Across campus, one topic of discussion is by turn broadcast and quieted: “forcible sexual offenses,” including rape–of which 10 cases were reported to Stanford police in 2008.
ASSU and some student groups champion anti-assault campaigns periodically; freshmen hear words of warning at “Real World: Stanford” annually.
But in many sectors of campus, including housed Greek life, some say that sexual assault cases–nine of them in student residences in 2008–go unmentioned.
This quarter, a group calling itself Fraternity Men Against Violence believes it can change that discussion.
The numbers “seem low,” said Phil Nova ’10, a chairperson of the group and a member of Theta Delta Chi fraternity, “which is part of the skepticism that a lot of people have. They say that there have only been 10 sexual assaults, to which I respond, ‘How many is acceptable to you?’”
Leaders of the men’s group, new to the Greek system here, say they want to remind the Stanford community that sexual assault and relationship abuse are still a threat to students, especially women.
Each of the leaders had his own reasons for getting involved. Philippe de Koning ’10, a member of Sigma Nu, said he has felt strongly about the issue of violence against women since he learned about the issue as a resident assistant (RA) for freshmen. Duncan Fisher ’12 of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) said he gained an appreciation for the female perspective after getting together with his girlfriend last spring. Michael Flynn ’10 of Theta Delta Chi said a member of his family has experienced relationship abuse.
How the group will accomplish anything in the Greek community, however, seems it will take some time.
De Koning explained that groundwork for an anti-violence program in fraternities began last winter. Former ASSU Vice President Jay de la Torre ’10, who would go on to make sexual assault prevention part of his ASSU executive campaign, and others helped develop ideas.
Today, the group has at least one representative in each of Stanford’s seven housed fraternities except Phi Psi; the group meets weekly. Each coordinator has or will be trained for the in-house position, Nova said.
They hope to host a charity softball tournament to benefit a women’s shelter in Palo Alto, to develop an online true-or-false quiz for students about dating violence and to hold discussion panels inside fraternity houses. But their goals don’t come without challenges.
“Most people I’ve come across aren’t willing to say it’s a problem at Stanford,” said Sam Gould ’11, Kappa Sigma’s coordinator for the group. “They think we live in this perfect bubble where nothing like this happens.”
“There’s a small, small minority of guys who are actually perpetrating these crimes,” Nova added, “but the majority sees this going on and say to themselves, ‘It’s not something I’m directly doing, so it’s not my problem.’”
Then, there’s the issue of underreporting.
“I think at Stanford, there’s a lot of social pressure to not report [sexual assault],” Nova said.
In a presentation to the Board of Judicial Affairs in December about changing the way the University’s Office of Judicial Affairs handles sexual assault cases, law Prof. Michele Dauber also highlighted the issue of underreporting.
“These numbers represent an underestimate of University sexual assault because they include on-campus forcible assault only and only those cases reported to either campus security or the police,” Dauber wrote in comments to the board. “They exclude forcible rapes off campus. They exclude forcible rapes that are not reported to the police. There may be non-forcible assaults that violate University rules but are not included as well.”
One possible result of the fraternity men’s effort, Nova said, “is that that statistic might actually rise before the number of assaults goes down…I would consider that a good thing. I think more need to be reported.”
In the meantime, Pedro Gonzalez ’11 of SAE said the group has received varying reactions from the Greek community.
“No one’s said anything negative about it, but there are mixed feelings in the sense that some guys take it less seriously than others,” Gonzalez said. “But that’s what we’re working on.”
“Right now we want to ease into it–let [our brothers] know that we’re here, let them know what we’re trying to do,” Fisher added. “We don’t want to just come in and force everyone to change the way they live and talk and joke.”