What's the worst that could happen to a woman at a college party? She could mortify herself by showing up in the same outfit as her best friend. She could argue with her date.
Or she could be gang raped.
In a report issued two years ago, the Assn. of American Colleges in Washington, D.C., uncovered more than 50 gang rapes on college campuses in recent years, most occurring at parties. As if to underscore the severity of the problem, there occurred at about the same time a much-publicized alleged gang rape at a San Diego State University fraternity party (in November, 1985), then another at the University of California, Berkeley, last September.
Parties Can Be Trouble
The college party has become what the proverbial dark alley once was--a place where a woman had better be prepared for trouble. And now several California campuses are acknowledging that fact by teaching party survival tactics to female students.
UC Irvine has issued a pamphlet, "How to Party Without Regrets"; and the women's center there is offering seminars for sorority women on prudent party behavior. UC Santa Barbara recently followed suit with a "Let's Party" bookmark that suggests students take out "party insurance" by adhering to a set of safe party tactics.
At Berkeley, Rape Prevention Education coordinator Roberta Friedman said that "an incredible amount of attention has been paid to the issue of rape since last semester's gang rape. People got scared and wanted information."
She said the rape education program is counseling twice as many women as it did before the incident. (The victim in the Berkeley case recently announced she intends to sue the university and the four football players named in the case.)
A Grim Variation
Jacqueline Sherman, coordinator of the rape prevention and education program for UC Irvine, said gang rape is simply a grim variation of a prevalent campus problem: acquaintance rape.
In a typical gang-rape scenario, she said, the victim might have dated one of her attackers, who invites his pals to join in the sexual assault.
"There's an incredible sense of betrayal," she said. "Here are all these guys you sit with in class, and they all betrayed you. This leads to problems with intimacy that come up later. That's hard stuff to get over."
Mark Stevens, a psychologist in the student counseling center at USC, said gang rape is worse than single-assailant rape because the victim feels more shame, and the conspiracy of the rapists creates a silence "that no one is willing to break."
The shame of the victim may keep her from reporting the crime; and the brotherhood of the rapists may prevent a confession, he said.
Stevens said his campus has targeted members of sports teams and fraternities as the most likely perpetrators of gang rape. Elements common in fraternity life--male bonding, alcohol consumption and rituals with overtones of violence such as rush week--amount to a prescription for gang rape, he said.
Sherman of Irvine is careful not to single out the Greek system as the sole culprit in the gang-rape problem, although one of the scenarios in the "How to Party" pamphlet, which Sherman helped develop, does take place in a fraternity house.
Male Dynamic a Factor
Sherman said the attackers are often "groups of men who don't have a real strong sense of self, and who tend to oversubscribe to traditional male roles." That dynamic can exist in fraternities, or among "jocks," she said.
Fraternities, which in the past have often reacted defensively to accusations of wrongdoing among their members, seem to be taking a different tack with the rape issue. One fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, has distributed a poster depicting "The Rape of the Sabine Women" with the caption: "Today's Greeks Call It Date Rape. Just a Reminder from Pi Kappa Phi. Against Her Will Is Against the Law."
Sherman is trying to interest UC Irvine fraternities in taking part in rape education workshops similar to those she offers for sorority women.
A senior at Irvine, Mike Egan, recently asked his 50 brothers in the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity to vote on whether they wanted to meet with Sherman to discuss acquaintance rape. The consensus was positive.
This willingness to talk surprised Egan. Normally, he said, "you talk about rape to a guy and it shuts him up right away. He doesn't want to talk about it."
'Might Think It's All Right'
When asked why the reticence, Egan said that college men might want to avoid the subject in order to head off an unpleasant conflict--their own values may permit varying degrees of force in procuring sex, while anti-rape activists say any forcible sex is rape.
"I think they (his fraternity brothers) don't know the real definition of rape," Egan said. "If they're on a date, they might think it's all right to get a little forcible with a girl and go ahead and have sex with her."