Frat suspended after surveying its members on who they would like to rape

Really, Sigma Phi Epsilon? There’s no way the University of Vermont frat really thought it was ok to send a survey to its members asking, “If you could rape anyone, who would it be?” Is there? (Wait, don’t answer that.)

But now that the survey has been leaked to the interwebs–apparently because a new member accidentally emailed it to his teaching assistant (ouch!)–they’re finding out it’s not ok–and fast. Feminists activists at UVM and FED UP Vermont have swiftly mobilized to call for the frat to be shut down.

On their petition, which has gotten over 3,000 signatures now, they write:

This egregious expression of rape culture is only the most recent example of systemic sexism at UVM. The past year alone has witnessed rape, multiple sexual assaults, and anti-abortion chalking in public spaces. While the university administration has laid off long-time Women’s and Gender Studies faculty and supported sexist institutions like Sigma Phi Epsilon, it has refused to take concerted action to combat sexism and rape culture. We demand that instead of diverting resources into vast salaries for its administrators, UVM should launch an aggressive campaign against sexism and rape culture, and it should expand institutions such as Women’s and Gender Studies and the Women’s Center at UVM. Furthermore, UVM must immediately disband Sigma Phi Epsilon. An institution that discusses who it wants to rape has no place at UVM or in the Burlington community.

Yesterday, the university temporarily suspended the frat, pending an investigation. This afternoon, feminists on campus, who are still demanding the frat be shut down for good, held a press conference that drew about 200 people to the steps of the university library. Hopefully they’ll be able to take the convo beyond this one awful example and raise some real awareness about rape culture in their community.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation

  • toongrrl

    The poll? You gotta be kidding me.

  • Stephanie

    Honestly, all fraternities should be disbanded. Those places are the quintessence of rape culture.

    • Wagatwe

      The problem is that eliminating the greek system won’t get rid of the beliefs of people that perpetuate rape culture. I don’t think disbanding all fraternities would necessarily reduce rape culture or fix it. A lot more would have to be done; I mean, the people who still think to ask about rape is okay are still out there in the world, which I think is a huge problem in and of itself. I don’t think getting rid of fraternities would change the minds of the brothers who think their sexist and scary views are okay.

      • Stephanie

        You’re right, the sexist beliefs would still be around. But I think rape is so prevalent in frats because of the frat culture itself: “bro” codes (so when one of the frat boys rapes someone, nobody is going to tell), beliefs about masculinity and “proving” their masculinity to each other (i.e. hooking up with as many women as possible, whether they consent or not), the prevalence of binge drinking (frat boys drink a lot more than non-frat boys, which leads to rape), etc.

        Many of these frat boys were misogynists before they became frat boys, but the frat culture is what allows them to act out many of their misogynistic beliefs and attitudes–in ways that harm women.

        You are absolutely right that misogyny would still be around. But I would argue that less women would be raped during their college years if frats didn’t exist.

        • davenj

          No. Just… no.

          Monoliths are wrong. Fraternal organizations can be bad. They can also be good. Some frats exist purely for social justice purposes. Some exist solely to facilitate binge drinking and sexual violence. Most are somewhere in between.

          Your issues are with certain types of fraternities, and a blanket ban is excessive in the same way that other blanket bans are excessive.

          “But I would argue that less women would be raped during their college years if frats didn’t exist.”

          Replace “frats” with “alcohol” or “mixed social gatherings” or any number of other things. Culture is WAY bigger than a few Greek letters and an old house.

          Another point: when one is referring to males aged 18+ it’s a bit disrespectful to call them “boys”. Infantilizing adult men is wrong for a whole bunch of reasons, and it’s contrary to the goals of feminism.

          • Stephanie

            “Frat boy” is what men in fraternities are called. I have never heard the term “frat men”, and so I’m not going to use it.

          • Emmett J Doyle

            Eh, don’t frat bros accept the title of ‘boy’ willingly? I don’t know- I call them bros, dudebros, or some variation thereof.

