IMPORTANT: The allegation of gang-rape in the Rolling Stone article that formed the basis for this question has been retracted; later evidence on the matter shows that the allegation that gang-rape occurred at the fraternity was false. Other similar events have since been alleged at other universities: Baylor, Yale and Wisconsin

Rolling Stone recently reported a horrific preplanned gang rape at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia, with the victim's "friends" telling her afterward not to report the crime, on the theory that "She's gonna be the girl who cried 'rape,' and we'll never be allowed into any frat party again."

Under pressure, the university has belatedly decided to suspend fraternity events until January. This seems pathetically inadequate to me, but what can a university actually do in this situation that will have a significant and lasting effect on a firmly entrenched rape culture? Are there cases where other schools have done something more effectual? Supposing for the sake of argument that they were willing to completely disassociate themselves from one frat, or from the frat system as a whole, would it do any good? I assume that the frats own their houses, and the schools can't actually shut them down.

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    See Inside the Colleges That Killed Frats for Good (Newsweek)
    – ff524
    Nov 26, 2014 at 17:20
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    Also see The Dark Power of Fraternities, The Atlantic, March 2014. From the article: one in eight undergraduates in four-year U.S. colleges lives in a Greek house; the houses themselves are worth at least 3 billion dollars. A system like that is not easy to change quickly. Nov 26, 2014 at 17:27
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    @xLeitix: yes, sexual assault at universities is an endemic problem. Your opinion that it's a criminal justice matter is also commonly raised in the U.S. The challenge is that the U.S. criminal justice system has generally done an awful job handling cases of rape, to the point that many victims do not wish to report their cases to the police. Also see How the U.S. Ended Up With 400,000 Untested Rape Kits. It seems to me that both universities and police agencies will need to change. Nov 26, 2014 at 17:32
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    @xLeitix: one aspect of the U.S. system that is particularly non-obvious is that the U.S. federal law requiring equal opportunity at universities regardless of sex (Title IX), in addition to covering admissions and sports, also covers sexual harassment, and is interpreted to require universities to follow up on sexual assault charges and to have an internal process for handling them independently of the police (see e.g here). Nov 26, 2014 at 21:30
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    Once again, the premise of the argument is false and nonsensical, so to answer the question it would have to be reframed into something more factual and objective instead of a personal opinion rant piece, as there is no "rape culture" and people, yes, even the accused, have rights. What the university should do, is allow the state investigators to do their job (assuming someone filed a report), and react accordingly with the results.
    – Keith
    Dec 2, 2014 at 12:53

3 Answers 3


As it turns out, membership in fraternities is not, in general, strongly correlated with rape. Rather, it appears that a large percentage of sexual assault is committed by a very small fraction of men who are deliberate predators, who tend to seek out environments where their behavior is enabled by people either turn a blind eye to their behavior or who are not willing to intervene in a problematic situation. Some fraternities provide such environments, but many non-fraternity social environments do so as well.

Rape is committed mostly against women who know their attacker and who may even be intimate with them willingly under other circumstances (men are raped as well, but at much lower percentages than women). One of the major recommended interventions for a college is thus to educate students, especially other men, on how to intervene in situations that are likely to be a prelude to rape. This is one example of a broad spectrum of recommended prevention and mitigation policies, which appear to be both effective in reducing the incidence of rape and reducing the damage that compounds to rape victims in an unsupportive campus culture.

None of these interventions are particularly difficult or expensive. The main challenges in implementing them are resistance from people who have some stake in keeping aspects of their campus culture from changing, or who are worried about potential image problems.

