Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus

By Peggy Reeves Sanday | Go to book overview

Three
Rape or “She Asked for It”?

Laurel did not report the incident until five days after the party, when she contacted an administrator and said that on the previous Thursday she had been raped by five or six, maybe more, male students at the XYZ house. She said she had waited five days to report what happened because she did not realize its impact. Her delay and the fact that she had gone back to the fraternity the next day to look for her prescription sunglasses, lost the night before, was construed by many on campus to mean that she did not perceive herself as having been wronged.

The five-day hiatus between the incident and its reporting illustrates the confusion many women feel about the meaning of sexual situations in which they are overwhelmed by one or more men. In most cases the woman involved blames herself either because she got drunk or because she stayed too late at the party, or for some other reason. The men involved seem to feel no such confusion. They brag about the act among their male friends and revel in a sense of enhanced masculinity that comes from a feeling of sexual power and dominance over women.

Given the institutional support for male privilege at U. and the history of sexual abuse at fraternity parties, it is surprising that Laurel resisted the brothers' definition of what happened and reported the incident. From the beginning, when news of the XYZ incident first filtered out, there was vigorous debate over the definition of what had happened. The debate reveals the conflicting sexual discourses that exist on a major college campus. One discourse reinforced the power of male bonding in fraternities by promoting a belief in the explosive, biological nature of male sexual expression—the “boys will be boys” rationalization—and the need for an outlet for this explosive sexuality. According to this discourse, male sexual behavior is not socially constructed but is based purely on hormones that erupt uncontrollably into the realm of culture.

Another discourse, articulated by the university administration, referred to building a responsible community where “dehumanizing in

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