Rape Culture in Fraternities

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Rape Culture

Rape culture is a term used to describe a society that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women [1]. The term was created to help demonstrate the multiple ways in which society blames sexual assault victims and treats sexual violence as normal [1]. In an environment that practices the beliefs and values consistent of rape culture, not only is rape prevalent, it is oftentimes excused. Rape culture is seen not only through physical acts of sexual assault but also the use of “misogynistic language” and the “objectification of women’s bodies” which act as endorsement for the disregard of women’s rights and safety[2].

While not every woman is a victim of rape, rape culture affects every woman. Sexual violence towards one woman serves to instill terror and indignity in other women around her. With even one instance of rape in a community, countless women will change and limit their behaviour out of fear, creating a hierarchy where men stand above women, even if they are not perpetrators of sexual violence.

Rape Culture among Greek Life

Picture of fraternity houses on a strip commonly known as "Fraternity Row"

While rape culture can be seen anywhere, at universities, it is especially prevalenti in fraternity and environments. A number of studies have found that fraternity men are three times more likely than non-fraternity men to rape[3] [4]. Likewise, the National Institute of Justice found that 10% of campus sexual assaults occur in fraternity houses[5]. Findings suggest that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during their four years at university[6]. However, more concerning may be the reality that the true number of sexual assaults is unknown due to the many incidents that go unreported[6].

To help gain an understanding of the pervasive nature of sexual assault perpetrated by fraternity members, qualitative studies have taken place. Findings from such studies conclude that fraternity members have “more traditional attitudes towards women, a more sexually permissive peer group, strong beliefs in male dominance and a greater belief in rape myths” when compared to non-fraternity members[4]. In one study, Sanday (1990) found that group rape and the use of women for sexual games are part of longstanding rituals that work to prove the heterosexuality of the “brothers” while, however, simultaneously reinforcing the sexual dominance of men over women[7]. All this considered, it is regrettably all too common for university students to talk about rape as if it is an inevitable part of being in the “greek system”[3].

What Type of Men Join Fraternities?

Fraternity members are all male, typically range in age from 18-23 [8]. They can come from different race-ethnicities such as black and Jewish, but are more typically white.[8] The attraction of fraternity membership by privileged students is discussed in research conducted by Armstrong and Hamilton who advise these students feel they can "party their way through school" with little concern for their future due to financial support and job opportunities provided by their parents and friends[9]. This is an issue as it segregates “affluent, white, socially-oriented students” from their “less privileged peers”[9]. All of these, gender, age, race/ethnicity, and social status, contribute to rape-proneness[8]. This is best explained by the term “homogeneity”. When a tight-group of individuals all come from similar backgrounds, those who are different become targets for victimization. Therefore, when it comes to fraternity men, women, homosexuals, and people from other racial-ethnic backgrounds stand as possible targets[8]. It has been found that in those fraternities that promote heterogeneity such as “African American frats, gender-inclusive frats, and multicultural frats”, sexual aggression and violence are far less common than what is found in “mostly-white, economically-entitled” fraternities [3].

How Fraternity Men Enforce/Endorse Rape Culture

Fraternity Rituals

One example of rape acceptance and promotion by fraternity men is seen in their ritual pledge songs. In October of 2018, a document given to members of the Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity were leaked on a public school computer [10]. The document contained songs, forms, and other fraternity information accompanied by a warning not to share the information with anyone[10]. The songs found in the post included images and themes that promoted “drinking, sexual misconduct and assault”, some even going as far as to describe violence perpetrated onto specific fraternities and sororities on their campus[10].

"When she starts to shake and quiver/ Wondering ‘what’s a going on?’/ Tell her it’s the secret handshake/ of Tau Kappa Epsilon,” said the lyrics to “Get Your Girlfriend”[10] .

Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house.

One song titled "Yo Ho" described a TKE member getting sexually involved with a woman until she eventually dies from “sucking all them Tekes [c***s]”[10] . From day one, these men are being taught that degrading women and engaging in sexual violence is acceptable and “approved of”.

Sexual Objects

Another example of fraternity endorsement of rape culture is their use of ‘sexist cultural artifacts”[4]. These artifacts include “life-size inflatable dolls or ice cubes in the shape of nude women”, both items that act to encourage male dominance and the objectification of women for sexual pleasure[4]. When it comes to images of women in their bedrooms, fraternity men have on average two more images than non-fraternity men and the images found in fraternity rooms were found to be more degrading [4].


One myth commonly seen among fraternity members is that “forcing drunk women to have sex is acceptable”[11]. In Sanday’s (1990) research on this topic, she found that what many members of society would consider to be “rape”, fraternity members often refer to as “working out a yes”, an acceptable measure for getting action[11].

Keeping in mind that fraternities encourage "in-group loyalty and secrecy", members are commonly encouraged and feel shielded from unacceptable behaviours including sexual assault and violence.[8]

Who Does It Effect?

While sorority women are often the victims of sexual assault by fraternity members, non-Panhellenic women are targets as well. [10] Female students whose parents were not college educated or who come from lower income families were more likely to be assaulted[9]. In addition, women who were raped on university campuses were commonly unknown by the fraternity member[12]. Here, one could suggest that race-ethnicity and social class come into play. Individuals who join the greek system often come from white, highly-educated, and high socioeconomic families. The more heterogeneous a woman is from a fraternity member, the more likely she is to be victimized.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "What is Rape Culture?". 
  2. "Rape Culture". Saint John's University. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Bleecker, Timothy; Murnen, Sarah (2005). "Fraternity Membership, the Display of Degrading Sexual Images of Women and Rape Myth Acceptance". Sex Roles. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Valenti, Jessica (2014). "Frat brothers rape 300% more. One in 5 women is sexually assaulted on campus. Should we ban frats". The Guardian. 
  5. Herman, Lily (2014). "Students tackle consent in Greek housing with 'Consent is So Frat'". USA Today. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tobin, Michael (2018). "Challenging rape culture in Greek spaces". Daily Emerald. 
  7. Kalof, Linda (1993). "Rape Supportive Attitudes and Sexual Victimization Experiences of Sorority and Nonsorority Women". Sex Roles. 29: 767–780. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Martin, Patricia (2016). "The Rape Prone Culture of Academic Contexts: Fraternities and Athletics". Gender & Society. 30: 30–43. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Valenti, Jessica (2014). "How to end the college class war". The Guardian. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Ali, Olivia; Orozco, Jazmin (2018). "Fraternity Document Leads to Questions of Rape Culture in Greek Life". The Nevada Sagebrush. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Murnen, Sarah; Marla, Kohlman (2007). "Athletic Participation, Fraternity Membership, and Sexual Aggression Among College Men: A Meta-analytic Review". Sex Roles. 
  12. Boswell, A; Spade, Joan (1996). "Fraternities and Collegiate Rape Culture: Why are some fraternities more dangerous places for women?". Gender & Society. 10: 133–147.