The bruising Supreme Court confirmation battle involving Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, focuses much-needed attention on a broader cultural issue playing out across America. The sexual assault issue goes beyond Kavanaugh and the consequences of his youthful partying ways to confront academic environments where young men find shockingly few barriers to engagement in boozy sexual adventurism.
According to various studies, men in fraternities are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than those not in fraternities. The Kavanaugh debate serves as a warning that prominent national fraternities have yet to make adequate strides in eliminating a culture of sexual entitlement.
Many fraternities have instituted programs to change their culture by educating members about the toxic effects of alcohol, hazing and other activities that emphasize masculine sexual prowess. Others, including Kavanaugh's own Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale, have consistently resisted pressure to confront the problem of sexual assault.
Surveys show a large percentage of college fraternity members embrace a feeling of sexual entitlement. "Men who adhere to traditional gender-role ideology were more likely to be in fraternities, use alcohol to a greater degree, use token resistance with sexual partners, and feel more comfortable in situations where women are being mistreated," says a 2005 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. "Greater ease and comfort in situations where women are being mistreated was also positively correlated with alcohol use and fraternity affiliation."
In a 2015 survey, 32 percent of male college respondents said they would be willing to force a woman into sexual intercourse if it posed no consequences. When the word "rape" was introduced into the questioning, only 13.6 percent affirmed such a willingness.
A landmark 2007 study on campus sexual assault, prepared for the National Institute of Justice, drew a direct link between fraternities and sexual assault. "Over a quarter of incapacitated sexual assault victims reported that the assailant was a fraternity member at the time of the incident. ... Not surprisingly, the vast majority of incapacitated sexual assault victims (89 percent) reported drinking alcohol, and being drunk (82 percent), prior to their victimization," the study said.
Most respondents who reported being incapacitated sexual assault victims reported having been at a party when it happened.
None of this points to innocence or guilt in the Kavanaugh-Ford case. But Delta Kappa Epsilon has been sanctioned repeatedly, including being banned from the Yale campus in 2016 amid allegations of rape, sexual misconduct and inductees shouting vulgar chants about women as part of a hazing ritual. (The fraternity also happens to be the fraternity of three U.S. presidents in the past 50 years and three Supreme Court justices.)
The commotion over Kavanaugh's alleged actions eventually will die down. The bigger issue shows no sign of going away anytime soon.
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