Rape-Prone Versus Rape-Free Campus Cultures

Rape-Prone Versus Rape-Free Campus Cultures
Published in VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN,Vol. 2 No. 2, June, 1996, pp. 191- 208.


Utilizing the concept of rape-free and rape-prone societies, I suggest that the next step for rape research is to investigate rape-free campus environments. Based on the articles in this volume and ethnographic research, I summarize what is known about rape-prone fraternity cultures and compare this information with a rape free fraternity culture. The question of variation is also examined by comparing the rape incidence and prevalence rates averaged by campus using the data of Koss’s national study of 32 campuses. The question of the criteria by which campuses might be labelled rape free or rape prone is raised.

In Fraternity Gang Rape (Sanday 1990) I describe the discourse, rituals, sexual ideology, and practices that make some fraternity environments rape prone. The reaction of fraternity brothers to the book was decidedly mixed. Individuals in some chapters were motivated to rethink their initiation ritual and party behavior. In sarcastic opinion pieces written for campus newspapers others dismissed the book on the grounds that I was “out to get” fraternities. As recently as December 1995, a young man wrote a Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post criticizing me for allegedly connecting hate speech and sexual crimes on college campuses with “single-sex organizations.” Having set me up as the avenging witch, this young man then blames me for perpetuating the problem. My “[a]cross-the-board generalizations,” he claims “only make it more difficult for supportive men to become involved and stay active in the fight against these attacks.”

It is one of the tragedies of today’s ideological warfare that this writer finds such an easy excuse to exempt himself from participating in the struggle to end violence against women. To make matters worse, his rationalization for opting out is based on a trumped up charge. In the Introduction to my book, I carefully note that I am dealing with only “a few of the many fraternities at U. and on several other campuses.” I state the case very clearly:

The sexual aggression evident in these particular cases does not mean that sexual aggression is restricted to fraternities or that all fraternities indulge in sexual aggression. Sexist attitudes and the phallo-centric mentality associated with “pulling train” have a long history in Western society. For example, venting homoerotic desire in the gang rape of women who are treated as male property is the subject of several biblical stories. Susan Brownmiller describes instances of gang rape by men in war and in street gangs. Male bonding that rejects women and commodifies sex is evident in many other social contexts outside of universities. Thus, it would be wrong to place blame solely on fraternities. However, it is a fact also that most of the reported incidents of “pulling train” on campus have been associated with fraternities (Sanday 1990:19).

As an anthropologist interested in the particulars of sexual ideologies cross-culturally, I am very wary of generalizations of any sort. In 1975 I was very disturbed to read Susan Brownmiller’s claim in the opening chapter of Against Our Will (1975:15) that rape is “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” This statement was inconsistent with the compelling argument she presents in subsequent chapters that rape is culturally constructed and my own subsequent research on the socio-cultural context of rape cross-culturally, which provided evidence of rape-free as well as rape-prone societies.

The articles in this issue of Violence Against Women present three empirically based articles on the relationship between all-male organizations on college campuses and sexual assault. The article by Schwartz and Nogrady confirm the finding reported by Koss and Gaines (1993) that fraternity membership does not predict self-reported sexual assault. The very different results reported by Boeringer, however, suggest that we need to be careful in jumping to wholesale conclusions regarding the role of all-male organizations. The results reported by Crosset et. al. demonstrating that varsity athletes are over-represented in allegations of sexual assault reported in campus judicial affairs records are consistent with other studies of the role of male athletes (see Koss and Gaines 1993).

The research reported by Schwartz and Nogrady and Boeringer is of interest to me as an ethnographer for the amplification of the cultural context of sexual assault on college campuses. Their different results are surprising only if we assume that fraternities are culturally homogeneous. From the view point of a cultural anthropologist such an assumption is unwarranted unless we can show that the same templates for behavior are present in all fraternities. The question of variation both in campus cultures and fraternities is the subject of this paper. In the following, I will briefly summarize what we know about rape-prone fraternity cultures and contrast this information with what a rape-free context might look like. Since the available data are sparse my goal here is mostly programmatic, namely to encourage studies of intra- campus and cross-campus variation in the rates and correlates of sexual assault.