          • davenj

            It’s a strange definition of willing that calls an external cultural description a fully-realized and chosen self-attribution.

            Stephanie, might I suggest “men who are members of fraternal organizations”? It’s more accurate, and it doesn’t imply, as in the case of “sorority girl”, that their lives are defined by one group that they are a part of.

      • Meh

        “The problem is that eliminating the greek system won’t get rid of the beliefs of people that perpetuate rape culture.”

        That’s not THE PROBLEM with eliminating greeks. That’s A PROBLEM for all of us.

        “I don’t think getting rid of fraternities would change the minds of the brothers who think their sexist and scary views are okay.”

        Specious reasoning, it would eliminate yet another institution where those views are cemented for life.

        • Brüno

          That fraternities are an institution that shapes a mans mind about rape is a baseless assumption on your part and wasnt the subject of the topic.

    • Jason

      If you’re going to demand the closure of Fraternities, then you also have to demand the closure of Sororities as well. Well, if you’re trying to be equalitarian at least. Rape is not a crime reserved exclusively for men; thousands of women AND men are raped annually by women as well. Sororities across the nation have a dark history of woman-on-woman rape that is grossly underscored and dismissed by many womans’ organizations. Rape culture is a gender blind beast.

      Further more, to punish all fraternities is highly short sighted; there are many where the members are mature, respectable individuals. The failure is that the schools often are inconsistent with properly investigating, reviewing, and suspending problem Houses (both Frat and Soror) before some social explosion occurs. Much of the “sweeping under the rug” occurs because XYZ frat or soror has connections to wealthy alumni that use contributions as weapons.

      • Stephanie

        Stop obscuring the gendered nature of rape.

        Rape culture is gender blind, but rape is gendered. When you go “oh, well women rape too” you are not dealing with the problem. YES, women rape too–but there’s a reason why something like 99% of rapes are perpetrated by men.

        Ignoring the gendered aspect of rape is the same thing as going “yeah, policemen harass black men…but HEY, they also harass white men too sometimes! don’t forget that!” This is ignoring the issue. You’re not going to solve anything like this, because you need to understand the root cause of rape first.

        Although I do agree with you that sororities should be disbanded as well.

        • Sam Lindsay-Levine

          Hi Stephanie,

          Recently on Feministing we have been talking about the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey performed by the CDC. That survey report clearly states on pages 18 and 19 that roughly equivalent numbers of U.S. women report being raped (1.1%) to U.S. men being ‘forced to penetrate’, i.e., raped (1.1%) over the past 12 months. (Lifetime numbers, as opposed to over the past 12 months, were considerably unequal, splitting appromixately 75-25 female-male victims). 79.2% of the rapists of men were female, stated on page 24.

          With this in mind, your figure that ‘something like 99% of rapes are perpetrated by men’ is clearly starkly contradicted by the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Do you believe that survey to be fatally flawed and valueless and should be thrown out, and if so, why? If not, how do you reconcile it with your presumption about perpetrators of rape?

          I agree that it is a very bad mistake to ignore the gendered nature of rape, but I think it is another mistake to ignore what our best social scientists are uncovering about the current state of rape culture.

          • Stephanie

            To be honest, I haven’t looked through that study or its methodology yet (I really should go do that).

            I did look quickly at page 24 and it says that in 79.2% of cases of male victims being “forced to penetrate” (which clearly is rape), the perpetrator was female; however, it also says that 93.3% of male rape victims report being raped by other men. I haven’t read through the whole study though, so I’m not sure how those fit together.

            Before I go and read through the methodology and everything, I want to explain why its important to not obscure the gendered nature of rape. Especially when we take into account all other forms of sexual violence, objectification and sexualization of women, sexual harassment, street harassment, etc. This is all gendered violence which women are targets of. As long as men can get drunk and pass out in a stranger’s house without the very big possibility of getting raped, or as long as men can walk down the street without having to be catcalled or followed by a stranger in a car as often as women, etc., then sexual violence and harassment is gendered.

