The Cavalier Daily
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“What I hear is that you aren’t listening”

How universities and students respond to sexual assault allegations: a collaboration between The Cavalier Daily and Penn State's The Daily Collegian

For an officer inside of a State College police car, 2 a.m. Saturday is predictable.

The radio is flooded with calls. A couple reports of conscious alcohol overdoses. The first DUI call of the night. A public drunkenness call from a downtown bar, where a woman began vomiting during the establishment’s Hawaiian-themed night (upon arrival, a male friend wearing a red “Orgasm Donor” tank top asks police if the woman must go to the hospital — as she walks, willingly, into an ambulance).

Back on fraternity row, the Kappa Delta Rho house, 420 E. Prospect Ave., is quiet this Friday night. Earlier that week, news broke that members of the chapter were accused of operating a private Facebook group, containing photos of nude, unconscious women. The fraternity was suspended for a year by its national headquarters.

Walking by the large Tudor house, women in skirts, dresses and crop tops cling to the arms of men in jeans, Timberland boots and North Face jackets, and teeter along the sidewalk in high heels. The temperature outside hovers around freezing.

It looks like the stuff of movies — typical college fun.

And police know the norm all too well: freshman and sophomore girls often flock to the fraternity houses, where it is easy for them to enter. Free alcohol abounds before they turn 21.

At 2 a.m. — when, like clockwork, parties end and bars close — police pass many visibly intoxicated people.

Inside the cop car, the officer evaluates a pair, one of whom is noticeably struggling to walk straight. He drives around the block. Because the pair progressed forward, and because the intoxicated person is not alone, the officer continues his patrol.

Police know they could stop most students walking home and cite them for something — if not for underage drinking, then for public drunkenness. But perhaps because of the nature of a college town — or perhaps because of the nature of this particular college town, home to 40,000-plus students — the cops don’t cite every stumbling student. There are just too many.

"Very rarely do advocates find cases where either the victim or the perpetrator or both weren’t misusing alcohol."

Alcohol and sexual assault are connected, Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs said. And, he said, folks finally feel okay talking about the link between alcohol, drugs and sexual assault without fear of “victim blaming” or being politically incorrect.

“Very rarely do advocates find cases where either the victim or the perpetrator or both weren’t misusing alcohol,” Sims said in February. “If we’re going to do something about the culture of sexual assault, we have to do something about the culture of alcohol … You can’t unbundle them. And if you do, you’re missing the opportunity to make headway on both.”

Sims, who also serves as chairman of Penn State’s Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, said he believes addressing the alcohol problem on college campuses would serve as a meaningful step in preventing sexual assaults.

Sims wouldn’t say whether he thought fraternity culture leads to more sexual assaults. But, Sims said, fraternities — as well as sports teams and even philanthropic organizations such as Penn State’s Inter-Fraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon — have an “underbelly” that exists because of the closeness of the group and a close relationship with alcohol.

“I would say there’s an alcohol-sexual assault correlation,” Rick Groves, president of Penn State’s Inter-Fraternity Council, said. “And obviously alcohol and social events are an aspect of the Greek community that, for better or worse, has been around for a long time.”

"Sipping from a plastic cup, Jackie grimaced, then discreetly spilled her spiked punch onto the sludgy fraternity-house floor. The University of Virginia freshman wasn't a drinker, but she didn't want to seem like a goody-goody at her very first frat party – and she especially wanted to impress her date, the handsome Phi Kappa Psi brother who'd brought her here.” - The Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely" 

NOVEMBER 2014: Charlottesville, Virginia

Rolling Stone published “A Rape on Campus” — a scathing article written by magazine freelancer Sabrina Rubin Erdely — on Nov. 19. The story recounted the details and aftermath of a brutal 2012 gang rape of then-first-year student Jackie in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house, 159 Madison Lane, at the University of Virginia.

The article not only rocked the University community, but also caused a nationwide uproar. News crews littered Grounds and images of the Lawn — an emblem of honor and learning at the University — were splashed across national media outlets as symbols of privilege and rape culture.