The concept of rape-free versus rape-prone comes from my study of 95 band and tribal societies in which I concluded that 47% were rape free and 18% were rape prone (Sanday 1981). For this study I defined a rape-prone society as one in which the incidence of rape is reported by observers to be high, or rape is excused as a ceremonial expression of masculinity, or rape is an act by which men are allowed to punish or threaten women. I defined a rape-free society as one in which the act of rape is either infrequent or does not occur. I used the term “rape free” not to suggest that rape was entirely absent in a given society but as a label to indicate that sexual aggression is socially disapproved and punished severely. Thus, while there may be some men in all societies who might be potential rapists, there is abundant evidence from many societies that sexual aggression is rarely expressed.

Rape in tribal societies is part of a cultural configuration that includes interpersonal violence, male dominance, and sexual separation. Pallocentrism is a dominant psycho-sexual symbol in these societies and men “use the penis to dominate their women” as Yolanda and Robert Murphy say about the Mundurucu (Sanday 1981:25). Rape-prone behavior is associated with environmental insecurity and females are turned into objects to be controlled as men struggle to retain or to gain control of their environment. Behaviors and attitudes prevail that separate the sexes and force men into a posture of proving their manhood. Sexual violence is one of the ways in which men remind themselves that they are superior. As such, rape is part of a broader struggle for control in the face of difficult circumstances. Where men are in harmony with their environment, rape is usually absent.

In Fraternity Gang Rape I suggest that rape-prone attitudes and behavior on American campuses are adopted by insecure young men who bond through homophobia and “getting sex.” The homoeroticism of their bonding leads them to display their masculinity through heterosexist displays of sexual performance. The phallus becomes the dominant symbol of discourse. A fraternity brother described to me the way in which he felt accepted by the brothers while he was a pledge.

We…liked to share ridiculously exaggerated sexual boasting, such as our mythical ‘Sixteen Kilometer Flesh-Weapon’….By including me in this perpetual, hysterical banter and sharing laughter with me, they showed their affection for me. I felt happy, confident, and loved. This really helped my feelings of loneliness and my fear of being sexually unappealing. We managed to give ourselves a satisfying substitute for sexual relations. We acted out all of the sexual tensions between us as brothers on a verbal level. Women, women everywhere, feminists, homosexuality, etc., all provided the material for the jokes (Sanday 1990:140-41).

Getting their information about women and sex from pornography, some brothers don’t see anything wrong with forcing a woman, especially if she’s drunk. After the 1983 case of alleged gang rape I describe in the book one of the participants, a virgin at the time, told a news reporter:

We have this Select TV in the house, and there’s soft porn on every midnight. All the guys watch it and talk about it and stuff, and [gang banging] didn’t seem that odd because it’s something that you see and hear about all the time. I’ve heard stories from other fraternities about group sex and trains and stuff like that. It was just like, you know, so this is what I’ve heard about, this is what it’s like….(Sanday 1990:34).

Watching their buddies have sex is another favorite activity in rape- prone campus environments. A woman is targeted at a party and brothers are informed who hide out on the roof outside the window, or secret themselves in a closet, or look through holes in the wall. Since the goal is to supply a live pornography show for their buddies, the perpetrators in these cases may easily overlook a woman’s ability to consent. They certainly don’t seek her consent to being watched. It is assumed that if she came to the house to party she is prepared for anything that might happen, especially if she gets drunk. On some campuses I have been told that this practice is called “beaching” or “whaling.”

