Column: Rapists shouldn’t be able to hide behind their letters

Two years ago, I was raped at a social. The reporting system within Fraternity and Sorority Life failed me.

Greek Life, welcome to your tape.

One of our organization’s most common rules for attending socials is to avoid going behind closed doors—a rule most likely established for members’ protection, but in actuality is advertised in a way that demeans other organizations because we do not want to be perceived “as slutty as everyone else.”

I broke this rule.

I became the victim of sexual assault while members of my sisterhood drank and danced in the basement below, never questioning where I was or what was happening to me. The weekend following my initiation, I attended a social with my new sisterhood where I was drugged and raped by a member of the Fraternity we were socializing with.

This traumatizing experience was only made worse by my sorority’s insistence on protecting our on-campus image amongst the Greek Life community. I was made to believe, by a former president, that I, in no way, could report what had happened to me. I was convinced that campus police would not believe me, and my suspicions were wrongfully validated when I was told that I would be the one in trouble for drinking underage. More importantly, I was fed misinformation about how our organization would be removed from campus if I mentioned what had happened to anyone.

Placing the organization above the safety and security of its members advances rape culture and establishes an environment where victims do not feel comfortable reporting. Our University prides itself on our very low Cleary Report data, when in actuality a majority of sexual assaults that occur on campus go unreported and the data is greatly disproportionate. By promoting this culture of victim blaming or slut shaming, we in turn incite more violence because offenders know that victims will not be believed or taken seriously.

The former president that advised me against reporting the incident also convened with a former president of the fraternity for an undisclosed meeting, violating the integrity of both organizations.

Covering up sexual assault is not a new phenomenon, but it is something that our University and professional staff working in the office of Greek Affairs should be considering more seriously.

The semester following my sexual assault, I met with the Assistant Director of Greek Affairs to disclose the name of my rapist and his organization, where I was told action would be taken and the Dean of Students would be made aware.

Action was never taken. The Dean of Students was never made aware.

I soon immersed myself in information surrounding sexual assault on campus. I learned about Title IX and that our responsible University personnel are mandated reporters for sexual assault on campus. I learned that most Greek Life organizations do not even have a protocol for response to sexual assault, and that the actions of my president—while inappropriate—were completely justifiable in my chapter’s bylaws. Basically, I learned that the handling of my situation was grossly negligent, but fully supported by my organization and the office of Greek Affairs.

When I opened a Title IX investigation to have my rapist removed from campus I anticipated backlash and retraumatization, but I could have never estimated the level of disapproval and condemnation from my sorority. In an effort to avoid involvement in the conduct hearing there were even sisters that were caught giving dishonest testimonies to the Title IX investigatory. After a sister lied about not being a sober event monitor the evening I was raped, and the investigator cited her with documented evidence listing her as a sober event monitor, she continued to lie—a selfish act that called into account the credibility of my entire narrative—with no further punishment.   

While there are many systemic issues imbedded in fraternity and sorority life, ranging from institutionalized racism to hazing to substance abuse, one of the more prominent issues that plagues our campus climate is rape culture—a societal mentality that normalizes sexual violence through aggressive social attitudes that stem from misogyny, objectification, disregard for human rights and safety, victim blaming and slut shaming.

Rape culture is heavily prevalent at an institutional level, but is brought into fruition through our PanHellenic and Fraternal communities. According to the National Institute of Justice, sorority membership is a risk factor for sexual assault, with studies indicating that members of sororities are highly more susceptible to sexual assault and violence than other campus demographics.

Fraternity and Sorority Life at the University of Rhode Island is no exception to this gruesome statistic. Our community is not only impacted, but also serves in promoting rape culture amongst the rest of our student population through behaviors and mindsets.

This culture that encourages members of an organization to give misinformation to an investigator is detrimental to the physical and emotional wellbeing of our entire campus. This culture that allows fraternity brothers to protect rapists and allows rapists to hide behind their letters, is toxic to our community. This culture that encourages and trivializes sexual violence leads to institutionalized trauma.

Kathy Collins, vice president of Student Affairs, has formed a new council to “create a safer campus culture and climate.” This is one of the most important steps to making sure cases like mine aren’t the new normal. My rapist was suspended until May 2019 from attending the University, but that isn’t a solution, it’s just delaying the possibility that he could do this again. Make no mistake, this is a rapidly growing problem at our university. And it’s not going away unless we address it.