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Op-ed: U. fraternity takes lead in addressing campus rape epidemic

Published May 2, 2014 5:37 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Five days before the Obama Administration's April 29 release of sweeping recommendations to address an epidemic of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses, this happened: One dozen members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity from the University of Utah mingled with the crowd at the Rape Recovery Center's annual fund-raising gala, where they hawked auction items, sold cupcakes and provided information about our victim services.

For the past school year, the Beta men have been active partners with the RRC in addressing what the White House has identified as a major threat to health and safety: sexual assault on campus. One in five women, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), will be sexually assaulted while in college.

The assaults most often occur during the freshman and sophomore years. Though fewer in number, men are victims, too. We aren't talking about minor crimes here. From 2008 to 2012, reports of forcible rape on U.S. college campuses increased by 49 percent, according to an investigative project released last week by National Public Radio.

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is urging campuses to collect accurate data on sexual assault and to train administrators, law enforcement officers and counselors in recognizing the causes and effects of sexual violence. The panel recommends that colleges and universities adopt proven prevention strategies — one of the best being bystander intervention programs.

Bystander intervention is simply social-work speak for getting involved and acting against bad behavior. Anti-bullying campaigns have capitalized nicely on this concept. For what is rape if not extreme bullying?

As has been noted for decades, rape is not about sex. Sex is the vehicle for the crime, but sex is to rape as Don Sterling is to race relations—absolutely antithetical. Rape is about stealing autonomy from another human being. Bystanders— a pool that includes friends, co-workers, acquaintances—can help prevent sexual assault by standing against it. Rape jokes and demeaning comments about women are not OK. Egging on friends and dates to drink until they black out and lose control needs to stop. We perpetuate sexual violence by remaining silent against it.

Beta leaders last fall chose the RRC as their philanthropy for the year.

Our agency has been the fortunate recipient of more than $5,000 raised through a series of Greek Row charity events and alumni donations. The men have given their time at our community events, including serving as natty, blazer-wearing volunteers at our recent gala. With health educators from the U., we have partnered with other fraternities and sororities to discuss what constitutes a healthy sexual relationship: frank communication between partners, respect for others' personal boundaries and understanding how alcohol and drug use affects behavior around sex. We have emphasized that while "consent" is the legal foundation for sex between two adults, "enthusiastic consent" is really the gold standard.

Our collaboration with Beta comes as the fraternity is working to rebuild its image after losing its charter in 2010. To its great credit, the Beta house has recolonized and rechartered , and is now completely "dry." The fraternity's leadership includes a risk manager, who helps to set legal and ethical behavior among members.

Next fall, the RRC will team with Beta and other Greek houses to teach rape prevention twice a year. We hope to bring similar programs to other college campuses, too. We have seen results already. Shortly after partnering with Beta we learned that six investigations of sexual assault complaints were open on the U.'s Greek Row. Beta was not among them.

Rape is real on college campuses. The RRC is committed to facing and fixing this problem. Are you?

Holly Mullen is executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City. Visit www.raperecoverycenter.org for information on victim services.






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