Taking advantage of a drunk woman is widely accepted. As a group of brothers said in a taped conversation in which they discussed the young woman in the 1983 case:

“She was drugged.”
“She drugged herself.”
“Yeah, she was responsible for her condition, and that just leaves her wide open…so to speak.”
[laughter] (Sanday 1990:119)

In a 1990 talk show on which I appeared with the victim of gang rape a young man from a local university called up and admitted that the goal of all parties at his fraternity was “To get em drunk and go for it.” In 1991, I read an article entitled, “Men, Alcohol, and Manipulation,” in a campus newspaper from still another university. The author reported hearing several members of a fraternity talking with the bartender about an upcoming social event as follows:

Brother 1: “Hey, don’t forget–make the women’s drinks really strong.”
Bartender: “Yeah, I won’t forget. Just like usual.”
Brother 2. “We need to get them good and drunk.”
Bartender: “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.”
Brother 3: “That’ll loosen up some of those inhibitions.”

This is the kind of discourse I would classify as rape prone.

Getting a woman drunk to have sex in a show staged for one’s buddies is tragically evident in the testimony heard in the St. Johns’ sex case tried in Queens, New York in 1991-92. This case involved six members of the St. Johns University lacrosse team who were indicted for acts ranging from unlawful imprisonment and sexual abuse to sodomy. A seventh defendant pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for immunity (see Sanday 1996 for a description of the case and the subsequent trial). From the testimony in the case and interviews with the complainant and members of the prosecution team, I reconstructed the following scenario.

A young, naive woman student, whom I call Angela (pseudonym), accepted a ride home from school from a male friend, Michael. On the way, he stopped at the house he shares with members of the St. Johns lacrosse team to get gas money and invited her inside. At first she refused to go in but upon his insistence accepted the invitation. Inside she met his roommates. Left alone in the third floor bedroom, she accepted a drink from Michael.

The drink tasted terrible. It was bitter and stung her throat. When she asked what was in it, Michael said he put a little vodka in it. When she explained that she never drank, because drinking made her sick, Michael didn’t listen. Then she tried to tell him that she hadn’t eaten anything since lunch, But, this did not move him. “Vodka is a before dinner drink,” he explained, insisting that she drink it.Finally, she gave into his pressure and downed the contents of the first cup in a few gulps because of the bitter taste. When she finished, Michael went over to the refrigerator and brought back a large container, which he said was orange soda with vodka. He placed the container on the floor beside her feet. When Michael poured another cup, she told him, “But Michael, I couldn’t finish the first one. I don’t think I will be able to finish another.” Michael said again: “It’s only vodka. It can’t do anything to you, Angela.” He also said, “You know, Angela, in college everyone does something, something wild they can look back on.”

“Something wild?” Angela asked quizzically.

“Something wild,” Michael said again. “Something you can look back on and talk about later in life.” With the beer can that he was holding in his hand but never drank from, he hit her cup and said, “Here’s to college life.”

Later, Angela blamed herself for accepting the drinks from Michael. She was caught between wanting to please the host and wanting to assert her own needs. She had tried to please him by finishing the first drink. Now, she drank the second.

Then, he poured a third drink. When she balked at drinking this one, he started getting upset and annoyed. He told her it was a special drink, made just for her. He accused her of making him waste it. He started pushing the drink up to her mouth. He put his hands over the cup and pushed it to her lips. He said, “Oh Angela, don’t make me waste it. It’s only vodka. A little vodka can’t do anything to you.”

By now, Angela felt dizzy and her hands were shaking. She felt lost, unable to move. She had spent a life time doing what she was told to avoid being punished. Here was Michael upset with her because she didn’t want the drink he had made for her. She thought to herself, “If he wants me to drink it, I’ll drink it for him.” After she drank most of the third cup, Michael went to put the container back. Her head was spinning and she began to feel really sick, like she was going to vomit. She tried to tell Michael that she was sick, but he didn’t seem interested in how she was feeling.

Michael sat next to her and massaged her shoulder. She would never forget his pseudo-seductive voice. She hardly knew him, and here he was talking to her like he really cared for her. It was so obviously a put on, she was shocked by the insincerity. He kept telling her, “You need to relax. You are too tense. If you relax, you will feel better.” She tried to get up but she was too weak and she fell back down (Sanday 1996:11-12).

