Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Would banning fraternities significantly reduce rape on college campuses?

Short answer: I doubt it.

Long answer: During my senior year at Johns Hopkins, the University temporarily suspended all fraternities on campus after a series of sexual assaults occurred there. This was obviously controversial, and naturally a discussion ensued on the Hopkins Feminists page. I didn’t save a full transcript, sadly, but one feminist supported the action by arguing “I
f the fraternity had an anti-rape culture...rapists wouldn't flock to it from out of the city with the intent of committing rape.” This was my response to him:

“An anti-rape culture would definitely make frats a less appealing environment for would-be rapists – no disagreement there – but I’m unconvinced it would be a sufficient condition to stop rapists from flocking to these parties. The problem is not that frat bros are simply more likely than the general population to condone rape. Other things besides rape culture also make frats a “rapist magnet,” and those things deserve an exhaustive listing.

The article posted a few days back explains another main draw: fraternities "controlled the alcohol on campus, and thus, the social life. So there I was, week after week, joining the throngs of half-naked women trekking to fraternity row." Regardless of the culture in a given fraternity, alcohol prohibition ensures that every weekend "throngs of half-naked women" will be getting drunk there. Rapists may be attracted to venues where alcohol is served to minors for the precise reasons alcohol is being served to minors at those venues: the tipsy freshmen will be deliberately hidden from law enforcement supervision. That’s why, whatever we do with frats, reducing the drinking age is a worthwhile ancillary reform.

Here’s another way to think about it. Imagine we banned all the fraternities on campus tomorrow. Would the people who previously joined frats stop throwing parties in secluded locations? Would 18-21-year-olds stop congregating at these places en masse, searching for alcohol? Unlikely. I suspect both students and rapists would just move elsewhere, like off-campus house parties, and I’m unconvinced the people at those parties would be less rape-cultured than the ones presently attending frats. Once the word got out about these new nightlife hotspots, we'd just be rearranging the magnets.

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