Preventing sexual assault

A college environment presents a number of conditions that place students at risk of sexual assault. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Research consistently indicates that women between the ages of 16 and 21 are at highest risk of sexual assault.
  • Alcohol is relatively easily accessible to college students, and plays a key role in facilitating sexual assault.
  • College brings with it a new sense of independence, and many students are experimenting with sexual activity and exploring their sexual identities.
  • The social anxieties of a small residential college community can leave students vulnerable to social pressure to act beyond their comfort level.
  • The size and selectivity of a college community like Middlebury's can also lead to a false sense of security and trust in other students.

You can make choices that minimize your risk of being sexually assaulted, and help protect the safety of others. Learn more below.

Substance use and sexual assault risk and prevention

Alcohol and Recreational Drugs
According to the 2007 Department of Justice (DOJ) Campus Sexual Assault Study, the substances that put most students at risk of sexual assault are alcohol and other drugs that are voluntarily utilized. 84% of respondents who experienced incapacitated sexual assault (an assault that did not involve the use of physical force but occurred while the survivor was impaired in some way) were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs consumed or ingested with their own knowledge.

Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and interferes with your judgment and decision-making, making for potentially dangerous and ambiguous sexual situations. This can result in sexual assault, regretted sex, and/or leave you with a serious condition, such as AIDS or another sexually transmitted disease. It can be incredibly difficult for an adjudication process to determine responsibility for a sexual assault when both partners have been drinking and have compromised memories. Keeping to a low-risk drinking limit prevents intoxication, minimizing the risk for sexual assault. Click here for more information on the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault.

"Rape Drugs"
The DOJ study found that 0.6%  of respondents reported being sexually assaulted after being given a drug without their knowledge or consent. However, more than 5% reported being given a drug without their knowledge since entering college, regardless of whether it resulted in sexual assault, so awareness of this risk is important. GHB (gamma hydroxyl butyrate), also known as liquid ecstasy, and Rohypnol or Roofies are central nervous system depressants that can cause dizziness, disorientation, loss of inhibition, memory blackouts, and loss of consciousness when mixed with alcohol. Both are odorless, colorless, and tasteless, so you may not even realize it if someone slips one of these substances into your drink. Because they may cause you to pass out, ingesting them may put you at risk.

Protect yourself against rape drugs:

  • Don’t put your drink down. If your drink is out of sight, even for a moment, don’t finish it.
  • Don’t accept an open drink from anyone. If you order a drink in a bar or at a party, make sure you watch the bartender open the bottle or mix your drink.
  • Avoid punch bowls. With “roofies” and GHB in circulation, you can’t be sure what’s in the punch, so think twice, and mixed punch can contain very high volumes of hard liquor.
  • Make a pact with your friends to watch out for each other.

First-year student risk and prevention

Female first-year students are at the highest risk for sexual assault between the first day of school and Thanksgiving break. This period is sometimes called the "Red Zone" in sexual assault prevention work. Many are away from home for the first time and unaccustomed to making personal decisions without the support of family or trusted friends, and some may be experimenting with alcohol and sexual activity for the first time. For many, new friends and support systems may not yet be established, leaving them more alone than usual. Some may be targeted as vulnerable by upperclassmen, and maybe especially flattered by this attention.

Help female first-year students to understand these risks and to know how to protect themselves.

  • Travel in pairs or groups. When going to parties, develop a plan to make sure that all members of the group are watching out for each other's safety.
  • Make sure at least one member of the pair or group maintains sobriety; consider this person the "designated driver" for the evening.
  • Call on each other to intervene as a group in dangerous situations, either before or while they are occurring. For example, if a friend is invited to a party by people s/he doesn't know well, make sure s/he brings a friend. And if you observe a friend in a situation that feels risky, grab another friend and intervene. Remember, there is strength in numbers.
  • Be willing to take the risk of having your friend, and possibly others,  be angry at you for intervening in a situation you feel is dangerous. Ultimately, you may be choosing between coping with angry or embarrassed feelings or failing to prevent a friend from being assaulted. 

Preventing committing sexual assault

If you find yourself in the position of being the initiator of sexual behavior, you owe respect to your potential sexual partner. These suggestions may help you to reduce your risk for being accused of sexual misconduct:

1. Don't make assumptions about consent. About someone’s sexual
availability. About whether they are attracted to you. About how far you can go. About whether they are physically and mentally able to consent to you.

2. Clearly communicate your intentions to your sexual partner and give them a chance to clearly relate their intentions to you.

3. Mixed messages from your partner should be a clear indication that you should step back, defuse the sexual tension, and communicate better. Perhaps you are misreading them. Perhaps they haven’t figured out how far they want to go with you yet. You need to respect the timeline with which they are comfortable.

4. Don’t take advantage of someone’s drunkenness or drugged state, even if they did it to themselves.

5. Realize that your potential partner could be intimidated by you, or fearful. You may have a power advantage simply because of your gender or size. Don’t abuse that power.

6. Understand that consent to some forms of sexual behavior does not necessarily imply consent to other forms of sexual behavior.

7. Silence and passivity cannot be interpreted by you as an indication of consent. Read your potential partner carefully, paying attention to verbal and non‐verbal communication and body language.

*This text is taken from the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management Web site

Sexual assault survivor risk and prevention

A comprehensive 2007 study conducted by the United States Department of Justice determined that nearly 16 percent of college women have experienced attempted or completed sexual assault before entering college. These women were found to be at considerably higher risk for forced physical sexual assault during their college years. If you have survived attempted or completed sexual assault prior to arriving at Middlebury, we encourage you to take the initiative to work with a counselor to help you address any unresolved issues that may place you at risk for future assault.

Ten things men can do to stop violence against women

Ten Things Men Can Do to Stop Violence Against Women


 1.      Acknowledge and understand how sexism, male dominance and male privilege lay the foundation for all forms of violence against women.

2. Examine and challenge our individual sexism and the role that we play in supporting men who are abusive.

3. Stop colluding with other men by getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to end violence against women.

4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we choose not to speak out against men’s violence, we are supporting it.

5. Educate and re-educate our peers and other young men about our responsibility in ending men’s violence against women.

6."Break out of the man box." Challenge traditional images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand to end violence against women.

7. Accept and own our responsibility that violence against women will not end until men become part of the solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence against women.

8. Stop supporting the notion that men’s violence against women is due to mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc… Violence against women is rooted in the historic oppression of women and the outgrowth of the socialization of men.

9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and effective ways to develop systems to educate and hold men accountable.

10. Create systems of accountability to women in your community. Violence against women will end only when we take direction from those who understand it most: women.

Adapted from the original by ACT Men Inc., 2004.