Testimony in the case revealed that after Angela passed out from Michael’s drinks, three house members stood on the landing and watched as Michael engaged in oral sodomy. After Michael left the house, these three took their turns while visitors invited over from another lacrosse team house watched. At the trial these visitors testified that they left the room when Angela woke up and started screaming. One of the lead prosecutors speculated that they left because they realized only then that she was not consenting. They did not understand that the law applies to using drugs and alcohol as it does to using force.



In his paper, Boeringer reports that 55.7% of the males in his study at a large southeastern university obtained sex by verbal harassment (ie. “threatening to end a relationship unless the victim consents to sex, falsely professing love, or telling the victim lies to render her more sexually receptive,” the variable labelled Coercion.) One-quarter of the males in Boeringer’s study reported using drugs or alcohol to obtain sex (Drugs/Alcohol) and 8.6% of the sample reported at least one use of force or threatened force to obtain sex (Rape.)

Schwartz and Nogrady found a much lower incidence of sexual coercion and assault at their research site, a large midwestern university. These authors (private communication) reported that 18.1% of the 116 males in their sample reported some form of unwanted sex: sex by pressure (6.9%); forced sex play/attempted rape (5.2%); or completed rape (6.0%). Of the 177 women interviewed 58.6% reported some form of unwanted sex; sex by pressure (24.1%); forced sex play/attempted rape (14.4%); and completed rape (20.1%).

The effect of fraternities is quite different on the two campuses. Boeringer found that fraternity men reported a higher overall use of coercion short of physical force to obtain sex. According to Boeringer, “fraternity members engage in significantly greater levels of sexual assault through drugging or intoxicating women to render them incapable of consent or refusal” (p. 9). Fraternity members are also more likely than independents to use “nonassaultative sexual coercion,” or verbal pressure. “While not criminal in nature,” Boeringer points out, “these verbally coercive tactics are nonetheless disturbing in that they suggest a more adversarial view of sexuality in which one should use deceit and guile to ‘win favors’ from a woman” (p. 10). From his study, Boeringer concludes that “fraternity members are disproportionately involved in some forms of campus sexual aggression.” Like the prosecutor in the St. John’s case mentioned above, he suggests that in all likelihood the process of “working a yes out” which I describe (Sanday 1990:113) is viewed by fraternity members as a “safer path to gaining sexual access to a reluctant, non-consenting woman than use of physical force” (p. 12).

Schwartz and Nogrady find no effect of fraternity membership. The most important predictor of sexual victimization in their study involves alcohol. It is not drinking per se that they found important, but whether or not a male perceives that his friends approve of getting a woman drunk for the purpose of having sex (the APPROVE variable). Also important is whether a male reports that he has friends that actually engage in this behavior (the GETDRUNK variable). The drinking variable that is the most influential in predicting a man’s reported sexual assault is the intensity of his drinking, that is the number of drinks he consumes when he goes out drinking (DRINKS). Thus, the authors conclude that “the level of the perceived male peer support system for exploiting women through alcohol, plus the amount of alcohol actually consumed by men when they drink, are the primary predictors of whether they will report themselves as sexual victimizers of women.”

The differences reported by Boeringer and Schwartz and Nogrady suggest not only that fraternities vary with respect to rape-prone behaviors but also that campuses vary with respect to overall rates of sexual assault. The latter result suggests that we need to look at cross-campus variation as well as at intra-campus variation. There are several problems that need to be addressed before either intra- or cross-campus variation can be established. First, in studying intra-campus variation we must be careful in reaching conclusions about the effect of such factors as drinking intensity or fraternity membership because the dependent variable is frequently lifetime prevalence rates rather than incidence in the past year.

Regarding cross-campus variation, there is the problem of comparability of studies. Boeringer (private communication), for example, measures prevalence rates in his study, while Schwartz and Nogrady (private communication) measure incidence. Since incidence rates are always lower, we cannot conclude that the campuses studied by these authors are that much different. Additionally, as noted by Schwartz and Nogrady as well as by Koss (1993), victimization rates from one study to another may not be comparable because of different methodologies, definitions, questions, and sampling procedures.

