The Red Zone: Sexual Violence at Post-Secondary Institutions | REES

The Red Zone: Sexual Violence at Post-Secondary Institutions

Written by REES;

The ‘Red Zone’ consists of the first six to eight weeks of the fall semester at post-secondary institutions, where the number of sexual assaults is heightened compared to other times of year. This time of year brings lots of new experiences for both returning and new students, such as parties and residence events. However, this can come with increased vulnerability for new students, as they may not be familiar with the campus, know about the available resources and may be away from their familial and/or social network. While this information may bring anxiety for students, it is important to remember that there are lots of ways that individuals and institutions can work to create a safer campus during the Red Zone.

Being Proactive About Healthy Sexuality

Starting post-secondary education can bring newfound independence, freedom, and self-exploration, which can be incredibly exciting! It is important to develop some strategies that will help support you if you choose to engage in sexual activity and ensure that these interactions are safe and pleasurable.

Consent is the voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of the person initiating or engaging in a sexual activity to obtain clear and affirmative responses at all stages of sexual engagement, and it must be at the forefront of all interactions! Here are some other tips to remember that are key to have safe and pleasurable sexual interactions:

  • Think about your sexual boundaries and desires ahead of time.

Although you can ALWAYS change your mind in the moment, thinking about what you are (or are not) looking for in advance can help you feel empowered to clearly communicate your wants, needs, and limits to your sexual partner(s). Knowing what you want will help you feel confident in the moment!

  • Educate yourself on sexual health, contraception options, and sexually transmitted infections.

STBBIs are infections that can be transmitted from one person to another through sexual contact (exchange of semen, vaginal fluid, blood, or other fluids), including oral sex – and they are preventable! If you are planning to be sexually active, consider and discuss STBBI prevention methods with your partner beforehand. Condoms, HPV and Hepatitis Vaccines, getting STBBI tests, and various birth control options are all great ways to be safe when sexually active.

  • Communication is key for all parties involved.

Ask your partner what they want, and really listen to what they tell you. Show your partner(s) that you want to connect with them in a way that is respectful of everyone’s boundaries. Verbal communication, especially when it comes to consent, is never the wrong move. Share what you like, don’t like, where your boundaries are, and ask the same from the people you are with.

  • Remember that you know yourself best.

If you are feeling unsure or unsafe, trust your gut and take a step back from the situation. You should never be feeling uncomfortable or pressured into doing anything with your partner(s) that you are uncomfortable with. If you are feeling excited and comfortable, communicate those feelings with your partner(s) and make sure you are on the same page. If you leave a situation feeling uncomfortable, or that you may benefit from support, know that there are resources on campus and in your community that can help support you.

  • Promote consent culture within your community.

Consent culture centers our values and beliefs around respecting and valuing mutual consent. This can apply to various types of social interaction but is especially important on post-secondary campuses where sexual exploration is a common topic and experience. Promoting consent culture in your everyday life can look like challenging peers when sexist jokes or comments are made, asking for consent to hug your friends, supporting survivors, and being aware of your campus and community resources available to those who have experienced sexual violence. Consent culture also encompasses all the previous bullet points!

Returning to Campus as a Survivor

Going back to school as a survivor can feel incredibly daunting and overwhelming, especially when your campus is tied to memories of the incident(s) and/or the perpetrator(s). It’s important to remember that you are not alone, and there are supports available to you. Some tips for returning to campus include:

  • Identify your network of supportive people before returning to school. Communicate some warning signs that your mental or physical health is deteriorating (if you are familiar with them) to the people around you, so that they can be proactive in supporting you through difficult times.
  • Create a self-care plan. You can use the REES Self-Care FAQs to find some self-care ideas for your physical and emotional health, and some exercises you can try to help you feel grounded.
  • Find support that you feel comfortable with, whether on or off-campus. This may be a counsellor, health centre, sexual violence prevention office, student services centre, etc.
  • Take advantage of academic services and accommodations when available. It is okay (in fact, encouraged) to ask for these supports when you need them.
  • Be gentle with yourself. You may need some extra supports to feel safe and comfortable, and there is nothing wrong with that!

Supports and Resources

Visit the Canada resource map to find sexual assault centres in your area.

Visit the United States resource map to find sexual assault State Coalitions that can assist you in finding resources in your area.


Me too. “The Red Zone: Sexual Violence on College Campuses.” May 2020.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. “Sex & U.” 2022.

Canadian Women’s Foundation. “Why We Ask – Teaching Consent.” April 2016.

While this information may bring anxiety for students, it is important to remember that there are lots of ways that individuals and institutions can work to create a safer campus during the Red Zone.