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First 6 weeks of college most dangerous time for sexual assault

More than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur in the first six weeks of classes, a time known as the "red zone." 

People moving into the residence halls at NAU lined up Aug. 25, 2017. (Photo: Halie Cook/12 News)

Gabby Torres and her sister unloaded a Mini Cooper filled with her belongings outside of a freshman dorm at Northern Arizona University Friday morning. For Gabby, who plans to major in biology, it was the beginning of her college career -- something she sees as a fresh start.

"I am really excited," she said. "I love this campus and I've wanted to go here since I was little so it's really exciting to see everything like come together, just everything I've worked for."

NAU welcomed 5,700 freshman this year and many of them moved in to the dorms this week.

As a freshman, Torres and other girls moving in this week are at a higher risk for what experts refer to as the "red zone," the first six weeks of the fall semester, when sexual assaults on college campuses seem to spike.

More than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur between August and November and students are at an increased risk during the first few months of their first and second semesters, according to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

The "red zone" overlaps with the time when back-to-school parties and hangouts happen. Freshman are at a higher risk because they have fewer friends, little drinking experience and are eager to fit in, said Melissa Sleet, a mobile advocacy program manager with Victims Witness Services for Coconino County.

"So these first few weeks are going to be intense because it’s the red zone," said Sleet. "So that’s where the parties are going to happen and when everyone is coming back to school and wanting to just hang out with friends."

Females between the ages of 18-24 are most at risk of being assaulted. Among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of women and 5.4 percent of men are rape or sexual assault victims, according to RAINN.

Only 11 percent of females report sexual assaults and when alcohol is involved, that percentage drops to about 7 percent, said Sleet.

"If they don't want to report it, that's OK, that's their choice. If they want to report later the statute of limitations it can be a year to two years of when they can report it," said Sleet.

Students at NAU are required to complete an online program that addresses diversity and sexual assault.

New students are also required to attend orientation which has a session called True Life. True Life addresses sexual assault, roommate issues, drugs and alcohol, according to Kimberly Ott, the assistant to the president for executive communications and media relations at NAU.

Sleet said to always be aware of your surroundings, carry mace with you and keep an eye on your drink.

"Do not ever walk alone," said Sleet. "Make sure you are with trustworthy friends, do not go by yourself. Know your whereabouts."

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