Immediately following the article’s release, students and faculty were left in a state of shock and confusion. Fourth-year Commerce student Brian Head, president of One in Four, an all-male sexual assault education group, said the article’s impact dealt him a profound blow.

He said he felt “disgust, visceral sadness and worry as to how everyone else was going to react,” after reading the article.

Both Head and third-year College student Alex Pinkleton, current outreach chair and president-elect of One Less, an all-female sexual assault education group, were featured in the article. Although they both knew of its content before its release, they were nonetheless shocked at the final product.

“Since I was part of the process, I already knew when it was coming out, and it was strange because I had no idea how the public would react,” Pinkleton said. “I was really shocked by the amount of response to it in terms of outrage and high emotions.”

As many in the community voiced horror, multiple student and faculty groups rose to the occasion by collaborating to advocate for cultural and institutional change. While the groups’ responses initially began as passionate outcries — from vandalism to marches and discussion — they have developed into constructive criticism as time has passed and immediate reforms have been initiated.

“That’s the thing I was fearful of most … — that this huge bomb was going to drop on U.Va. — and the students would respond by saying ‘not my problem,’” Head said.

Head said the student and faculty reactions, although not entirely constructive, were necessary to spark the call for change. He said it was much better for the University community to have reacted in the way it did rather than to have been indifferent.

“That’s the thing I was fearful of most … — that this huge bomb was going to drop on U.Va. — and the students would respond by saying ‘not my problem,’” Head said.

The first significant reaction came early in the morning Nov. 20, when vandals spray-painted “SUSPEND US” and “U.Va. Center for Rape Studies” on the Phi Kappa Psi house and threw bricks through its windows. Later in the day, the vandals sent an email to multiple news sources outlining specific demands:

"An immediate revision of university policy mandating expulsion as the only sanction for rape and sexual assault."

"The immediate suspension of U.Va’s Phi Kappa Psi chapter, and a thorough review of the entire fraternity system."

"A thorough overhaul of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Board and the resignation of Dean Nicole Eramo."

"The immediate implementation of harm reduction policies at fraternity parties, such as policing, University supervision, or permission for parties to be held in safer environments such as sorority houses."

The vandals’ letter asked for University President Teresa Sullivan and the rest of the administration to make immediate institutional change.

“We appeal for action to President Sullivan, who has shown promise as a strong and progressive administrator, but we will no longer confine ourselves to working through a bureaucratic and ineffective system,” the letter read.

FEBRUARY 2015: State College, Pennsylvania

Kristen Houser, vice president of public relations for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and a Penn State alumna, said she believes a connection between sexual assault and fraternity life exists.

“[D]rugs and alcohol are used to lower inhibitions. It’s a social insurance policy. We don’t excuse any other crime that way.”

But, like Vice President Sims, Houser said she believes the connection is not unique to fraternities. Many other clubs and societies that foster high allegiance to a group see similar problems.

The most widely misunderstood aspect of these crimes, Houser said, is the way in which alcohol and drugs play a role.

“People think if a victim was drunk, she’s just embarrassed [and] it leads to ‘crying rape’ … I choke on those words,” Houser said. And for attackers, “drugs and alcohol are used to lower inhibitions. It’s a social insurance policy. We don’t excuse any other crime that way.”

Between two and 10 percent of sexual assault allegations are false, according to “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases” — a 2010 study conducted over a 10-year period.

Yet, nearly 70 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to police, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, and it is estimated that 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail or prison.

Houser stressed that fraternities do not turn men into rapists.

“These are not young men who come to college with no impure thoughts,” Houser said. “We look at these incidents like they’re dips on the bell curve, when they’re usually data points on the bell curve.”

But, she said, the fraternity environment, focused on brotherhood and sometimes “an acceptance of a hostile, sexually-entitled construct of masculinity” can make it easier for those with these impure thoughts to engage in criminal activity.

