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Violence Against Women on the Internet

Campus Sexual Assault Policies
(opens: 4.16.02)
(opens: 4.23.02)
Sex Trafficking
(opens: 4.30.02)
The Internet as a Site of Resistance
(opens: 5.7.02)
(opens: 5.14.02)
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Case Studies

Think about your own notions of consent, force, and rape as you read the following court account of a sexual assault that occurred at Harvard College in April, 1998, as related by the Harvard Crimson:

The court's account of the incident is taken from the hearing in which [the assailant] pled guilty to indecent assault and battery. In the court records, the prosecutor reads an account of the incident, after which [the assailant] is recorded as saying, "I admit to committing the crime." According to the account, both students had been friends for a year. On April 3, the night of the incident, the woman saw [the assailant] while on a date with another man. The victim told The Crimson yesterday that she was "feeling the effects of alcohol" that night.

Court documents state that the three attended a party together. Afterwards, as her date walked her home, [the assailant] began walking along with the pair. The other man left her at her dorm, but [the assailant] "told her he wanted to go home with her," and stayed behind, prosecutors told the court. "She told him that wasn't going to happen and was attempting to get into her door," the prosecutor told the court. The defendant was blocking access to the card key [reader] she needed to use." He followed her into the dorm and up the stairs. "She repeatedly told him that he was not going to come in," the document states. "The defendant kept telling her that it's his choice; she did not have input into that decision." Outside her room he threw her against the wall, pushed her dress and grabbed her buttocks. He also began kissing her, the prosecutor said.

"[She] told him to leave [and] was struggling to get away from him," the documents said.

She managed to open the door to her suite, but did not shut it in time to prevent [the assailant] from following her inside. "Once she was inside, although annoyed that the defendant was still there, because she was a friend of the defendant, [she] wasn't particularly frightened," the prosecutor said. "She told him to leave; she was going to bed."

She lay down fully clothed on the bed and began to doze off. "She next became aware that [the assailant] had removed all of his clothing and had gotten into bed with her," the document reads. Once in bed with her, he proceeded to sexually assault her, though the court document does not describe any penetration. Some time later, the prosecutor said, [the assailant] left the bed.

"These are essentially the facts as they relate to this incident, Your Honor, although the incident continued," the prosecutor said. The prosecutor said the woman assaulted by [the assailant] found a handwritten note under her door the next day apologizing "for pressuring her, forcing her to engage in these activities."

"On April 20, she had another conversation with the defendant in which he again admitted that he had not been under the influence of alcohol, that he had forced her to do things she had not wanted to do and apologized," the prosecutor told the court."

Was this rape? The victim thought so. The perpetrator admitted to the rape to Harvard's Administrative Board. The Board also found that a rape had been committed. But the ensuing discussion over whether to punish him with expulsion (permanent separation from the College), dismissal (separation from the College but with a slight possibility of re-entry), or withdrawal (a temporary separation, typically lasting one year) is revealing and gives us a good context in which to assess our conceptions of rape.

The Board eventually voted to dismiss the assailant 119-19 (expulsion was never really considered as an option and has typically only been enacted in cases of admissions fraud), but a small contingent was advocating the lesser punishment of withdrawal. According to the Crimson, some of the Faculty had trouble "determining degrees of consent and miscommunication between [the assailant] and the woman he assaulted." Some "still had questions about the force with which the woman refused [his] advances-whether she sent nonverbal signals which may have blurred any clear message about consent." Some observers argued that "the woman's behavior had created an ambiguous situation prior to the assault" and the situation was called "hazy" - "It was friends who were together. He may have assumed one thing and she another." Lastly, a senior administrator said that "several people supporting the requirement to withdraw held the position 'that it was consensual.'"

