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A Fraternity of Rape

Implications of the horrifying UVA fraternity rape scandal

Brad Wilcox, by the way, is a sociologist who teaches at the University of Virginia. I had heard nothing of the UVA rape scandal until he linked via his Twitter feed to Rolling Stone‘s blockbuster exposé of the rape culture among the school’s fraternities. Please read this, especially if you have sons or daughters in college, or who will be in college one day.

It begins with a first-year female student named Jackie, invited upstairs by her date, a fraternity brother in Phi Kappa Psi, one of the oldest and most prestigious male Greek organizations on the UVA campus. Here is a serenade from that national fraternity’s songbook (the men in the accompanying video are not from the UVA chapter, as far as I can tell):

For she is the sweetheart of Phi Kappa Psi,
The girl of all girls most dear;
Hers is the love that will never, never die,
Thru the fortunes and sorrows that come with the years.
Her eyes speak of promise, most tender and true,
Of happiness soon to be,
For there’s coming a day
When each Phi Psi sails away
With his sweetheart in Phi Kappa Psi.

Yeah. So, Jackie was led into a gang-rape ambush. Rolling Stone reports:

She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more – her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men’s heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.

And then, after she escaped:

Minutes later, her three best friends on campus – two boys and a girl (whose names are changed) – arrived to find Jackie on a nearby street corner, shaking. “What did they do to you? What did they make you do?” Jackie recalls her friend Randall demanding. Jackie shook her head and began to cry. The group looked at one another in a panic. They all knew about Jackie’s date; the Phi Kappa Psi house loomed behind them. “We have to get her to the hospital,” Randall said.

Their other two friends, however, weren’t convinced. “Is that such a good idea?” she recalls Cindy asking. “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.” Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”

The Rolling Stone story reveals a campus culture in which fraternity houses are widely known as places where girls, especially freshman girls (who are too young to get into bars) are invited inside, gotten drunk, and bedded. The story says most of the sex is consensual, but sexual predators flourish among the general culture of booze and sex within the frat houses. Here’s the most appalling thing about the UVA story: the college’s administration and many of its alumni defend this culture, either passively or actively.

Throughout the story, you read over and over that the UVA administration refused to make anyone available to answer the reporter’s completely legitimate queries about what happened to Jackie and other women at the school. Get this: when Jackie went to the dean in charge of handling sexual assault claims (a woman, incidentally), she gave Jackie the choice of calling the cops or letting the university handle it:

Like many schools, UVA has taken to emphasizing that in matters of sexual assault, it caters to victim choice. “If students feel that we are forcing them into a criminal or disciplinary process that they don’t want to be part of, frankly, we’d be concerned that we would get fewer reports,” says associate VP for student affairs Susan Davis. Which in theory makes sense: Being forced into an unwanted choice is a sensitive point for the victims. But in practice, that utter lack of guidance can be counterproductive to a 19-year-old so traumatized as Jackie was that she was contemplating suicide. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a school offering to handle the investigation and adjudication of a felony sex crime – something Title IX requires, but which no university on Earth is equipped to do – the sheer menu of choices, paired with the reassurance that any choice is the right one, often has the end result of coddling the victim into doing nothing.

This is what the Catholic Church did. The first case I wrote about, back in 2001, involved an immigrant teenager who was passed around priests in a Bronx parish. When the boy’s father learned what happened, he went to see an auxiliary bishop. According to the victim’s lawyer, the auxiliary bishop allegedly pulled out a checkbook and offered a payout in exchange for the father signing a paper giving the Archdiocese of New York’s attorneys the right to handle his case. The father may have been a laborer and an immigrant, but he knew a scam when he saw it. He left and hired his own lawyer.

And here we see the University of Virginia following a similar script. The deeper you read into the story, the more clear it is that the University of Virginia’s administration has been absolutely and disgustingly derelict for decades, protecting the reputation of the institution at all costs. Excerpt:

If Seccuro’s story of administrative cover-up and apathy sounds outrageous, it’s actually in keeping with the stories told by other UVA survivors. After one alumna was abducted from a dark, wooded section of campus and raped in 1993, she says she asked a UVA administrator for better lighting. “They told me it would ruin Jefferson’s vision of what the university was supposed to look like,” the alum says. “As if Thomas Jefferson even knew about electric lights!” In 2002 and 2004, two female students, including Susan Russell’s daughter, were unhappy with their sexual-misconduct hearings, which each felt didn’t hold their alleged perpetrators accountable – and each was admonished by UVA administrators to never speak publicly about the proceedings or else they could face expulsion for violating the honor code. For issuing that directive, in 2008 UVA was found in violation of the Clery Act.

Please do read the entire Rolling Stone article.  It is no more credible to believe that this phenomenon is isolated to the University of Virginia than it is to believe that clerical sexual abuse was limited to the Archdiocese of Boston. I hope Brad Wilcox is right, and this sparks a nationwide series of newspaper investigations into fraternity rapes and the responses of universities.

By the way, the University of Virginia was finally shamed into action by the RS piece. UVA’s president Teresa Sullivan has temporarily suspended all fraternity activity on campus.  You’ll note in the RS story that many of these UVA administrators are women.

I don’t understand the attraction of college Greek life. I will strongly discourage my children — not just my daughter, but my sons — from getting involved with it in any way. Too rapey. I do not want my kids, as college students, to be subject to rape, to participate in rape, or to be in a position in which they are pressured to prove their loyalty to their fraternity, their friends, and their university by staying silent about rape.

I was never involved with a fraternity when I was an undergrad, and never partied at a frat house. It is unjust and inaccurate to say that all fraternity brothers are like the men in this story. But when I think back to how getting drunk was a regular part of campus life for both Greek and non-Greek (including Your Working Boy, for sure) when I was at LSU (this was the 1980s, when it was legal for 18 year olds to drink), it is very, very easy to imagine the same kind of thing that happened at UVA happening at my college, and many others. To be clear: I don’t know that it did, or does, but boy, does the Rolling Stone description of the drunken scene outside UVA frat houses, especially during Rush Week, sound familiar.

In other news of powerful men getting away with raping drunk or drugged women, more and more women are emerging with allegations that Bill Cosby attacked them. The Washington Post had a long, brutal story about this yesterday.  By the time this is over, there won’t be anything left of Cosby. If even a fraction of these stories are true, then good; let justice come down on Cosby, on UVA, and on all who have victimized the weak and gotten away with it.