The XX Factor

UVA Sorority Sisters Banned From Frat Parties to Punish Them for Being Potential Rape Victims

Hiding the women is not real rape prevention.

Photo by Jay Paul/Getty Images

Spring semester is underway, and there are a lot of eyes on how rush season is going for the Greeks at the University of Virginia after the school was the subject of a massive Rolling Stone piece on campus rape back in November. That story has since been discredited, but larger questions about women’s safety in the fraternity system still linger on campus. Jezebel’s Jia Tolentino published a lengthy feature Wednesday on UVA rush season and found a mixed bag.

On the one hand, last year’s “achingly sincere” student response to the rape problem has “dissipated into the air.” On the other hand, “Nearly all the frats voluntarily signed a new agreement to operate under a new set of rules: no kegs, no liquor unless under strict conditions, accessible food and bottled water, three sober brothers, outside security, a guest list.” It’s a step in the right direction, though, as Tolentino notes, what really needs to happen to fight rape in the fraternity system is a cultural shift for more “[i]nformal community policing.” The “most practical idea I heard all weekend” comes from a sorority sister, she writes: “”Make it a taboo for frat boys to hook up with blackout girls.” Tell them it’s to protect them from women “crying rape,” if that’s what it takes to make them think twice.

One strategy to prevent rape during UVA rush is shaping up to be a total disaster. As the Washington Post reports, “Sorority sisters at the University of Virginia were ordered by their national chapters to avoid fraternity events this weekend — a mandate that many of the women said was irrational, sexist and contrary to the school’s culture.”

There’s a lot of variety in how the sororities are trying to pull their women away from the fraternity parties. Some are threatening fines and other penalties if sisters are caught going to bid parties at frats this weekend. Others “are planning mandatory in-house retreats that night, to avoid any risk of inadvertently violating the rule.” Some have gone so over-the-top that they are banning sisters from going to any event where fraternity brothers might be, including the UVA versus Duke basketball game scheduled for Saturday. 

Locking up women as if they are the ones causing rape merely by existing is not the way to handle the problem of sexual assault. Not only is it wildly unfair—why should those who haven’t done anything wrong be punished?—it also shows a complete lack of understanding of the causes of rape and what it will take to fight it. Rape is, at its core, an act of male dominance over women (and sometimes over other men). You’re not going to undermine a culture of male dominance by treating women like a lower class that needs to be locked up and controlled while the men run free. Plus, if a rape does happen, it just sets up the victim to be blamed for not following the rules like a proper little lady. 

Luckily, the students themselves appear to get this. The Washington Post collected their responses, which are resoundingly negative. “To live in 2015 and be told that you can’t leave your house because you’re a female?,” senior Story Hinckley told the Post. “I thought I was hearing it wrong, to be honest.”  

Junior Erin Dyer agreed: “I don’t understand where or when I signed up for an organization that encouraged women to hide from men.”

“This was decided by national presidents who are in their mid-50s and live in Indianapolis,” Hinckley told the Post dismissively. She has a point. Clearly, a lot has changed since these national presidents were in college. Nowadays, you have sisters who can spout feminist theory just as easily as they sing their school fight songs, and they aren’t about to let rape be an excuse to put them under lock and key.