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Fraternities Might Be 'Scared' Enough To Address Sexual Assault

02/18/2015 07:12 pm ET | Updated Feb 18, 2015

At San Diego State University, hundreds of members of the school's Greek system on Monday chanted "No silence, no violence" at a speaking event on domestic and sexual violence that they organized. The University of Utah's Beta Theta Pi fraternity raised more than $2,000 for a rape recovery center last week. And earlier this month, around 50 Iowa State University students gathered for a candlelight vigil for sexual violence survivors organized by the Theta Chi fraternity.

Fraternities are frequently criticized for being part of the problem of campus rape, but many chapters are rapidly assembling very public anti-rape demonstrations on campuses nationwide.

Dillon Bechtol, the president of Theta Chi at ISU, told The Huffington Post that the only way the negative perception will change is if members show that "fraternities are still a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the good we do."

The Greek organizations are responding. In the past year, national fraternity umbrella groups have launched task forces and educational initiatives on how to address the problem of sexual violence in Greek life, while national fraternity leadership conferences frequently devote multiple sessions to the issue.

"They're scared, and the reason they're scared is not that long ago, 10 years ago, women who were sexually assaulted basically just shut up," said Michael Kimmel, a State University of New York at Stony Brook sociology professor and author who frequently educates fraternities on sexual violence. "Women today are unwilling to shut up, and good for them! Fraternities are scared now what they used to call partying might be called sexual assault, and they could get shut down or kicked out of school."

Fraternity brothers "don't want to be branded that they're predators looking to gang rape unsuspecting women," Kimmel said, but "there's a lot of pressure in fraternities for guys to tally up the number of women" they sleep with.

"It does seem more like PR to me than a serious effort to reform," said John Foubert, an Oklahoma State University professor whose 2007 study shows fraternity members are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than students not affiliated with Greek life.

"Many fraternities have a cultural problem that's ingrained in their center, and they keep focusing on the peripheral," Foubert continued. "They need to do a lot better job of really addressing the root of the problem of rape."

But Kimmel said he doesn't care what the motives are: If fraternities make a stand against sexual assault, for whatever reason, everyone will be better off.

It could be that increased scrutiny is presenting a "fantastic moment" to make a positive change, said Matthew Leibowitz, founder of Consent Is So Frat, a sexual assault awareness campaign Leibowitz plans to spread to six campuses this year.

"The focus is there and the work is being done," Leibowitz said, "and I think the feeling is in the same way the nation is having a moment [about sexual assault], we're all having a moment."


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