Last week’s news about the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee was, predictably, both applauded and denounced. Supporters and detractors ended up in a petty squabble. Media outlets declared their allegiance with the semantics of their headlines — compare Reason’s “FratPAC Lobbying to Hold Campus Rapists Criminally Accountable” to Salon’s “Fraternities plan to lobby Congress to prevent campus rape investigations.” The issue itself is actually pretty straightforward: A political action committee representing Greek organizations will start lobbying for a rule that would require sexual assault cases to be investigated by law enforcement before university administrations involve themselves. It seems reasonable enough on paper, but there’s reason to be skeptical and even a bit put off by the idea.
It’s no coincidence this news was announced the same week a law enforcement investigation failed to produce evidence against the University of Virginia fraternity accused of a horrific gang rape in the infamously invalidated Rolling Stone story. The story seems to demonstrate it’s in the best interests of the Greeks to rely on law enforcement to investigate first, thereby avoiding the unpleasantness of expulsions, suspensions and campus-wide moratoriums on Greek systems.
And they have every right to fight for their interests. Greek life is, after all, a major institution that has a tremendous impact on collegiate life. It does a lot of good. But there’s also a nasty side to the system, as it can create a culture that encourages and reproduces less-than-decent behavior. It’s a trend that’s so well-documented as to be undeniable, and part of the trend is Greek life fostering a cultural and physical environment that facilitates rape.
Not all frat guys are rapists. Very, very few are. But the nature of the system means the problem will haunt it forever, unless changes are made. It is, after all, absolutely a part of the sexual assault problem.
With that in mind, let’s think about FratPAC’s recent efforts. Law enforcement and university administrators alike are notoriously unreliable at handling sexual assault cases. FratPAC’s idea, though, would hinder the efforts of justice even more, limiting investigations to a legal system in which 98 percent of all rapists are never punished for their crimes. But limiting rape investigations to police may seem like a sane procedure to many who get a kick out of rhetorically asking, “What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty?” The flaw in that argument is massive.
Insisting that an offender be convicted in court before university administrations can give out disciplinary action is absolutely ludicrous. If the government were banning fraternities without just cause, that would be wrong. Universities, however, can order punishments without proof beyond a reasonable doubt because they’re not the ones who throw people in prison. The most they can do is expel an offender. Undermining university authorities would only weaken an already incompetent system.
In summary, FratPAC could wield its money and influence in constructive ways, which include helping to prevent sexual assault. Instead, with its current lobbying efforts, it’s only helping cover the asses of its constituents.
[A version of this story ran on page 6 on 3/30/2015 under the headline “FratPAC initiative is ineffective and misguided”]