‘Rapebait’ e-mail reveals dark side of frat culture

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A runner makes her way past the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity on Georgia Tech’s campus Tuesday afternoon Oct. 8, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ben Gray)
 

by John Foubert

Special to CNN

(CNN) — An e-mail from a Georgia Tech fraternity member to his Phi Kappa Tau brothers came to light this week. It was about how to “succeed at parties,” or more specifically “luring your rapebait.” It came with repulsively detailed instructions about how to scope out a target, weaken her defenses with alcohol, grab her and — you get the idea.

You can expect well-meaning commentators and bloggers to wonder how such a horrible man could have done such a thing, much less have gotten into a good college. Others will wonder why one fraternity’s culture would be so toxic. University officials will go into damage-control mode, noting how they hold students accountable for violations of policy and that they have an otherwise low rate of rape on their campus. They may say, well, this was just an e-mail.

Sadly, it’s all so predictable.

The “rapebait” e-mail could have been sent from almost any fraternity at almost any American college or university. A study I published in 2007 with my colleagues Jerry Tatum and J.T. Newberry found that fraternity men were three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses. It was the third study showing that fraternity men are three times more likely to rape.

The definition of “success” in the e-mail sounds eerily similar to what David Lisak identifies as rape in his research on profiling “undetected rapists” — college men who have committed rape and/or attempted rape, an average of six times each, but are never reported and never are held accountable for their crimes.

What was particularly remarkable about our study is that we found that it was the fraternity experience that led men to be more likely to rape. We traced entering freshmen from the time they got to campus through their first year of college. We asked them whether they committed acts of sexual violence before they got to college (many had). We then compared the rates of sexual assault among men who joined fraternities to the rates of sexual assault among men who did not join fraternities.

What we found was highly instructive. Before they got to college, fraternity men were no different from other male students. They committed the same number of incidents of sexual assaults before college. But here’s the difference. Guys who joined a fraternity then committed three times as many sexual assaults as those who didn’t join. It is reasonable to conclude that fraternities turn men into guys more likely to rape. Our study confirmed that fraternities provide the culture of male peer support for violence against women that permits bad attitudes to become treacherous behavior. And that should concern everyone.

We need more action.

There are a lot of us across the country who have worked for decades trying to prevent rape on college campuses. Many experience high levels of frustration at the lack of commitment on the part of colleges and universities to face the issue. Rarely does a college discuss sexual assault with its students for more than 60 minutes in an entire college career, if they do at all.

There are many great approaches to prevention. In our case at One in Four, we have spent the last 20 years refining an intervention that lasts for one hour called the Men’s Program. Our research, published in peer-reviewed journals, shows that when fraternity men see it, 40% fewer sexual assault incidents occur.

One would think that national fraternities would embrace such an approach to educating their members. Sadly, when given numerous opportunities to do so, they prefer to pretend they aren’t responsible. Though there are a few universities that are beginning to do more comprehensive prevention programming, they are the exception. We know that prevention programming can help a great deal. We just need to make it a priority. How difficult is that?

Editor’s note: John Foubert is the author of “The Men’s and Women’s Programs: Ending Rape Through Peer Education” (Taylor & Francis). He is the founder and national president of One in Four, a public nonprofit rape prevention organization with 15 campus-based chapters whose programs have been presented to 100,000-plus college students and military personnel worldwide. He is an associate professor of higher education and student affairs at Oklahoma State University

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