Nevertheless, some trends can be noticed. The available evidence against variation is seen in the fact that Koss’s 15% completed rape prevalence rate in the national study of 32 campuses is replicated by other studies of college students on particular campuses. Koss and Cook (1993:109) note, for example, that estimates of completed rape frequency in the 12% range have been reported for two campuses and estimates “as high or higher than 12% for unwanted intercourse have been reported in more than 10 additional studies lacking representative sampling methods.” According to these authors “there are no studies that have reported substantially lower or higher rates of rape among college students.”

Evidence for variation comes from Koss’s analysis of the relationship of prevalence rates to the institutional parameters used to design the sample (Koss 1988:11-12). She found that rates varied by region and by governance of the institution. Rates were twice as high at private colleges and major universities (14% and 17% respectively) than they were at religiously affiliated institutions (7%).

Ethnicity of the respondent (but, interestingly not the respondent’s family income) was also associated with prevalence rates. More white women (16%) reported victimization than did Hispanic (l2%), Black (l0%), or Asian women (7%). These figures were almost reversed for men. Rape was reported by 4% of white men, 10% of black men, 7% of Hispanic men, and 2% of Asian men. Prevalence rates reported by men also differed by region of the country. More men in the Southeast region (6%) admitted to raping compared with men in the Plains states (3%) and those in the West (2%) (Koss 1988:12).

Intriguing evidence for cross-campus variation in rape rates and related variables comes from Koss’s national study of 32 campuses. Using Koss’s data I looked at prevalence and incidence rates for each of 30 campuses in her study (2 campuses were excluded because of the amount of missing information.) The results show a wide discrepancy when campuses are compared. For example the campus percentages of males admitting that they have used alcohol or force to obtain sex (Koss’s 1988:11 rape variable) range from 0% to 10%. Campus percentages of males who admit to perpetrating unwanted sex in the past year (as opposed to since the age of 14) range from 6% to 22%. The latter percentages are higher because I computed them using all the sexual experience questions (excluding the two authority questions). Since the latter percentages are based on a question that measures incidence (“How many times in the past school year?”) the results provide a measure of an dependent variable that can be compared with drinking intensity.

The Koss survey includes two questions that might be taken as measures of drinking intensity. Both questions are asked in such a fashion as to measure drinking intensity in the past year. One asks “How often do you drink to the point of intoxication or drunkenness;” the other asks “On a typical drinking occasion, how much do you usually drink?” The campus percentages of males checking the most extreme categories of the first question (1-2 or more times a week) ranges from 1% to 24%. The campus percentages of males checking the most extreme categories of the second question (more than 5 or 6 cans of beer or other alcoholic beverages) ranges from 6% to 71%. Since all studies– Schwartz, Boeringer, Koss and Gaines (1993)–are unanimous on the effect of drinking this information, perhaps more than any other, is suggestive of variation in the rape prone nature of campus environments.



Assuming that we could identify campuses on which both males and females reported a low incidence of rape and/or unwanted sex, the next question would be whether there is a significant difference in the sexual culture on these campuses compared to the more rape prone campuses. My cross-cultural research which demonstrated differences in the character of heterosexual interaction in rape free as opposed to rape prone societies would suggest that the answer to this question is yes. The outstanding feature of rape-free societies is the ceremonial importance of women and the respect accorded the contribution women make to social continuity, a respect which places men and women in relatively balanced power spheres. Rape-free societies are characterized by sexual equality and the notion that the sexes are complementary. Although the sexes may not perform the same duties or have the same rights or privileges, each is indispensable to the activities of the other.

