Photo of two jack-o-lanterns lit up at night surrounded by fall leaves.

Halloween and Homecoming weekend are a time to have fun and celebrate with friends. However, it’s important to keep in mind that celebrations involving alcohol and other substances can make it easier for problematic behaviors  and unwelcome advances to go unnoticed.

Here are a few things to watch out for and bystander tips you can use to help prevent sexual assault.

1. Costumes don’t imply consent

Dressing up is a cherished tradition for many people on Halloween. This tradition can also be infused with problematic stereotypes and negative social attitudes. It’s important to remember that what someone chooses to wear does not give others permission to verbally harass or touch them. Like any other clothing, costumes are not an excuse to bother, harass, assault or take advantage of someone.

2. Stay in your comfort zone

There are a number of Halloween traditions that can make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Don’t feel pressured to engage in activities or events that you aren’t truly comfortable with, even if it’s in the spirit of Halloween.

For instance, you may not feel comfortable going to a haunted house where people are allowed to touch or grab you. On the other hand, you may not feel safe going to a house party where you don’t know anyone. Remember that it’s perfectly okay to decline an invitation to do something if it doesn’t feel right.

You can always make up an excuse to get out of an uncomfortable situation or leave a party if it feels like it’s too much or is getting out of hand.

3. Watch for red flags

Whether you’re out with friends or at a party, it’s important to recognize situations where a person may be pursuing someone in an unwanted way or when consent isn’t possible. Keep an eye on people who:

  • Hit on the drunkest person at a party
  • Encourage others to drink
  • Try to get a drunk person alone or away from their friends
  • Are persistent about pursuing someone sexually
  • Violate a person’s basic boundaries (e.g. touching them without permission, pressuring them to stay at a party, etc.). 

People generally understand boundaries and consent, but some people aren’t interested in honoring them. You don’t have to assume someone has bad intentions to simply redirect that person or disrupt a situation that has the potential to cause harm or result in a bad outcome.

4. Keep track of your friends

At parties, high-proof alcohol mixed with sweet punch or juice might be served to increase the likelihood that people will become intoxicated. It’s common for perpetrators of sexual assault to encourage alcohol consumption or target those who are intoxicated. It’s important to check in with a friend if you observe any sudden changes (e.g. difficulty standing, disorientation, etc.) that might indicate they’re too intoxicated or had too much to drink.

5. Don’t ditch anyone

Commit to not ditching someone if they have too much to drink and/or become unwilling to stick with your plan to stay together. This decreases the likelihood that someone will have to rely on less known friends or strangers to get home, which can create risk for something bad happening. 

Consider whether someone offering to walk a person home or look after someone who is too intoxicated is trustworthy and being helpful or is potentially looking for access to someone who is vulnerable.

6. Trust your instincts

If something feels weird or wrong, it probably is.

If you see a situation that ever feels uncomfortable or unsafe, follow your gut. It’s okay to make up an excuse to interject or interrupt something that doesn’t seem right  (e.g. you don’t feel well and need them to leave with you, you need them to check on a friend, you want them to go with you to get something to eat, etc.) to disrupt an uncomfortable or problematic situation.

Defining sexual assault

Sexual assault includes any unwanted sexual contact or behaviors that a person did not or was not able to consent to. 

Sexual assault can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Unwanted penetration or contact, including vaginal, anal or oral sex (this includes penetration by an object or another person’s body part)
  • Unwanted touching of private body parts (e.g. butt, breasts, genitals) 

Keep in mind that sexual assault can also include attempted assault using any of the methods listed above. Additional forms of sexual misconduct include sexual harassment, exploitation (e.g. sharing nudes, videotaping sexual acts without consent, etc.) as well as intimate partner abuse such as dating violence and stalking.

Support resources

Resources are available for students who have experienced sexual assault, who want to support friends and survivors, or who want to learn more about sexual assault prevention.

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential information, consultation, support, advocacy and short-term, trauma-focused counseling services for students, grad students, faculty and staff who have experienced a traumatic, disturbing or life-disruptive event, including sexual assault and harassment. 

Confidential resource

Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC)

OIEC implements and enforces university policies around sexual assault, intimate partner abuse and stalking, and other forms of sexual misconduct. If you or someone you know at CU has been impacted, reports can be filed online. Anonymously reporting is an option as well. 

Don't Ignore It

Explore your options for seeking confidential support, reporting concerns and learning skills for helping others. If something seems off, it probably is—don't ignore it.