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    @xLeitix You're welcome. Certain comments associated with this question made me uncomfortable and angry, and I figured I should channel that productively.
    – jakebeal
    Nov 26, 2014 at 21:39
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    Re the "Fraternity Membership, Rape Myths, and Sexual Aggression on a College Campus" study you cite, I wonder if anyone has studied whether being on a college campus that has fraternities is correlated with rape?
    – ff524
    Nov 26, 2014 at 21:41
  • It's hard to comment on the Schwartz paper since it's paywalled. The gang rape described in the Rolling Stone article has many features that seem to me like they could only have happened at a fraternity.
    – user1482
    Nov 26, 2014 at 23:38
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    No offense but I don't see how this answers the question. It's more like a long comment. Also taking the % of rapes per fraternity member is flawed. Basic human nature tells me it is much harder to tell people about rape when it is against a larger group. The fact that they use reported rapes in the study is flawed. Just another one of those studies that relies on data without thinking about what goes into the data.
    – blankip
    Nov 27, 2014 at 0:17
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    @BenCrowell did you take notice that by now it appears more likely than not it did not happen at all but rather was invented (which may explain why it matched stereotypical imaginations so well)?
    – quid
    Mar 4, 2017 at 2:07

I had friends at a very popular fraternity at a major college (and later served on a discipline board). This fraternity had a series of violations. Mainly underage drinking, poor grades, and complaints from girls (nothing even close to rape). So just a series of dumbass fraternity guys acting like dumbass fraternity guys. Seriously what do you expect when putting 20-200 guys between 18-22 in the same housing.

For these smaller infractions the school will warn both the local charter and the fraternity national headquarters. Each school has its own rules. So I can't say that one violation at one school is handled the same as another. Also when I say a school has rules I am being very liberal. [A school will have an advisory/disciplinary committee that will basically do whatever it wants]

A school may have outlined several examples of violations (hazing, drinking, grades...) and then their punishment for those. But I have first hand seen how hazing has turned into - boys will be boys - because someone on the committee went to school with one of the boy's fathers. Or another dad makes a big contribution right after he got in trouble.

So a school may do pretty much whatever it wants from putting a fraternity/sorority on probation, from expelling members of that fraternity, from taking the charter away from the fraternity. And it doesn't matter if the house is off campus or not. In the case I mentioned above, the fraternity owned a house about a half mile off campus. The university read the boys the riot act, said they were closed, or they could leave the school.

I have first hand seen both good and bad things happen using the school system as reinforcement.


  • School can act much faster than our court system
  • School can make people "testify" (based on most honor codes)
  • School usually has some reasonably smart people making decisions


  • It is easy to cover things up. I had a friend get assaulted on campus. The campus police did next to nothing and it didn't get reported as an assault to the actual police because the university was worried about their crime stats. Friend found out nothing was happening, so reported to the police... case was too cold by then to get much traction.
  • One influential person can taint any committee. Several times I was told to vote a certain way (or I wouldn't be on said committee in future). Let it be known after I refused once that 3 committee spots were cut including mine - and then 3 months later 5 committee spots were opened.
  • Once things hit the press a school will do damage control not get to the bottom of what was actually happening. See the Duke lacrosse team as a perfect example.

Answer in short: The school will threaten to kick out any students that don't abide by their rules. So even if a "fraternity" isn't nationally chartered and doesn't have any direct correlation with the school the school can still have said fraternity disbanded or the members face expulsion. This threat happens all the time but is hardly ever enacted on. The students really have no discourse except for talking to the press (which in some schools can lead to expulsion).