Since 1981 when this research was published, I spent approximately twenty- four months (extended over a period of fourteen years) doing ethnographic research among the Minangkabau, a rape free Indonesian society. I chose the Minangkabau because of social factors that conformed with my profile of rape- free societies. The Minangkabau are the largest and most modern matrilineal society in the world today. Women play an undisputed role in Minangkabau symbol system and daily life, especially in the villages. Among the most populous of the ethnic groups of Indonesia, the Minangkabau are not an isolated tribal society in some far off corner of the world. Banks, universities, modern governmental buildings are found in two of the major cities of West Sumatra, the traditional homeland of the Minangkabau people. At the major universities, it is not uncommon to find Minangkabau Ph.D’s trained in the U.S. People own cars and travel by bus throughout the province. Most children go to local schools, and many increasingly attend college.

The challenge facing me when I went to West Sumatra was first to find out whether the incidence of rape was low and if so to crack the cultural code that made it so. In the early years there was ample evidence from police reports and from interviews conducted all over the province that this was a rape free society. Ethnographic research conducted in several villages provided confirmation. This research demonstrated that women are the mainstays of village life. The all important family rice fields are inherited through the female line. Husbands live in their wives houses. It is believed that this is the way it should be, because otherwise in the event of a divorce women and children would be left destitute. The main reason given for the matrilineal inheritance of property is that since women bear the infant and raise the child it is in keeping with the laws of nature to give women control of the ancestral property so that they will have the wherewithal to house and nurture the young.

Missing from the Minangkabau conception of sexuality is any show of interest in sex for the sake of sex alone. Sex is neither a commodity nor a notch in the male belt in this society. A man’s sense of himself is not predicated by his sexual functioning. Although aggression is present, it is not linked to sex nor is it deemed a manly trait. The Minangkabau have yet to discover sex as a commodity or turn it into a fetish.

There is a cultural category for rape, which is defined as “forced sex” and is punishable by law. Rape is conceived as something that happens in the wild which places men who rape beyond the pale of society. In answer to my questions regarding the relative absence of rape among them compared to the United States, Minangkabau informants replied that rape was impossible in their society because custom, law, and religion forbade it and punished it severely. In the years that I worked in West Sumatra, I heard of only two cases of rape in the village where I lived. One case involved a group of males who ganged up on a young, retarded woman. In this case the leader of the group hanged himself the next day out of fear of avenging villagers. The rest of the assailants went to jail. The second case involved a local woman and a Japanese soldier during the Japanese occupation of the second world war and after. To this day people remember the case and talk about the horror of the Japanese occupation.

In the past few years, Indonesia’s entrance into the global economy has been accompanied by an amazing shift in the eroticization of popular culture seen on TV. In 1995 the signs that this culture was filtering into Minangkabau villages were very evident. To the extent that commodification and eroticization breaks down the cultural supports for its matrilineal social system, the Minangkabau sexual culture will also change. Indeed, today in the provincial capital some argue that the Minangkabau are not rape free.

During my last field trip in 1995, I heard of many more reports of rape in the provincial capital. In the early 1990’s, for example, there was a widely publicized acquaintance gang rape of a young woman by a group of boys. Interviewing court officers in the capital, I was told that this was the only case of its kind. Compared with similar cases in the U.S., such as the St. Johns case, the outcome was still very different. While the St. Johns defendants were either acquitted or got probation after pleading guilty, all the defendants in the Sumatran case were convicted and sent to jail. But, one may well ask whether the criminal justice system will continue to convict defendants as tolerance for sexual coercion begins to permeate popular beliefs.



A rape-free campus is relatively easy to imagine, but hard to find. Based on anecdotal information one candidate comes to mind. On this campus everyone, administrators, faculty, and students are on a first-name basis, which makes the atmosphere more egalitarian than most campuses. Decision making is by consensus and interpersonal interaction is guided by an ethic of respect for the individual. Those who are disrespectful of others are ostracized as campus life is motivated by a strong sense of community and the common good. No one group (such as fraternities, males, or athletes) dominates the social scene. Sexual assault is a serious offense treated with suspension or expulsion. Homophobic, racist, and sexist attitudes are virtually nonexistent. Individuals bond together in groups not to turn against others but because they are drawn together by mutual interests. Interviews suggest that the incidence of unwanted sex on this campus is low, however this must be corroborated by a campus-wide survey.