A few days after the Kappa Delta Rho story broke, The Daily Collegian sat down with Lieutenant Keith Robb inside a briefing room at the downtown State College Police Department office. Robb is in charge of criminal investigations for the department and handles sexual assault cases.

Robb said it is generally more difficult for someone to commit sexual assault at a packed apartment party than at a fraternity party inside a large, multi-floor house.

This is not the first time the Collegian has talked with Robb about fraternities and sexual assault. In October, Robb sat in this same briefing room and paused at the end of an interview on crime inside Penn State’s fraternities. He voiced concern about women at fraternities.

“I do worry about the girls. I do think that they get taken advantage of,” Robb said. “I wouldn’t say all of [the sexual assaults], but too many of them are from frat parties. Someone ends up in a room upstairs…”

NOVEMBER 2014: Charlottesville, Virginia

Phi Kappa Psi voluntarily suspended its activities and its Fraternal Organization Agreement with the University Nov. 20, the day after the article’s release.

“We decided that the best plan of action was to voluntarily suspend ourselves — not as a symbolic thing, but it was the right thing to do, to cooperate,” Steven Scipione, president of Phi Kappa Psi, said in an earlier interview with The Cavalier Daily. “And that’s the stance that we’ve taken the entire time — cooperating with the school and more importantly with the Charlottesville police.”

Following Phi Kappa Psi’s suspension, President Sullivan suspended all fraternal organizations for the rest of the fall semester.

Third-year College student Ben Gorman, Inter-Fraternity Council president, said while such an immediate suspension seemed to be a harsh reaction, it was necessary for fraternal organizations to spend time focusing on the issue at hand.

“While it was largely perceived to be a knee-jerk reaction and a collective punishment against students who had done no wrong, I think in the long-run it provided us with a chance to review and reevaluate our own policies regarding student safety and make sure that they are the best they can be,” Gorman said.

Student responses to the article’s accusations were near-constant occurrences in the weeks following its release. The first of these organized student demonstrations was the Nov. 20 “Stand Up to Rape Culture” rally held by the Middle Eastern and Islamic Student Association in the Amphitheatre. Nearly 1,000 community members attended and listened to the talks given by students, faculty and staff.

Another reaction was a Nov. 21 SlutWalk arranged by first-year College student Maria DeHart. This was nearly a direct reference to Erdely’s Rolling Stone article, which discounted the University’s protest culture.

“U.Va. isn't an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch,” Erdely wrote in the article. “There are… certainly no SlutWalks.”

Protesters chanted and held signs as they moved across grounds to Rugby Road, the University’s fraternity row.

“My dress is not a yes.”

“Whose university? Our university.”

“One in four, let’s change the score.”

MARCH 2015: State College, Pennsylvania

Standing on the sidewalk outside the Kappa Delta Rho house, protesters yelled “We are not safe” — the same way the crowd yells “We are Penn State” at football games.

Music blasted from the fraternity house and, on a side porch, a couple members appeared to be taking cell phone photos. A passing male yelled to protesters, “Tell girls not to pass out at parties.”

A couple months earlier, James Vivenzio, a former Kappa Delta Rho member with a criminal history, walked into the State College Police Department to discuss possible criminal activity on an invitation-only Facebook page.

Vivenzio gave police print-outs from the page — he kept his own Facebook page deactivated so the 144 members of the “2.0” group, which replaced the original and similar “Covert Business Transactions” page, would not remove him.

Those print-outs were entered into evidence.

The first piece of evidence is the screenshot of a text message, which reads:

“Hi, I know this is kind of awkward but Tuesday night I was extremely blacked out. I’m assuming we hooked up. Literally very, very, vague memory. But I really need to know because I’m extremely concerned about the fact of whether or not protection was involved. Sorry for being uncomfortable. I just really trying to piece things together. If we didn’t hook up then sorry for bothering you don’t worry I won’t text you again.”

While going through the print-outs with police, Vivenzio’s response to that screenshot — according to court documents — was, “This is the type of stuff that happens at KDR.”

