At Wesleyan University, a former student was raped at the fraternity house of Beta Theta Pi, a locale she describes in a recently filed civil suit as being known as a “rape factory.” Her assailant later pled to lesser charges; the fact of an attack is not in dispute.
What is disputed is whether the house was known as a “rape factory” by other students and in particular by the school’s administration, responsible for her educational well-being under the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX. In the wake of the lawsuit, some students claim they weren’t aware of such a characterization. One claims with dubious certainty that he knows the Beta brothers “on a really personal level” and they’re “not the the kind of people who would do something like that.” Sad to say, that kind of blanket dismissal of suspicion due to observable characteristics is exactly what predators rely upon. In this case the predator was not a member of the fraternity but an invited guest who undoubtedly used the environment the brothers are responsible for creating as a convenient tool.
Whether the house has the reputation the suit is assigning to it or something less (“sketchy” has been suggested by some at very least), changes in how the brothers conduct themselves will not likely be seen anytime soon. A statement by the fraternity’s national spokesperson says the following:
“Beta Theta Pi’s concern first and foremost is for the well-being of the woman so significantly impacted by O’Neill’s [the convicted perpetrator] illegal behavior. Convicted of third-degree assault and first-degree unlawful restraint — resulting in a 15-month sentence in a Connecticut prison — O’Neill has affected in an extremely negative manner both a young woman in the prime of her life and 64 Beta Theta Pi students unassociated with and unaware of his atrocious actions.” He added that the fraternity “has long prided itself on the respectful treatment of all women — at all times.”
It’s hard to imagine a statement more superficial in terms of actual concern for the woman who was raped (or anyone else for that matter) and simultaneously self-serving where the fraternity is concerned. Parse it out and here’s what you’ve got:
1. A noble sounding but ultimately meaningless utterance about the survivor being “impacted by illegal behavior.” Yes, and behavior that the spokesman makes clear was resolved by the court as short of rape with a sentence of 15 months. This detailed description of both the convictions and the sentence are designed to downplay what occurred in the fraternity’s midst even though the result of the criminal justice process was hardly reflective of what actually happened. The case was resolved with a plea and evidence was limited (extremely common in sexual assault cases). The conviction, when weighed against the account of the woman who was raped and whom I believe, reflects a sad fraction of what O’Neill did to her.
2. An insulting equalization of the harm done to the woman and the harm suffered by Beta’s 64 poor, innocent brothers the spokesman claims were (according to them, I suppose) unaware of the perpetrator’s actions. There is zero acceptance of responsibility in this statement; rather, it’s as if O’Neill disguised himself and snuck into the party without anyone’s knowledge. Never mind that he was an invited guest of one of the brothers. Never mind that the noisy, dark, isolating and liquor infused environment the Beta’s are so proud of creating was remarkably helpful to O’Neill.
Beta Theta Pi isn’t asking for my advice, but I’ll offer it anyway. Brothers, want to stand up and be counted as decent, honorable men? Then try this on:
“A woman was sexually attacked at our fraternity event, and we are disturbed, saddened and shamed by this occurrence, despite the fact that the perpetrator was not a fraternity brother but a guest. As forthright, responsible and honorable men, we take ourselves to task for this harrowing event which does not reflect our values. We also vow to examine every aspect of the environment we create, and our own commitment to the safety and security of women who socialize with us.”
It’s grow up time, boys. Starting acting like real men.