An explosive article in Rolling Stone last week detailing multiple allegations of gang rape at a prominent University of Virginia fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, sheds light on a horrifying aspect of fraternity culture.
As Washington Post reporter Terrance McCoy writes in an article Monday on rape culture at fraternities, the reports of gang rape at Phi Psi may not be completely out of the norm for fraternity houses.
McCoy writes the UVA students’ stories in the Rolling Stone article bear “a striking similarity to other stories of fraternity gang rape, a survey of academic literature shows … The studies convey a culture of impunity, where group-think and hyper-masculinity treat sexual assault as something ordinary, even desired.”
As McCoy notes, much of this behaviour was studied the 1990 book “Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus,” by University of Pennsylvania anthropology professor Peggy Reeves Sanday. Notably, Sanday argues that some male groups participate in gang rape in order to bond.
In a party setting, groups of males — such as a college fraternity brotherhood — are often looking to “score” with as many women as possible, as a means to improve their standing within the group.
“The success of the night, who ‘scored’ and who didn’t, is discussed either at the end of the evening or the next day — or is written up … The more new girls a brother can boast about, the higher his status,” Sanday writes.
Sanday notes that date-rape drugs are sometimes used to help someone “score” with more women.
“Fraternity Gang Rape” analyses a particular gang rape case at UPenn in the 1980s in which an undergrad was reportedly raped by a group of five to eight frat brothers for an hour. These problems, though, remain issues at campuses across the country — a Johns Hopkins University fraternity was investigated for an alleged gang rape just last year.
Here’s how Sanday describes the perverse appeal of a gang rape:
If, as sometimes happens, the behaviour mushrooms into group sex, there is always the question of whether the girl consented. The boys may not even consider the possibility that she may have been too drunk to consent. They assume that by drinking she signaled her desire for sex. The woman involved is a tool, an object, the centerfold around which boys both test and demonstrate their power and heterosexual desire by performing for one another. They prove their manhood on a wounded girl who is unable to protest. Her body stands in for the object of desire in porno-staged acts of sexual intercourse that boys often watch together. She is the duck or the quail raised and put in place for the hunter.
Who she is doesn’t matter and she is quickly forgotten after it’s all over — sloughed off like a used condom. They event operates to glue the male group as a unified entity; it establishes fraternal bonding and helps boys to make the transition to their vision of a powerful manhood — in unity against women, one against the world. The patriarchal bonding functions a little like bonding in organised-crime circles, generating a sense of family and establishing mutual aid connections that will last a lifetime.
Sanday’s findings seem to line up with the accounts of an alleged gang rape in Rolling Stone. One UVA student told Rolling Stone that she was gang raped by a group of brothers during a Phi Psi date event:
She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more — her date, Drew, and another man — gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men’s heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.
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