Other screenshots include photographs of naked, unconscious women, many in sexually explicit, embarrassing positions. While the photos are grainy, the outlines of bodies are clear.

One woman appears to be getting digitally penetrated by a man — another is passed out on a bed, with no clothes and legs spread apart.

And, accompanying the photos are screenshots of comments allegedly posted by fraternity members.

“I banged her lol.”

“for all freshmen who don’t know the background story I used to mercilessly fuck this chick when I was a freshman…”

“lol delete these or we will be on cnn in a week.”

A local TV station broke the story Monday evening, March 16. By Tuesday, national media were on the story, which came as other fraternities across the nation were getting bad press.

Some women and men on campus were outraged. The fraternity was vandalized with three yellow spray-painted words — “tear it down” — written on a stone wall outside the house. The words were quickly covered up with red fabric by fraternity members.

Rallies and protests were held on Penn State’s campus and around downtown State College. The first major rally occurred that Friday, as snow fell on the Old Main administration building near the university’s gate. The building, marked by a large bell tower, is a popular rallying spot on campus, as it houses the offices of many university officials, including Penn State President Eric Barron and Vice President Damon Sims, chair of the sexual assault task force.

“Sexual assault is an issue that really occurs in the realm of the private space that students inhabit, where it’s 3 a.m. and choices are being made. Earlier choices were made that evening,” Sims said in February. “I’m not around, people like me are not around. Students in their own community have to sort those things out and navigate them together.”

About 100 students showed up. A couple held a large sheet that read “Rape culture lives here.” One woman held a piece of cardboard that read “Fuck male entitlement.”

The rally called for the interim suspension of all members of the Facebook group, the expulsion of those found responsible and for a review of the Greek life system.

“We can’t go back to the business-as-usual, boys-will-be-boys, corporate university”

Just a few days after the rally, Barron announced the creation of a task force to review the Greek system.

This past Thursday, Barron announced in a press release that the creation of the task force would take longer than expected. He said the selection process for task force members will slow down slightly “to ensure good outcomes.”

But Sims has repeatedly acknowledged that a cultural change cannot completely come from the top down.

“Sexual assault is an issue that really occurs in the realm of the private space that students inhabit, where it’s 3 a.m. and choices are being made. Earlier choices were made that evening,” Sims said in February. “I’m not around, people like me are not around. Students in their own community have to sort those things out and navigate them together.”

At the rally, Jeffrey Masko, a member of Penn State's Progressive Student Coalition, said the Kappa Delta Rho situation shed light on a system of rampant inequality due to the padded checkbooks of wealthy alumni who were formerly members of Penn State fraternities.

“We can’t go back to the business-as-usual, boys-will-be-boys, corporate university,” Masko said.

Barron was at a Penn State Board of Trustees meeting in Hershey that day, but some speakers at the rally turned toward his office anyway, calling on him and the administration to take a stronger stand. Kathryn Rose Falvo, a graduate student and counselor to survivors of sexual assault, was one of them.

“When you tell me that you are shocked — what I hear is that you aren’t listening,” Falvo said.

NOVEMBER 2014: Charlottesville, Virginia

In the days and weeks following the Rolling Stone article’s publication, faculties from multiple departments held discussions for students to express their feelings and anger about the article.

In these conversations, many could not figure out where to direct their attention. Some were angry with the administration, some with Greek life and some with Rolling Stone.

However, the community talks held immediately following the article’s release provided solace for students. It provided them with a place to actively talk about how they felt and their desire change.

“We need to create a movement for students to think through these awful events and all of the problems with sexual violence on this campus and to sort through their ideas about it and their feelings and to talk to each other, talk to us, especially in this moment of crisis,” English Prof. Caroline Rody said Nov. 24.

Claire Kaplan, the program director of the gender violence and social change program at the University Women’s Center, said although most of the initial reaction to the article lacked constructive criticism, these reactions were passionate and necessary to begin the dialogue on sexual assault.