For information on a rape free fraternity culture I turn to a description offered by a student who wrote a mini-ethnography on his fraternity for a class project. Corroboration of his description was offered by another brother in the same fraternity who read the ethnography and added additional information. In the following, the fraternity is referred to by the pseudonym QRS. With their permission, the fraternity brothers are identified by name.

Noel Morrison and Josh Marcus recognize that fraternities on their campus (called U.) “propagate sexist attitudes and provide a breeding ground for insecure acts of sexism, racism, and homophobia.” According to Noel, U.’s fraternities “tend to be self-segregating entities which seek to maintain the inferior social position of women and minority students through exclusion” and social intolerance. QRS, however, consciously fights against this norm.

QRS is one of the oldest fraternities at U., going back at least 100 years. It was like all other fraternities at U. until 1977 when it was almost forced to disband due to insufficient numbers. At that time, a group of nine first year males pledged as a group knowing that their numbers would give them control of house decisions. They exercised this control by rewriting the house constitution and initiation rituals. Today the brothers are proud to say that they are “not a real fraternity.” Interestingly, although both Joel and Noel treasure their lives in QRS (because of the fun, companionship of respected friends, and community the house offers), both feel that fraternities should be abolished.

Partly as a defense mechanism and partly to underscore their difference, QRS brothers stigmatize members of other fraternities as “jarheads.” The word “jarhead” is used to refer to the “loud, obnoxious, sexist, racist, homophobic” members of U.’s fraternities. Most of the brothers in QRS do not participate in the campus inter-fraternity council and prefer to see themselves as “a group of friends,” rather than as a fraternity, and their house as “a place to have concerts.” Parties are always open to anyone and are either free to everyone or everyone pays, contrary to parties at other houses in which men pay and women are admitted for free.

At QRS heavy drinking is not a requisite for membership and is not a part of initiation. There are no drinking games and binge drinking does not occur. While some brothers drink to get drunk more than once a week, most don’t. At parties there are always brothers who watch out for women or house members who have had too much to drink. Josh stressed that “it is clearly not acceptable for someone to take advantage of a drunk woman, because that’s rape.” There is no talk in the house about getting a girl drunk to have sex, he says. Members are very aware that where there is heavy drinking someone can be taken advantage of. If a female passes out or is very drunk she is watched or escorted home. Both Josh and Noel remember an incident during a party in the fraternity next door, in which several members of QRS came to the aide of a young woman whose shirt was above her waist and who had passed out on their porch, left there perhaps by friends from the party who had deserted her. Their intervention may have saved her life. When they were unable to get her to talk, they took her to the emergency room of a nearby hospital only to learn that she was in a coma and her heart had stopped. Fortunately, they were in time and she responded to treatment.

Women are not seen as sex objects in the house, but as friends. Unlike other fraternities at U., there is no distinction drawn between “girlfriends” and friends and there are no “party girls.” Noel says that when he was rushing he would often hear women referred to as “sluts” in other fraternities. However, at QRS this is unheard of. According to Josh, a brother who acted “inappropriately” with a woman would be severely reprimanded, perhaps even expelled from the fraternity. The brothers are not afraid of strong women. There are women’s studies students who are regulars at the house, along with outspoken feminists and activists. Noel quotes one of them:

I guess there’s a few brothers who make sexist jokes, but I don’t know how seriously people take them. I remember last year in the middle of midterms I was studying late at night and was feeling sick and tired, and in a span of about five minutes, four people offered their beds to me, not as a sexual thing at all, but just because they cared.

One QRS brother started the Men’s Association for Change and Openness (MAChO) and is an active participant in U’s student peer-counseling group for sexual health. One brother displays a “Refuse and Resist” sticker on his door, proclaiming, “Date rape: cut it out or cut it off.” In a 1993 pamphlet advertising QRS as the site of the National Anarchist gathering, the brothers wrote “Although QRS is a frat, it is generally a friendly place, along with being a safe haven for women.”