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    It's also easy to lie and with the fear-mongering nowadays, campuses are all too quick to throw the "book" at the accused based off of he-said, she-said, no strong evidence needed.
    – Keith
    Nov 26, 2014 at 19:08
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    @Keith - Exactly. I once was told to sit before a committee as a freshman for tearing up a residence hall floor. The floor RA didn't like me and said she saw me on the floor that night drunk. The committee told me that I was guilty in a letter. I simply asked for any witnesses and expected that said witnesses would face harsh punishments if found lying... Case mysteriously dropped. (I was at a bar with entire rugby team at time of damage 5 miles away) And I did not show up for any ridiculous meeting for something I was not involved in.
    – blankip
    Nov 26, 2014 at 19:12
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    Rape is a serious matter, and even an allegation of rape can have serious consequences decades down the road, even if the man is innocent. With this context, "School can act much faster than our court system" sounds too much like "school is not bound by legal niceties like due process, the right to confront one's accusers, or trial by jury" for me to be comfortable with a parallel system of justice. Nov 26, 2014 at 20:43
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    @StephanKolassa: there is a reason why different standards of evidence apply in criminal cases than in university disciplinary cases. The "legal niceties" you indicate apply when the state wishes to put someone in prison. When a school wishes to discontinue educating an individual and remove them from their campus, as when an employer wishes to fire an employee, the standard is understandably lower. When the safety of the other students is at stake, a school might even be legally required to act on information it has even if it does not meet the standards of admissibility at a court trial.
    – Kallus
    Nov 26, 2014 at 21:12
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    @Kallus - I agree. The problem happens when authorities draw their conclusions with little to no evidence and mostly from that day's public opinion or bad reporting. Many universities have gotten sued for dismissing a student due to unjust reasons. Do they care? Not really because if they pay out it comes from their sizable endowment or they just raise tuition and other students pay for it. The fact is there is literally almost nothing regulating these committees and members will only be fired/punished if they have a long history of poor decisions.
    – blankip
    Nov 26, 2014 at 21:56

Now that the reported rape at the University of Virginia has been thoroughly discredited and exposed as serious journalistic misconduct, I think it is worth adding a new answer to this question that reflects that updated information.

The OP has suggested that the university’s action in suspending the fraternity, after receiving public pressure, was “pathetically inadequate”. We now know that the allegation made against the fraternity was false, and they were the victims of a smear campaign. The university has settled a defamation claim by the fraternity for $1.65 million in damages, and there have also been other legal settlements from the magazine and the writer of this rape hoax. The legal settlements are minimal given the extreme misconduct and bigotry of the university and the magazine.

In view of these developments, I submit that the lesson to be learned in these cases is not to grab the pitchforks and rouse the town-folk due to unconfirmed (and farcically implausible) allegations levelled against socially unpopular groups. People with the scientific training of academics should have the integrity to reject this kind of “trial by media” that proceeds without regard to evidence and due process. Much of the academic community disgraced itself with this witch-hunt against a group of innocent men. This is unfortunately typical of the rampant anti-male bigotry of modern academia.

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    Reporting that the article is false is useful. This, however, requires proof: "rampant anti-male bigotry of modern academia". As a male, I have not experienced this.
    – Tommi
    Feb 26, 2018 at 12:44
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    1) There is no "rampant anti-male bigotry of modern academia." 2) Although the specific article has been retracted (and indeed, was a grossly unethical piece of hack work); the question - which you didn't answer - is still valid enough. Feb 27, 2018 at 0:32
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    These false rape allegations against innocent men have stood on this website for over three years, with no amendment or retraction, and have been up-voted significantly. That is apparently fine with the academia.stackexchange.com community. But when you post an answer correcting the record, it is heavily down-voted. So apparently, false rape allegations against men are fine, but suggesting there is anti-male bigotry in academia is beyond the pale. The down-voting of the post speaks volumes to the ingrained bigotry I am talking about.
    – Ben
    Feb 27, 2018 at 0:49
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    @Ben Your answer is downvoted because it does not answer the question, and because it contains controversial claims without evidence. You might notice that there are two comments under the question suggesting that the question should be edited; you'd do well to upvote those.
    – Tommi
    Feb 27, 2018 at 8:44
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    @Tommi: Pointing out the false premise of the question is a perfectly legitimate answer. The OP's post cites a false gang-rape claim as showing a "rape culture" and then asks what can be done about this. Pointing out that there was no gang-rape, and it was a witch-hunt is a perfectly legitimate response. The claim that this "does not answer the question" is disingenuous.
    – Ben
    Feb 27, 2018 at 11:06

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