Editor's Note: This story includes mention of sexual violence.
Sexual assault heavily affects students in sororities, who are 74% more likely to experience sexual assault than other college women, according to Health Research Funding.
Madison Smith, a junior in a sorority at IU, said she was sexually assaulted by a man in a fraternity, but she chose not to report her assault. Smith said she feared the university and the IU Police Department would not be on her side.
There is a tendency when talking about the issue of sexual assault to speak of it as a “greek life” problem. There is certainly a problem, but this language is too imprecise. Sexual assault is not a “greek life” problem. It’s a fraternity problem.
“It’s especially frustrating when you’re talking about sexual assault because fraternity men are most likely to sexually assault sorority women,” Smith said. “When you blame the problem on ‘greek life,’ you’re lumping victims in with their abusers.”
An overwhelming majority of women do not report being sexually assaulted, mostly because it is often difficult to prove that a crime occured.
“I was worried about being attacked personally because I didn’t have physical proof,” Smith said. “I was worried I was going to get blamed for it.”
Clearly, something is wrong when women don’t believe their school or law enforcement officials will support them if they are sexually assaulted. What might be even more alienating is when their fellow students do not support them.
“I wish that more students would take into account the fact that sorority women also are still students who deserve safety,” Smith said. “I think there’s a really unfortunate divide on campus between affiliated and unaffiliated students.”
The divide she’s talking about certainly exists. Women in sororities are often depicted in popular culture as airheads who exist solely for the sexual enjoyment of men in fraternities. We’ve all heard the jokes about the “dumb blonde sorority girls.”
Fraternities are similarly portrayed negatively in popular culture. The 1978 film “Animal House” paints a picture of fraternities as a group of perpetually partying drunken buffoons with an unfortunate proclivity for sexual assault.
So, we see that to some extent the media portrayal of fraternities is earned. The sexual misconduct we see in movies like “Animal House” is too close to reality for comfort.
Fraternities have an obligation to address this problem of sexual assault. So far, sororities have taken more action than fraternities have to combat this issue. Because of growing sexual assaults at fraternity houses, the IU Panhellenic Association canceled events with the Interfraternity Council Sept. 25.
“Men don’t change until women force them to,” Smith said.
Fraternities need to reckon with the culture of sexual assault that surrounds them. Fraternities need to take this issue seriously and vigorously work internally to prevent sexual assaults from happening.
One step they could take is to implement Proclamation 112, a bill that the IU Student Government passed last semester calling for increased sexual assault prevention training in greek organizations. Smith said some Greek Councils are working to implement the bill, but progress has been slow.
But we should also be listening to what Smith said.
Whatever ideas we have in our head about greek life should be set aside the moment we hear of someone in a sorority being assaulted.
Everyone who has been sexually assaulted deserves to be taken seriously and should not be mocked or face victim-blaming because they happen to be in a sorority.
Students, affiliated and unaffiliated with greek life, should stand in solidarity with anyone who has been sexually assaulted. We should be supportive of one another, not dismissive.
If you or someone you know has faced sexual assault, you can contact IU’s Office for Sexual Violence Prevention and Victim Advocacy.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a sophomore studying journalism and political science.