            Now, if I found a statistic that said that that 75 percent of people routinely harassed by police are black men, and 25 percent of people routinely harassed are white men (which is the same as the 75-25 statistic you cited from CDC), would you say that police harassment is not raced? Its very possible that there is another factor not being taken into consideration (e.g. maybe the 25 percent of white men are disproportionately from a low socioeconomic class). If we know that racism exists, we cannot dismiss police harassment as race-blind; harassment by police is only one form of discrimination that black men routinely face. So even if such a statistic does exist, this doesn’t mean that police harassment is not raced.

            I would be very interested to see a study about, say, street harassment (what is the percentage of men compared to women that get sexually harassed on the street, what is the percentage of women compared to men that sexually harass others on the street, etc). My guess it that in both of these cases, it would be very close to 0. My point is that all of this–and rape is just one part of the sexual violence continuum–is gendered.

            Even if we look at studies that examine rapists, and predictors for rape, we find that there are some very important characteristics that rapists share in common: lack of respect for women, hypermasculinity or beliefs about masculinity, beliefs about traditional gender roles, etc. (I can find you some sources for this if you’d like). This is all evidence that rape is a gendered crime.

            (Although I do realize that these studies have specifically looked at male rapists, not female rapists, so it does not paint a full picture here).

            I don’t want anybody to think that I don’t think female-on-male or male-on-male rape is a problem. It is, and the idea that men cannot get raped is part of rape culture. Attention should definitely be paid to male-on-male and female-on-male rapes as well, but at the same time, we shouldn’t obscure the gendered nature of rape and all other forms of sexual violence and harassment. Rape is one part of the continuum of rape culture/sexual violence against women, and we cannot ignore this.

          • davenj

            “I don’t want anybody to think that I don’t think female-on-male or male-on-male rape is a problem. It is, and the idea that men cannot get raped is part of rape culture. Attention should definitely be paid to male-on-male and female-on-male rapes as well, but at the same time, we shouldn’t obscure the gendered nature of rape and all other forms of sexual violence and harassment.”

            But isn’t this the very nature of the problem, provided the study Sam provided is accurate? It suggests that many men are raped in intimate partner situations, and that the problem is actually seen in a fairly even distribution across both genders. That men are seen as the only group capable of rape seems to be an issue if we’re going to call something a gendered problem. The data of this study seems to imply otherwise, and that our perception of rape as being heavily gendered is the result of an ongoing cultural misperception.

            For example, your theory about a continuum of sexual harassment and violence appears to apply strictly to those who present as female, but that does not seem to work for approximately half of the rape victims in Sam’s study.

            Sam’s data, if accurate, shows that rape is not a 75/25 issue, or, as has been posited earlier in this thread, a 99/1 issue. It appears to be closer to 60/40 or 50/50 in intimate partner situations, which seem to be the significant majority of situations.

            It’s true that we live in a society that devalues women and values hypermasculinity. How to explain Sam’s data, though, when calling it a gendered crime?

    • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      I’m not a fan of fraternity (or sorority) culture either, but I think if they were banned the people attracted to them would continue to meet in secret. They’d probably also develop some self-aggrandizing notions of what “outlaws” they are if doing this stuff became taboo. Also they would still probably be walking around with the same beliefs and attitudes that made them think this sort of thing was ok in the first place.

  • billy williams

    I sort of see this as asking someone who they would like to kill,-Just a thought experiment not really encouraging anything & to the girl who thinks frats should be banned,Get over yourself!-Frats don’t cause rape,Rapists cause rape,-It’s about power & control not “Proving your manhood”–GEEZ!

    • Stephanie

      Go to Google Scholar and type in “fraternity rape.” You’re misunderstanding the issue.

      Rapists are high in beliefs about masculinity, so YES, one cause of rape is “proving your manhood”. You can go and Google that too.