Most interesting about QRS is its acceptance of homosexuality, and bisexuality. Homophobia does not become the basis for males to prove their virility to one another. Because of its openness about sex and acceptance of homosexuality, QRS has earned the reputation on campus of being “the gay frat” or “faggot house.” Josh comments on this reputation and what it means to him:

QRS’s attitudes about homosexuality are complex, but fundamentally tolerant and respectful. Some brothers revel in rumors that we are the “gay frat.” It is rumored that a few years ago a few of the brothers were involved sexually, and one of our most involved alumni is homosexual.

Although most fraternities have had or have a few homosexual brothers, this honest acceptance of homosexuality is unusual. QRS brothers are proud of being called the “gay frat.” Evidence of this is the humorous statement in the letters given prospective pledges offering bids, which ends with the phrase “we are all gay.”



The first step in the struggle against “hidden rape,” which began in the late sixties with consciousness raising groups (see Sanday 1996, Chapter 8) was to recognize the problem and speak out against it. The next step was to change outmoded rape laws and assess the causes and frequency of sexual violence against women. Mary Koss’s national survey of 1985 demonstrated that one-in-four women will experience rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Since the eighties many other surveys have replicated her findings. The search for causes has been the subject of numerous studies, including those represented in this volume.

The next step is to go beyond the causes and study solutions. One approach would be to find naturally occurring rape free environments on today’s college campuses. QRS is one example. No rape-free campuses have been identified by research, yet I have heard descriptions from students that lead me to believe that such campuses exist. Identifying such campuses and seeking out environments like QRS is the next step for research. In this paper I have identified the kinds of problems such research must address. First, it is necessary to obtain incidence as well as prevalence data. Secondly, we need more subtle measures of the kinds of socio-cultural correlates that have been discussed in this paper: drinking intensity; using pornography to learn about sex rather than talking with one’s partner; bragging about sexual conquests; setting women up to display one’s masculinity to other men; heterosexism; homophobia; and using pornography as a guide to female sexuality. Finally, we need to develop a consensus on the criteria for labelling a campus either rape free or rape prone. If at least one-in-five women on a given campus say they have experienced unwanted sex in the last year, I would label the campus rape prone. However, others may want to propose different criteria. Once a consensus is reached, the movement to make our campuses safe for women might include identifying rape-free and rape-prone campuses.



Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against Our Will:Men Women and Rape. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Koss, M.P. (1988). Hidden rape: Sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of students in higher education. In A.W. Burgess (ed.), Rape and Sexual Assault II (pp. 3-25). New York: Garland.

Koss, M.P. (1993). Rape: Scope, Impact, Interventions, and Public Policy Responses. American Psychologist. October 1062-1069.

Koss, M.P. & S.L. Cook. (1993). Facing the Facts: Date and Acquaintance Rape are Significant Problems for women. In R.J. Gelles and D.R. Loseke (eds.) Current Controversies on Family Violence (104-119). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Koss, M.P. & Gaines, J.A. (1993). The prediction of sexual aggression by alcohol use, athletic participation, and fraternity affiliation. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 8, 94-108.

Sanday, P.R. (1981). The socio-cultural context of rape:a cross-cultural study. Journal of Social Issues, 37, 5-27.

Sanday, P.R. (1990). Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood and Privilege on Campus. New York:New York University Press.

Sanday, P.R. (1996). A Woman Scorned:Acquaintance Rape on Trial. New York: Doubleday.



This article has benefited from the comments of Mary P. Koss. I am also grateful to Koss for supplying me with the data on her 1986 study of 32 campuses. Martin D. Schwartz and Scot B. Boerginer graciously supplied me with additional data from their studies and answered my many questions. Noel Morrison played an important role by giving me permission to summarize his description of his fraternity. John Marcus, a brother in the same fraternity, was also helpful in corroborating Noel’s observations and supplying a few of his own.

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