If Fraternities Were Treated Like Survivors

[CN: rape apologia, disbelief of survivors, rape culture. The story at the Gawker link includes ableist language. Other links include descriptions of rape, assault and hazing incidents.]

As Rolling Stone backed away from its story about rape culture at UVA, a new consensus quickly emerged among the rape apologists of Twitter and the blogosphere. Any discrepancies in Jackie's memory mean she is a liar. However, the statement from the UVA chapter of Phi Kappa Psi is absolute proof of their innocence, individually and collectively.

How, ahem, interesting that the statement of elite men is treated as gospel, while the story of a traumatized young woman (as interpreted by a reporter) is treated as an intentional, malicious fraud.

So what would happen if we gave Phi Psi's statement even a tiny portion of the scrutiny that Jackie has faced? Obviously, I don't mean doxxing, violence, or threats of same. But I do mean taking a careful look at what their statement really says, and what it really doesn't say.

Over at Gawker, Sam Biddle had some thoughts in a similar vein:

"The chapter did not have a date function or a social event during the weekend of September 28th, 2012" doesn't refute said acts—that only means there was no formally organized party at Phi Psi that night. It doesn't mean people weren't socializing there. Maybe it was a handful of people, maybe it was a huge rager, but it's a given that someone is drinking at every college frat in the United States at any given moment.

"Our chapter's pledging and initiation periods, as required by the University and Inter-Fraternity Council, take place solely in the spring semester and not in the fall semester" doesn't refute said acts, because frat rushing is lawless. This is like a foreign regime denying the use of chemical weapons because it's against international law—who cares, man! Not Phi Psi, or any other fraternity, which are constantly breaking the fake rules imposed upon them by fake institutions like "Inter-Fraternity Councils."

"No ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiation process" doesn't refute said acts, but at least it's very minimally reassuring.
I agree with Biddle that this letter was doubtless crafted by a lawyer; it may not contain lies, but it certainly contains misdirections. Spring pledging only? Maybe, but according to the UVA's Fraternity and Sorority Life website, "[t]here is a brief Informal Rush in late September for men who are upperclassmen and/or transfers." Does the author of this letter really expect Jackie to have parsed the difference between formal and informal rush? If anything, her impression that her assault was related to the peer pressure of recruitment makes her story even stronger, since there was indeed an informal rush in late September.

And speaking of timing, what about that denial of a "date function" or social event on September 28th? I agree with Biddle that this doesn't mean there wasn't an informal party. That scenario makes sense in light of Jackie's story. A formally registered social event would likely have to abide by risk management regulations from the national organization or the university. An informal party, not so much. Being an informal event isn't some kind of protection against rape, as Phi Kappa Psi at Butler University well knows.

(Or perhaps Jackie misremembered the date. That's not uncommon for trauma survivors. What happened the previous weekend?)

And about the fraternity's vehement denial that sexual assault is part of their initiation or other pledging process? I see what you did there, guys. It's a big NO DOY that it's not part of fraternity rituals. Despite the popular media's portrayal of what "initiation" means in Greek life, it's actually a semi-religious ceremony. So of course the letter waxes on about how vile this suggestion is. That's safe ground.

But it doesn't address some key terms: hazing, peer pressure, and/or risk management. What evidence can the chapter give to demonstrate that Phi Kappa Psi is actively working to prevent rape and assault? (Has the UVA chapter significantly changed its culture since the events of 1984?) What evidence can Virginia Alpha give to show that the fraternity has a serious no-hazing policy that is briskly enforced? (Better than at, say, Cornell or the University of Arizona chapters?) What risk management procedures does the fraternity follow to assure that all social events (officially sanctioned or not) are safe for all involved? (Is Virginia Alpha doing better than the Brown chapter?)

Finally, the piece of evidence that rape apologists seem to think is most relevant is that Phi Psi has no records of a member who worked at the aquatic center during the fall of 2012. Okay. Does the fraternity bar non-members from socializing in its house (formally or informally)? Did any of the chapter's informal rushees work at the aquatic center?

In short, this letter is "proof" of very little.

The Virginia Alpha chapter of Phi Psi doesn't say anything about its active and ongoing efforts towards anti-rape education, or how it ensures the safety of visitors to its house. Is that because there isn't anything positive to say?

Despite the title, I don't really want to see fraternities treated like survivors, because no human being should have to face the gauntlet of hate, threats, and abuse that Jackie is now facing. But it would be nice, to say the least, if their words faced even the tiniest scrutiny from those who are so quick to detail the inconsistencies of traumatized survivors.

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