  • Austin De La Ossa

    This grotesque news from a prominent school like UVM deeply disturbs me. The actions described in the article should have never happened and the school should act quickly to deliver consequences to those held responsible and a plan needs to be developed in order to combat the sexist views apparent on the campus. In response to Stephanie, I believe you are making an overt generalization about Fraternities. I am a male Fraternity member who is currently studying Gender and Feminist Anthropology (Ironic eh?). I’m not saying I am an expert in this field or on this issue; I just enjoy the field of study and feel very passionate about it. Anyway, I know dozens of brothers who do not fit into your stereotypical misogynistic sex driven “bro”. Now it would be an understatement to say that these types of men do not exist, however to parallel with Wagatwe, Fraternities are not the problem when dealing with “rape culture”. Common knowledge, or what most people should know is that we live in a paternalistic and misogynistic society. This can be easily exemplified with Rick Perry’s statement, “The greatest victories in the battle for life are not going to be won in the halls of government. It’s going to be won in the hearts of men.” Another example of this is Dr. Pepper’s new ad that shows a typical “Macho” male fighting his way through the jungle while drinking a Dr. Pepper. At the end of the commercial the slogan states “Its not for Women”. As many of you know, these types of images and statements along with pornography promote an ideology that women are second to men. Many young males consume this ideology because it is what they and other males feel is true and right. I might have totally gone off track just now, but all I am trying to say is that many males are conditioned to think in these terms because we as a society give them no other option. This expression of rape culture could have been carried out by any group of males, not just a Fraternity. Remember the horrific gang rape of the 11-year-old Texas girl in 2011? Consequently, it does not help that Fraternities bring together large groups of males who can promote and encourage these ideals, but not every Fraternity and Fraternity member think this way. I am lucky enough to be apart of an amazing organization that upholds a high sense of moral standards that promotes the upmost respect and dignity for women and for that matter all individuals. We pride ourselves on developing young men to become leading members of society so that they can make a deep lasting impact. This is in no way bashing Stephanie’s opinion or sympathizing with the Fraternity at fault; what they did was wrong. I just felt compelled to share another opinion on the matter from a different perspective.

  • Brüno

    The fraternity sent emails, or a student of the fraternity? Why should the fraternity be dispanded, because of what a student did? What about the students who come after them, should they be denied to be part of the fraternity, because of what one student before them did?

    Americans are raping in America, oh noes, disband America, that will end rape in America xd.

    • Stephanie

      There has been many studies that have shown that frat members rape a lot more than other groups of college men. Type in “fraternity rape” in Google Scholar if you want.

      When individuals in one group are overrepresented among rapists, then yes, they should be targeted in some way for rape prevention. “Disbanding America” is not the same thing; America consists of many, many groups of different people. However, if there was (hypothetically) a scientific study that found out that 90% of people in New Jersey are serial rapists, then I would argue that something must be done (like establishing tax-funded “Yes Means Yes” events in every public institution in NJ).

      • Brüno

        Do not trust any study you did not falsify yourself. People commit rape, not fraternities. Disbanding fraternities wont lower rape any more than disbanding america will.

        • Stephanie

          That’s pretty ignorant…

          If you’d like, I’ll cite a few studies for you. If you don’t want to read them, that’s fine, but don’t repeat the same thing as you just did twice in a row. Here you go, and there are many more available:

          Auster, Carol J., and Janel M. Leone. 2001. Late adolescents perspectives on marital rape: The impact of gender and fraternity/sorority membership. Adolescence 36, (141): 141-152.

          Bleecker, E. T., and Sarah K. Murnen. 2005. Fraternity membership, the display of degrading sexual images of women, and rape myth acceptance. Sex Roles 53, (7-8): 487-493.

          Bryan, William A. 1987. Contemporary fraternity and sorority issues. New Directions for Student Services 40, : 37-56.

          Davis, Tracy L., and Debora L. Liddell. 2002. Getting inside the house: The effectiveness of a rape prevention program for college fraternity men. Journal of College Student Development 43, (1): 35-50.

          Edwards, Lawrence Alfred. Rape proclivity among athlete and fraternity male college students. Ph.D.

          Foubert, John D., and Marylu K. McEwen. 1998. An all-male rape prevention peer education program: Decreasing fraternity mens behavioral intent to rape. Journal of College Student Development 39, (6): 548-556..