“Activism such as marches and actions and protests are critical at the beginning and to get people energized,” Kaplan said. “But over the long haul, that's not going to create change.”

Despite the stupor the article created among the student body, Head wanted One in Four — as well as other student groups — to immediately take action.

Two major parts of One in Four’s immediate response were strengthening its group and interacting with the media. Head said the group first had an emergency meeting before partnering with other student groups to address the media.

Head represented One in Four with other student leaders from the Student Council, One Less and the Inter-Fraternity Council to address national and local media outlets in a student-run press conference. The student leaders addressed the different advocacy efforts they were taking in sexual assault prevention.

The immediate response of One Less also focused on media outreach. The student group’s attention turned to broadening the perspective from the one story represented in the article to the accurate representation of sexual assaults.

“Sabrina [Rubin Erdely] had written this article and titled it in a way such that it was supposed to be representative of how most sexual assaults are on college campuses, except it was completely inaccurate about what we know about the majority of sexual assaults on campuses,” Pinkleton said.

One in Four, One Less and the Student Council collaborated again to develop a website designed to address bystander intervention, highlight the resources available to survivors and answer the student body’s questions on sexual assault policies.

Another major collaborative effort among student organizations was the "What Can We Do" event, organized by One in Four and One Less.

“It was essentially meant to have students come and they had all these emotions and they’re feeling all these based on this article that just came out about their school,” Head said. “We had roundtable discussions about what students at U.Va. can do individually in their lives to combat sexual assault and to make our community a better and safer place.”

As the article became more visible and more people were upset by its horrifying story, Women’s Center Director Sharon Davie also saw an upswing in survivors seeking help and people seeking ways to help survivors.

Davie said the issue of sexual assault reached a level of dialogue the University community had not seen before.

This spring semester alone at Penn State, there have been 20 reports of sexual assault or possible sexual assault. None have resulted in criminal charges.

In sexual assault cases, an added burden lies on the shoulders of the survivors, who must decide if they want to press charges against their attacker, or attackers. Many choose not to report or if they do report it, choose not to press charges.

“I can say with some confidence it probably did terrify people into ‘I’m not gonna report it,’” said Houser of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. “I think it makes activists think about whether they’re going to talk to the media.”

After the Rolling Stone article was partly redacted, many worried survivors would be even less likely to come forward.

“I can say with some confidence it probably did terrify people into ‘I’m not gonna report it,’” said Houser of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. “I think it makes activists think about whether they’re going to talk to the media.”

DECEMBER 2014 TO PRESENT: Charlottesville, Virginia

After a tumultuous two weeks following the release of the article, both Rolling Stone and Phi Kappa Psi released statements.

During an investigation by the Charlottesville Police Department, a number of factual discrepancies — including the fact that there was no party on the night of the alleged rape — were found.

Rolling Stone’s redaction originally explained its trust in Jackie as “misplaced,” but the magazine later claimed responsibility for the factual inaccuracies.

“We should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story,” Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana said in a statement. “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”

Following the redaction of the article, students and faculty were concerned the drive behind sexual assault policy reform would diminish.

“The biggest thing that I felt when the retraction came out is fear,” Head said. “I was afraid that people were going to lull themselves back into apathy.”

But the retraction seemed to have the opposite effect. Head and Pinkleton both found the passion behind the issue became more productive as time went on.

Head said that while the initial passionate response was “maybe not the most constructive,” it was necessary to create the ensuing momentum to make institutional and cultural change. He said the “fire” behind the original response had not diminished, but rather had changed form.

“I feel like we wanted to do our best to take that heat and energy and transform it into something mechanical — something that was moving forward — and transfer as much of that energy as possible into a lasting impact,” Head said. “The momentum looks different, but I don’t think that everything that happened last semester was for naught.”

In an attempt to maintain this momentum, Head said One in Four has focused on some functional changes to ensure future success. He said by documenting their group activities more closely, One in Four can build upon their knowledge base more effectively.