If this type of debate ensued despite the fact that the assailant had confessed to rape, one must wonder what would have happened if he had denied the accusation.
But the facts of the case seem clear. She told him "no" when he wanted to come inside her dormitory. She told him "no" when he wanted to enter her room, to which he repeatedly replied that "she did not have input into that decision." And she was asleep when he began to assault her. What kind of conception of consent is held by our society that leaves room to question whether this was a case of rape?
With these questions in mind, take a look at the following cases. Please note that many of these articles include descriptions of violent acts. At, you'll find two interviews with women who were raped on campus at Harvard and were mistreated by and disappointed in the administration's disciplinary procedures. A recent Washington Post article provides another example of a victim's dissatisfaction with her university's disciplinary decisions. In "Campus Rape Ignored . . . . . Even When There's a Videotape," NOW's Cindy Hanford briefly describes several other university assaults that went unpunished (

Discussions about rates of sexual assault on campuses often lead to questions about the role of fraternities. Although sexual assault continues to occur outside fraternities (Harvard, for example, has no discernible Greek life; all of the Harvard assaults mentioned above occurred in dorm rooms), fraternities often promote a culture that further intensifies and concentrates the potential for and prevalence of rape. The following in-depth discussion of a recent scandal at Dartmouth College provides a powerful example of the ways in which fraternities can promote a rape culture.

Dartmouth College's fraternities have often occupied a space in the public dialogue. From the school's representation in the popular movie "Animal House" to Chi Gamma Epsilon's 1998 "ghetto party," which encouraged undergrads to come clad in 'ghetto' attire, much of Dartmouth's Greek culture has proven to be steeped in problematic sexist and racist practices. (For a historical perspective on Greek culture at Dartmouth, see These incidents are not simply relics of Dartmouth's past. As recently as February, 2001, the Dartmouth College newspaper reported that members of the Psi Upsilon fraternity shouted racist and sexist remarks at a pedestrian (see

However, the most recent Dartmouth fraternity scandal captured national attention and drew scrutiny to the problems underpinning Greek culture at Dartmouth. In May, 2001, a Dartmouth student found copies of the Zeta Psi fraternity's weekly newsletter, The Sigma Report. The newsletter contained "gratuitous Cancun porn," discussed the sexual acts of particular female students, and, most egregiously, promised to include "patented date rape techniques" in a subsequent issue. Please note that the following links contain explicit and offensive material: Reports indicated that the student first learned of the newsletters when a fraternity member showed them to her. When the student learned that the newsletters were still being published, she managed to get a copy of the newsletter and to show it to Dartmouth administrators (see

Controversial discussion followed the discovery of the newsletters. While one hundred Dartmouth faculty members signed a letter expressing the dismay at a campus culture where "female students and students of color… suffer from institutionalized practices of sexist and racist humiliation that fester largely unabated within secret fraternity culture," students were ostensibly divided about how the college should respond to the discovery of the letters. (for a copy of the faculty letter, see . Some members of Zeta Psi insisted that the newsletters were intended to be "humor, satire, and parody" and that the newsletters were "private Communications" never intended to be made public (see These Brothers assured members of the Dartmouth community that the references to "date rape techniques" were humor since the Brother who was discussed was "the nicest guy" and someone who "would never date rape ever." ( In fact, one graduate student described the Zeta Psi incident as "…boys sitting around being boys… They are not all that mature. It's an internal newsletter that was not intended for the general public. It was satire." (See
Other members of the community were appreciative of the administration's decision to de-recognize the fraternity and were supportive of a more comprehensive institutional response to the pervasive problem of sexist and racist practices in Dartmouth's Greek culture (see In fact, in an article in Dartmouth's newspaper, a student declared, "The Greek system is classist, homophobic, misogynist, and racist; it must be abolished." (see

On May 11, 2001, Dartmouth College closed the Zeta Psi fraternity. The Dean of the College wrote in a letter to the Dartmouth community that "Zeta Psi prepared and distributed, on at least three occasions, 'newsletters' intended to be humorous. Those newsletters, however, specifically targeted fellow students for abusive comments of a demeaning nature. While these 'newsletters' were intended to be kept secret, they in fact came to the attention of some of the victims. This was the second significant instance of such institutionalized misconduct; in 1987, the organization's recognition was suspended for a year for similar behavior." (See However, one Dartmouth newspaper recently reported that the fraternity continues to function and to recruit new members. Because the fraternity house is privately owned, it is outside of the school's jurisdiction. (See

Discussion Questions:
1. What does it mean that the language of rape was cloaked in humor by some members of the Zeta Psi community?

2. How do claims of 'not being able to take a joke' or accusations of hypersensitivity work to keep women (and racial minorities) in their place?

3. Do fraternities necessarily reinscribe gender and racial hierarchies? Is it possible to imagine "Greek culture" in a way that would not bolster male entitlement?

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