Researchers have, many times over, confirmed a sobering fact: fraternity members tend to commit rape much more frequently than their non-Greek-life peers. They’ve also documented that serial offenders account for many campus sexual assaults.
But a new study quantifies in a staggering way the prevalence with which men in fraternities and on sports teams engage in sex crimes on campuses — and how repeat rapists are to blame for a vast majority of these incidents. The report suggests that the vast majority of assaults involving alcohol are committed by serial perpetrators.
Experts on campus sexual violence said that these new data support the idea that administrators should kick out students they’ve found responsible for rape. And, they said, it demonstrates need for more targeted education — especially among the men and groups who are committing the most sexual assaults.
Three professors — from Union University in Tennessee, Bowling Green State University and University of Redlands — used data from the Core Alcohol and Drug Survey, or CORE, developed by the Core Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. The group there helps institutions figure out students’ attitudes toward drug and alcohol consumption.
The researchers looked at survey data from more than 12,600 male students at 49 colleges and universities in one Midwestern state that was not named. The institutions included in the sample were both two- and four-year colleges.
A little more than 5 percent of those men self-reported that they had committed a sexual assault when alcohol was involved. This matched other literature, which has put the percentage of college men who committed a broader range of sexual crimes between 6 and 11 percent.
Of those who sexually assaulted someone while under the influence, it was more common for them to do it again rather than just once. The researchers found that nearly 3 percent of the men in the overall study committed assault twice or more when alcohol was a factor.
“If you have a man who has been accused of sexual assault and you … find him responsible, it makes sense to expel him from the institution, not necessarily just give them educational sanctions,” said John D. Foubert, dean of the College of Education at Union and one of the report’s authors. “It’s cutting down on the rate of rape at the institution drastically.”
More significant was how many more incidents could be attributed to recurring rapists rather than one-time offenders.
The authors of the study weren’t precise with these data, given that students in the original CORE survey could report a range of how many assaults they had committed (again with alcohol involved). For instance, students could report if they assaulted someone three to five times — in this case, the researchers counted that in their report as an average of four assaults per person.
The researchers documented approximately 2,071 sexual assaults — of those, roughly 950 assaults, or about 46 percent of the incidents, were committed by students who admitted to raping 10 or more times.
S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, which consults with colleges and universities on sexual assaults and federal policy, said this was the most striking figure.
“Removing those repeat perpetrators from the population is the only solution in my point of view,” Carter said.
As the researchers note, the men didn’t always classify their acts as rape, per se. Other studies and interviews with men have found sometimes they consider their victim saying no to be a game or a way to spice up the encounter.
Being associated with a fraternity or an athletics team also had a positive correlation with alcohol-fueled rapes, the study found. Heads of fraternities were less likely to commit alcohol-related assaults than just members. The opposite was true for sports teams — the leaders of the teams reported more assaults.
This reporter provided Todd Shelton, a spokesman for the North-American Interfraternity Conference, with a copy of the study, but Shelton said by email he did not have a chance to review it.
“I will say sexual violence has no place on any campus or in the fraternity experience,” Shelton wrote in his email. “NIC fraternities are committed to creating safer campus communities and recently adopted new health and safety guidelines including banning hard alcohol at fraternity houses and events to create a safer environment for members and guests.”
A previous study by Foubert shows that men who joined fraternities were just as likely to have committed sexual violence prior to college as men who didn’t join a fraternity. But the same study showed that fraternity men were three more likely to assault women than their counterparts, suggesting that fraternity culture was the driving factor for the assaults.
Institutions should more aggressively focus on teaching students in “high-risk” environments such as fraternities and sports teams, rather than just the general population, Foubert said. He said bystander training — educating students to intervene when they see their peers are about to commit a heinous act — has been proven to be effective. Foubert called for more research with a larger national sample, noting their information was from a single state. He said it would also be beneficial to interview directly admitted rapists to learn their motives and how they behave.
“They don’t define their behavior as rape — they sometimes define it as seduction,” Foubert said. “I think it would be helpful [to know] what their techniques are to alert women.”
Colleges and universities trying to stamp out sexual predators could learn from law enforcement efforts to prevent terrorism, said Peter F. Lake, a law professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.
Lake used this analogy — the public shouldn’t write off fraternities in total, just as they shouldn’t consider all people of a certain race to be terrorists. Institutions should partner with fraternities to help locate bad apples in a group or the misbehaving fraternities on campus. He said many times, the fraternity members, most of whom are not raping women, don’t have the knowledge or skills to respond to “serious psychopathic behavior.”
“If you eliminate the ones that are doing that from the culture, then the culture will thrive,” Lake said.