Pinkleton said One Less is also planning on restructuring its organization to accommodate new members. Before, the organization was presentation-centered and included a select group of public speakers. However, One Less plans to create more committees, including one for survivor support, to bring in other University women who want to help the cause.

“We are hoping to take other members that maybe aren't as well-spoken in front of a group but are really passionate about the issue and would like to assist us,” Pinkleton said.

The IFC, perhaps the organization most affected by the article, also plans on moving forward despite the redaction. Gorman said although its new policies are not specifically geared toward preventing sexual assault, they aim to make cultural changes and ensure safety at parties where sexual assault can occur.

As for Phi Kappa Psi, it too is looking forward.

“We are not interested in participating in any more interviews at this time,” a representative from the fraternity said in an email. “We are moving forward and returning to our normal lives as students.”

FEBRUARY 2015 TO PRESENT: State College, Pennsylvania

Houser, of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said the Rolling Stone article’s fallout in no way diminishes the issue.

“I’m not interested in participating in everyone’s little dissection of fact,” Houser said. The Penn State community “lived this with [the Jerry] Sandusky case. They want [the survivor’s story] to be watertight ... That is not life.”

“Obviously acts like that do occur here,” Groves said in February, but “something of that magnitude, like institutionalized traditions of, essentially, gang rape, I think is a bit far-fetched … I would be very shocked if something came out like that here."

Groves, Penn State’s IFC president, said the article was read and discussed by fraternity members after its release. It caused many in the IFC community to look at themselves and how they run things.

Could an act like the gruesome gang rape described in that article happen at Penn State?

“Obviously acts like that do occur here,” Groves said in February, but “something of that magnitude, like institutionalized traditions of, essentially, gang rape, I think is a bit far-fetched … I would be very shocked if something came out like that here.”

Women came forward to State College Police and were able to identify themselves in the Kappa Delta Rho photos, police said. None of the women told police they were sexually assaulted at the fraternity.

The members of Kappa Delta Rho, if charged and found guilty, could be charged with a relatively new piece of legislation in Pennsylvania that outlaws “revenge porn” — the distribution of nude or partially nude images of someone the poster once had an intimate relationship with. The charge is a second-degree misdemeanor that can carry a two-year prison sentence.

Penn State’s chapter of Kappa Delta Rho has declined to comment throughout the investigation.

There are 88 fraternities and sororities at Penn State, and nearly 6,500 students are Greek.

After the story broke, the Collegian obtained emails sent to fraternity and sorority members from their respective presidents. The emails contained explicit instructions: do not speak to the press.

The Collegian attempted to reach out to all individual fraternity presidents at Penn State — some presidents were not listed on the website or the website’s information was outdated.

After contacting 32 people, three current or former fraternity presidents responded. Two said their thoughts echoed those of Groves and the IFC.

The third to respond, Aaron Portner, a former fraternity president, offered his thoughts. Portner is a junior studying abroad in Spain and the former president of Penn State’s chapter of Beta Sigma Beta.

Portner said via email that the actions of Kappa Delta Rho were obviously unacceptable and wrong, but the actions of few paint a grossly inaccurate picture of Penn State fraternities as a whole.

But, Portner said, the school’s review of the Greek system is misguided, charged by a sense of morality and not by reason.

“The fact is, Penn State fraternities are good, do good and cultivate good people. As in any large organization (IFC), there are going to be individual parties who make bad decisions that reflect poorly upon the group as a whole,” Portner said. “I do not suggest brushing this under the rug — I am entirely in favor of a full investigation and holding those responsible accountable, but we must not allow this to be the flagstick portrait of Penn State fraternities.”

While it is unfair to suggest the Kappa Delta Rho investigation paints a portrait of all Penn State fraternities, it provides a disturbing snapshot into fraternity life.

Back inside the State College police car, the crowds on and around fraternity row indicate the fraternities’ reputations among students have been not been irreparably damaged.

On U.Va.’s Rugby Road, the spirit is very much the same.