Warning: This article contains discussion and descriptions of sexual assault. Any readers feeling uncomfortable with this topic should avoid this article.
The start of the fall semester heralded not only the chaos of new classes, but the horrifying news of two reported sexual assaults. The Greek houses where the alleged assaults occurred, Sigma Chi and Pi Kappa Alpha, both agreed to sanctions as a response to the reports. Though opinions varied, the sanctions by and large pacified the concerned public.
In a culture where rape assault casts more blame on the survivor than the perpetrator, it is exciting to see that the University and involved fraternities take the reports seriously. Their efforts acknowledged, the actions taken will not necessarily decrease rape on campus or in fraternities. The sanctions, instead of preventing rape, promote victim blaming and create the delusion there is an easy fix to rape culture, both untrue and harmful messages.
To explain the rationale behind these harsh conclusions Each sanction has been listed in bold below, as found on MSU’s news service:
Requiring all members of the fraternity participate in sexual assault prevention training this spring with the MSU VOICE Center, which provides education, advocacy and support regarding sexual assault.
This sanction is the most effective and important of the four. Educating people on rape and consent is the best step that can be taken in this situation. Providing an opportunity to ask questions to trained advocates and educators from the MSU VOICE Center is a way to promote this necessary education.
Annually offering sexual assault prevention training at the beginning of the fraternity’s new member education system.
Another sanction that will have positive implications, the trainings will educate the involved communities. The fraternities do, however, need to be careful that these trainings maintain their importance in years to follow instead of becoming a technicality.
Prohibiting the consumption of hard alcohol on the fraternity’s premises, effective immediately.
This sanction is ineffective and potentially dangerous. Banning alcohol to prevent rape sends a clear message that assault is caused by alcohol. This is completely untrue, and incredibly problematic in the event of another rape. It is not caused by alcohol consumption, skimpy clothes, or walking alone at night. Rapists cause rape and banning alcohol will not stop them. By implying otherwise through University policy MSU is showing that it is unaware of the complicated social structure that assault is born from. It is one thing to have a survivor be blamed by his or her peers for an assault that was no way his or her fault, but is another issue to include victim blaming in university policy.
Not only is this sanction personally destructive, it may increase the number of unreported rapes. Imagine a person encountered this situation in a sanctioned fraternity. The person knows how political and controversial the rape reports were and saw the stress it put on their friends. They go over to one of the fraternities next weekend. A friend offers them a bottle of whiskey and they take a few swigs. The night progresses and they keep drinking. Later that night someone at the fraternity rapes them. Considering that seventy-three percent of survivors know their rapist, it is probable that the assailant is most likely a friend or acquaintance.
In this situation the person has broken the rules by drinking hard liquor. Because the sanction implies a drunk individual is responsible for his or her assault they are more likely to blame themselves than seek help. Furthermore, you are friends with people in the fraternity. Even though the reporting process remains anonymous and a survivor is protected from legal penalties for alcohol consumption the person in this situation may be less likely to report. They may fear reprisal from their peers and penalties for their friends.
Ensuring a high level of risk management during all events at all times when the fraternity hosts guests, especially during the first four weeks of the fall semester, beginning in fall 2014. This means the fraternity will have multiple members who agree to be sober during evenings and weekends and who will ensure that all intoxicated guests are escorted home and not taken advantage of, sexually or otherwise, at any time in the chapter’s house.
The final sanction sounds progressive but, as Blake Maxwell discussed is his thoughtful article published in the Magpie last December, there is already a policy requiring that six sober people are present at all fraternity parties, two of whom can drive. This sanction is not a new rule but a relaxation of an old, unenforced rule.
Furthermore, having sober members watching the party guests does not ensure a higher level of safety—sobriety is not synonymous with trustworthiness. Rapes are typically planned, not spontaneous. Being the sober party watcher would be a perfect way for a rapist to get a potential victim alone. In the event of a rape the isolated situation would provide no evidence that the it did occur.
It is admirable that MSU and the fraternities want to take steps to prevent assault, but most of these steps were in the wrong direction. If MSU and the involved fraternities wanted to take more pro-active steps, they could provide date rape test strips at parties and on campus. These strips allow partygoers to test their drinks for common date rape drugs. Additionally, when making sanctions it would be advisable to ask survivors what would make them feel safer in a situation like a fraternity party.
Often, when horrendous crimes such as these occur, we feel the need to do something. The real question, however, is not what can be done but what should be done. Simple solutions are comforting and save face, but do little or nothing to stop rape. I believe that, at MSU, we do not settle for saving face or the most obvious route when we know it is ineffective and harmful. We have a responsibility to create policies that support survivors, encourage reporting, and educate the community. Though some of the sanctions promote the latter, they fall short of protecting against assault on campus.