Submission: UCSD Greek Life Needs To Prove It Cares About Sexual Assault Victims

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ray_LAC. Link to photo license.

Content warning: This article concerns sexual assault.

I’m appalled—appalled because the rules that govern UC San Diego’s Greek life are rigged in favor of those who commit sexual assault. Currently, fraternities and sororities are allowed to keep the numbers of assaults that are perpetrated on their watch secret. There’s no accountability, and we need this to change before more lives are destroyed. If we’re going to tackle this issue on our campus, we must start with Greek life because research suggests Greek life organizations place students at a higher risk of perpetuating sexual assault than any other type of student club on campus.

Studies on sexual assault in college take aim at Greek life because of its culture. One study from Purdue University blamed the “norms and practices” of fraternities, such as their “loyalty, group protection and secrecy, and use of alcohol” to explain how these habits create an atmosphere for sexual assault. The research concluded that this behavior puts Greek life at a high risk for “encourag[ing] the sexual coercion of women.”

Along with Greek life culture, there are multiple social barriers that block survivors from reporting these crimes, such as the fear of retaliation from peers or the belief that reporting will not lead to justice being served. And another pertinent roadblock is the loophole in the crime tracking report. The existing sexual assault tracking system is not robust enough to pinpoint these crimes. For example, the Clery Act requires every public university to document all campus crimes in an annual report. The online document produced every year includes everything from petty theft to arson. The report contains sexual assault statistics, but fails to paint an accurate picture of sexual assault cases on campus.

But don’t take my word for it. Under “fondling,” which is defined as assault occurring  “without the consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent due to age or mental incapacity,” the most recent Clery report suggests that in 2016, there were only seven cases. In 2015, the report says only nine incidents occurred and in 2014, only one. When weighing that data with a study from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center that says “one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college,” it’s evident that the Clery report fails to paint an accurate picture of assaults that occur on campus.

And that’s because it only accounts for assaults that occur on university property and are reported to the on-campus police. If someone is sexually assaulted at a party off campus, that’s too bad. Nearly every Greek life party takes place off campus, which means that no one assaulted at these events is required to be included in the Clery report. This is fundamentally wrong, and more to the point, it undermines the purpose of documenting these crimes. And Greek life isn’t tracking these off-campus assaults in a public report on their own.

With insufficient reporting, students cannot ensure their safety. Students looking to join a Greek life organization are left in the dark without a clue of how many sexual assault incidents occurred in a given fraternity or sorority.

To fix this issue, we should require all fraternities and sororities to compile their own version of a Clery report, documenting everything from sexual assault to verbal disputes within their organizations. Moreover, anytime a Greek life organization documents a report of sexual assault, they should be given the option to mark the incident as “resolved” if an investigation does conclude that no assault occurred. Allowing modifications to the report ensures that the document doesn’t supplement a formal investigation. This modest solution also allows us to pinpoint which fraternities and sororities could be hiding these unwanted experiences rather than condemning Greek life as a whole.

This file should be published annually and be accessible online; it must be free of any personal information and only contain statistics in order to preserve privacy of all individuals. A public report of sexual assault statistics would encourage Greek life organizations to implement solutions to lower their crime rates to, at the very least, preserve their reputations. Sororities and fraternities need an incentive to lower sexual assault within their organizations, and public data provides a very public incentive.

Look: Greek life has its perks. It allows students to plug into campus and make lifelong friends. Sororities and fraternities hold philanthropic events and raise awareness of pertinent issues. Even Greek life leaders have mandated sexual assault training sessions for every fraternity and sorority, but how do we know these programs work if we don’t have data—accurate, diligent, no-loophole data? If we have the numbers, we can better gauge which programs are most effective for addressing these crimes.

This idea alone won’t solve the problem, but it’s the first step we must take. If you yourself are involved in Greek life and are as appalled at the current lack of accountability as I am, even if you’re sure your chapter is not part of the problem, join me in promoting more detailed reports so we can pinpoint which organizations are.

I promise to fight tooth and nail to rewrite the rules that protect perpetrators of sexual assault  and silence victims. Last week I sent a letter to Greek life advisors, urging them to act. Last Wednesday, I called on our student government to pledge to help gather data so we can effectively tackle this problem, but I cannot do this alone. If you want to help send a strong message that we will not and cannot tolerate sexual assault, visit No Longer Silent UCSD to join me in getting engaged. We cannot continue to allow students’ lives to be ruined while people are pretending this is business as usual—it is not.

Jake Henry is a third year Political Science student and former Assistant Producer for KPBS. The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.

Update: A content warning consistent with the paper style guidelines has been included as of June 2, 2018 5:30pm.