Why Banning Fraternities Won’t End Sexual Assault
By now you’ve seen the statistics – one out of every 5 women will report being sexually assaulted while in college. Men in fraternities are 300% more likely to assault a woman than their non-Greek classmates. Women in sororities are 74% more likely to be sexually assaulted than are non-Greek women. In 2014, at least eight freshman died on college campuses due to excessive consumption of alcohol before the first month of classes had ended, and an estimated 1,825 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries, including those sustained in car accidents (alarming, even if over-estimated). You’ve read about the “Rape bait” email from Georgia Tech that coached brothers on how to incapacitate a female target with alcohol. You know about the Columbia student who carried a mattress around campus in protest of the College’s response to her own sexual assault. You saw the rise and fall of a reporter for Rolling Stone and her discredited account of Jackie’s brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia frat party. Just one of these reports is terrifying, but altogether, they seem to indicate that a culture of alcohol and sexual abuse is dominating Greek life and taking over college campuses. MSNBC contributor Ken Sheppard has called for the banning of fraternities on college campuses. Some schools, such as Wesleyan, have made fraternities co-ed, with the belief that if men live and work closely among women, it will promote gender equality and encourage greater empathy and respect – women will be seen as people instead of conquests. “Great, good riddance,” you may think…until you consider the report that came out of the University of Kentucky on August 31.
According to the results of a survey administered to the student population of the University of Kentucky, 4.9% of students (1,053) on campus report being the victim of a sexual assault within the past year. Sexual assault was defined using the federal criteria, including incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs, threats of harm, physical force, or a successful attempt to escape forced sexual contact. Of the 821 students who provided details on the location of their assault, 62.5% occurred in off-campus residences, with about 6% of those occurring in University of Kentucky affiliated housing, including fraternity and sorority houses. Another 27.3% occurred in on-campus University of Kentucky affiliated housing. 75% of the assaults were committed by University of Kentucky students.
What this study suggests is that sexual assault is a college problem, not just a fraternity problem. The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study prepared for the National Institution of Justice reveals a strong correlation between alcohol use and sexual assault on college campuses. 16% of the college senior women surveyed reported being a victim of sexual assault through incapacitation by means of alcohol or drugs, with more than a quarter of these occurring inside fraternities. More than 58% occurred at a party. Over 60% occurred off-campus. Removing fraternities from campus or prohibiting them from serving alcohol won’t prevent rapes that don’t occur in fraternities. In fact, banning frats can cause them to go underground, which removes them from the oversight of the college and can make them even less safe. Also, because frats fill a need for camaraderie and support among college men, fraternity-like organizations, like Princeton’s Eating Clubs, may crop up in their stead.
So if we can’t ban fraternities, can we ban alcohol? If Prohibition is any indication, probably not. Banning alcohol on campus will send alcohol to off-campus residences where, if you recall, 60% of assaults by means of incapacitation take place. So what do we do?
We teach the rapist not to rape. Ideally, this would have been done from the time he (or she) was a small child watching non-gender-role-enforcing sitcoms, but we live in an imperfect world, so the responsibility falls on educators where society has failed. Many sexual assault education programs have already been initiated. However, we need more than an afternoon workshop or march if we truly hope to chip away at the misconceptions that fuel gender-based misconduct and alcohol abuse on our campuses. As a means of primary prevention, every incoming freshman should be required to take a semester-long course on sexual assault and responsible use of alcohol. Sexual assault should be clearly defined as any sexual contact with a person who cannot grant consent (be it through incapacitation by drugs or alcohol, disability, etc.) and any sexual contact with a person through coercion, threats, or force. In the 2007 CAS report, an alarming 100% of perpetrators who committed sexual assault while the victim was incapacitated reported that they did not consider what they had done to be assault. In order to build a universal understanding of consent, case studies that present the perspectives of both the victim and perpetrator should be studied and thoughtfully discussed. Establish a bystander intervention program, like Indiana University’s Culture of Care, to emphasize students’ connectedness and responsibility to each other and their campus. Provide information about alcohol and its impact on a person’s ability to make rational decisions. Encourage students to know their limits by including averages on how much a person of a certain body weight can drink before becoming highly intoxicated or incapacitated.
Because of the reported correlations between Greek life and sexual assault, additional education workshops should be required of all fraternity and sorority pledges so that they can assume a leadership role that supports gender equality and responsible drinking. Encourage them to host their own awareness projects for the larger campus community. Conduct yearly climate surveys, like the University of Kentucky’s, to track progress and assess where change is necessary.
As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that students enter the world as more complete, self-aware, socially conscious members of society. So let’s work on that together.