Over the last few years, many colleges have proven that they are incapable of handling sexual assault in an effective way. Not only can they not seem to handle it, but also their methods of handling it are tragically and tiresomely flawed.
The Huffington Post reported that a threatening majority of students found guilty of sexual assault are not expelled—less than one third to be precise. Most people who commit sexual violence are repeat offenders. Keeping people on campus who have committed sexual assault or rape undeniably puts the entire campus at risk. The majority of men do not rape women. Instead, it is the people who walk away with a slap on the wrist and a shining college degree who continue to poison our country’s campuses in more ways than one. Not punishing people found guilty of sexual assault to the fullest extent allows more of it to occur.
Dartmouth College has issued a ban on hard liquor on campus with the intention of reducing sexual assault in addition to other alcohol related incidents. While Dartmouth’s heart might be in the right place and an alcohol ban might prevent a high number of hospitalizations, banning alcohol on a college campus is a misguided effort in ending sexual assault. It places the attention back on inebriation, which in turn suggests that sexual assault happens because people are too drunk to control themselves. This is a policy that practically screams victim-blaming. Will Dartmouth ask the next victim who comes forward whether she was drinking hard alcohol that night? We have circled back to a fundamental issue with dealing with rape: telling girls and women not to “get raped” instead of teaching boys and men not to rape.
On January 20, 16 UVA sororities received a letter from national sorority leaders encouraging them to skip fraternity events during bid-week in an effort to prevent them from becoming victims of sexual violence. This letter, dripping with condescension and sexism, suggested that sorority members should cower because fraternity men might sexually assault them, but that fraternities can go on doing whatever they want! The good news is that UVA sororities rejected this egregious letter and created a petition against it. The student council noted that the letter accentuates the “fundamental power dynamics underlying [sexual assault].” This email of caution represents much of the way colleges and the Greek system approach sexual assault. Trying to change the behavior of women is not combatting campus rape, but rather supports the mentality that men dominate women.
The only thing that will help the sexual assault issue infecting college campuses is to attack the problem directly and bluntly. Unfortunately, according to a study done in 2007 by John Foubert, Jerry Tatum and J.T. Newberry, “fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses.” We need to discuss why this happens and why it continues to happen. Then we need to address those issues. Is it because of gender inequality? Is it because of power structures in the U.S.? Why do perpetrators of sexual assault find support in fraternities? These are the discussions that need to be had regardless of whether you shut down fraternities or ban alcohol.
One in Four, a non-profit organization seeking to prevent rape and encourage bystander intervention through programming, notes, “all-male environments are more successful than mixed environments for changing men.” To clarify: fraternities could have a huge impact on changing how their brothers view and value women. So why don’t they?
Fraternities arguably have a large hold on American culture. Their influence might be able to positively change the way the country as a whole views sexual violence. Instead of national sorority leaders emailing sororities to hide from sexual violence, maybe national fraternity leaders should require all fraternities to engage in a rape-prevention week. What if all fraternities were required to not only participate, but also be trained in bystander intervention programs? If anything, that sounds like a good start and a simple request. It’s definitely more productive than telling women to be careful, leave in groups and drink less.
From talking to friends in fraternities at other colleges, it seems that some are taking steps to educate their members and others are required by their universities to send a few members to “risk management” meetings where they discuss sexual assault among other matters. For example, Phi Gamma Delta at the University of Pennsylvania is requiring all their pledges to attend a presentation by One in Four so that they can learn about the presence of sexual assault, how to prevent it and how to help someone who has been a victim. These are the efforts that will actively combat sexual assault.
In order to accomplish this turnover, the movement needs to be a widespread and focused national one that includes every member of every fraternity. Fraternities should take the initiative and require all their members to attend a presentation from a sexual assault prevention campaign, to pledge to fight sexual assault in addition to intervening if they see it happening, and to educate themselves on what it means to consent as well as what it’s like to be a victim of sexual assault.
This seems like an obvious step, so why hasn’t it been done?