          Foubert, John D., and Johnathan T. Newberry. 2006. Effects of two versions of an empathy-based rape prevention program on fraternity mens survivor empathy, attitudes, and behavioral intent to commit rape or sexual assault. Journal of College Student Development 47, (2): 133-148.

          Foubert, John David. The longitudinal effects of an all-male rape prevention peer education program on the sexually coercive attitudes, behavioral intent, and behavior of fraternity men. Ph.D. diss.

          Frintner, Mary Pat, and Laurna Rubinson. 1993. Acquaintance rape: The influence of alcohol, fraternity membership, and sports team membership. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy 19, (4): 272-284.

          Muehlenhard, Charlene L. 1991. Fraternity gang rape. PsycCRITIQUES 36, (12): 1098-1098.

          Murnen, Sarah K., and Marla H. Kohlman. 2007. Athletic participation, fraternity membership, and sexual aggression among college men: A meta-analytic review. Sex Roles 57, (1-2): 145-157.

          Sanday, Peggy Reeves. 2007. Fraternity gang rape: Sex, brotherhood, and privilege on campus (2nd ed.). New York, NY, US: New York University Press.

          Zielinski, Helen. Fraternity mens attitudes toward women, acceptance of rape myths, and experiences of sexual aggression. Ph.D. diss.

          Also, don’t confuse “social group” with “country.” Rapists commit rape, as somebody stated before; however, you cannot divorce people from their social contexts. Rapists do not rape outside of society, nor do they exist in a bubble that their social environment does not touch. And certain environmental conditions give people opportunities and motivations to rape, if they wouldn’t have outside of that environment.

  • blueeyes90

    How could anyone ever think that this survey was a good idea? It’s nothing but dumb and immature.

  • Robert

    They should get rid of this specific fraternity but not punish all nationwide, that’s just ridiculous. I get jokes and all that but they could have seriously helped get certain girls raped.

  • Austin De La Ossa

    The actions of one fraternity member can destroy a chapter indefinitely because every member represents the organization.

  • Austin De La Ossa

    I agree with Stephanie that one factor contributing to rape is to “prove your manhood”, however, billy williams makes a good point that in general it is about power. Take prison rape for example. Women to women and man to man rape in prisons is all about power and manipulation. It is a raw power game and if the predator senses weakness of any kind, any confusion, liberality or fear they will attack.

    • Stephanie

      You are right that rape is about power, but I think in general when people say “rape is about power” they misunderstand power.

      I completely agree with you about prison rape; prison rape is definitely about exerting power over somebody.

      However, when we talk about many other forms of male-on-female rape, it is not the exertion of power that the perpetrator is firstly concerned with. For instance, when a girl is drunk and unable to consent, and one of the guys at the party decides to rape her, he’s not trying to “exert power”. Rather, he believes he is entitled to her body (this is part of our culture which treat women’s bodies as communal property, and socialize men with a sense of entitlement to women). He does not believe he is raping her, especially if he believes in the rape myth that rapists can only be violent strangers leaping out of bushes. Instead, he believes that he is entitled to sex with her–this is especially the case if he believes she “was asking for it” by flirting with him before, or wearing a short skirt, or “she must have wanted to get laid. She DID come to a frat party after all.”

      So even though rape is about power, its a mistake to view all rape as necessarily about the conscious need to exert power over somebody. Rape is rather about a power relation, in which one person’s bodily autonomy and agency is taken away from them, by somebody who does have bodily autonomy/agency (and thus are in a position of power).

  • Jen

    An update for those who are interested: I am an employee at UVM (in a science lab, so I am not any sort of official spokesperson for the university, etc) and on the 16th the campus community received an email informing us that the Sigma Phi National group had made the decision to indefinitely close the chapter at UVM due to this incident. They cite lack of cooperation from fraternity members in the investigation following the survey incident, as well as prior issues with this particular chapter, as the impetus for disbanding the fraternity here at UVM. The University is continuing its own investigation into the matter. You can read more about it here: