First weeks of college are a high-risk time for rape

Kelly Byer

The first few weeks of a college student’s freshman and sophomore year pose the highest risk for rape, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Kristen Walter, a fifth-year doctoral student in clinical psychology, said she thinks the high sexual assault risk at the start of school occurs because students try to establish peer groups and have more access to alcohol and drugs.

“It’s a new environment,” Walter said. “People have more freedom at that time.”

According to “Acquaintance Rape of College Students” by the U. S. Department of Justice, rape is one of the most common violent crimes on American college campuses, and women have higher rates of rape than men.

But the common view of a stranger overtaking and sexually assaulting a woman as she walks alone at night is often not the case. While rapes committed by strangers do occur, a rape committed by a casual acquaintance is more likely, said Alice Ickes, crime prevention officer for the Kent State Police Department.

“Statistically, sexual assaults occur in a residence, either the victim’s own residence or someone else’s,” Ickes said. “They tend to occur when someone comes as a social call or in a party situation.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 34 percent of completed rapes and 45 percent of attempted rapes among college students are on campus.

Walter said drinking plays a large role and increases the risk of sexual assault.

“Alcohol is a huge one,” Walter said. “I would say that (it’s a factor) even more than drug use.”

In more than three-quarters of college rapes, statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show the offender, victim or both had been drinking.

“Unfortunately, you find a lot of people who are extremely intoxicated, who either perpetrate sexual assaults or are the victims of sexual assaults,” Ickes said. “We do find people who make poor choices, have poor self control or maturity issues, and it only takes a little alcohol to make that pop out.”

One way to reduce the risk of sexual assaults is by drinking in moderation, Ickes said. Consuming large quantities of alcohol leads to little control over a situation.

“Many times, the person who is most intoxicated is the one who’s vulnerable,” Ickes said, adding that those intoxicated are no longer part of the group.

“Don’t be the one who’s left behind or don’t leave friends behind, ” she said.

Darcie Chabola, freshman fashion merchandising and business major, said she always tries to walk or attend parties with friends.

“I’ve felt safe so far,” Chabola said.

While she has never called Campus Security’s escort service, Chabola said she would if she needed it and has the number saved on her phone.

When walking back alone from work in Kent, Kristin Mohan, freshman theater studies major, said she carries pepper spray – calling it “mostly a precaution.”

On-campus reports of sexual assault at Kent State in 2007 and 2006 showed none, but in 2005, three were reported.

The records are limited, however, to incidents reported on campus, Ickes said.

“As the university police department, we’re limited to taking reports and investigating what occurs within our jurisdiction,” Ickes said.

Victims may also be uncomfortable reporting a crime or fear being blamed, Walter said.

“I think the issue of reporting a sexual assault and the issue of coming in for treatment following a sex assault may be slightly different,” Walter said. “In a therapeutic sense, it might be that individuals don’t necessarily feel that they’re having a problem.”

When alcohol is involved, the victim may not realize what happened until after the incident, and if the person was a casual acquaintance, Ickes said the offender’s identity might be unknown.

Even if the identity is undetermined, Ickes said reporting the crime should be a priority. A report only starts the process of investigation, and the victim decides whether to press charges later.

“Physical evidence, especially DNA evidence, is fragile and it has to be collected and preserved in the first few hours,” she said.

Being aware of the issue and knowing the best course of action is important for all students, Ickes said.

“On college campuses, you have people who are our future teachers and counselors and professional people in all walks of life,” Ickes said. “So, the more they’re aware of the problem, and aware of how to help someone in these situations, the better off our society will be in a few years.”

Contact safety reporter Kelly Byer at [email protected].

Clinics and resources available:

On-Campus Phone Numbers

Police Department

Emergency: 911

Nonemergency: (330) 672-2212

Women’s Resource Center:

(330) 672-9230

Escort Service: (330) 672-7004

Psychological Clinic: (330) 672-2372

Counseling and Human Development

Center: (330) 672-2208

Off-Campus Phone Numbers

Kent City Police Department

Emergency: 911

Nonemergency: (330) 673-7732

Robinson Memorial Hospital Emergency

Room: (330) 297-2850