year by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice determined only 8.6 percent of the state's rape victims were attacked by a stranger. That's one reason USU is enlisting men to help combat sexual assault.

USU was the first university in the Intermountain West and the only one in Utah to form a chapter of One-in-Four, a men's group dedicated to counseling and comforting sexual assault victims and preventing sexual assault. The One-in-Four name refers to a U.S. Justice Department study that estimated one in four college women has experienced rape or attempted rape after turning 14.

One of the group's strategies is to show men a video with a graphic description of a male police officer being raped by two lowlifes.

USU senior Cory Freeman says he joined One-in-Four "because I've had some really close friends and family suffer sexual assault.

"I've been the person they came and talked to, and I've seen what it's done to them mentally and physically," he says.

USU also offers Rape Aggression Defense classes, which teach women how to physically fend off would-be attackers. The classes are offered to the public for $20, or students can take them for physical education credit.

During Red Zone Day, RAD instructors offered one-hour self-defense classes called "Fight Like a Girl."

No men are allowed to take or monitor RAD classes, lest potential rapists learn to counter the moves, says USU police Sgt. Joe Huish, one of the RAD instructors. RAD teaches simple moves that are easy to learn and execute under pressure.

Often, Huish says, simply fighting back is enough to discourage an attacker.

"Women are still women — they're not going to be as strong," he says. "We rely a lot on the element of surprise."