Opinion: End of fraternity drugging investigation sets a dangerous precedent

safety protest
A protester’s sign calls out fraternities, referring to the drugging of at least two women that is rumored to have occurred at a fraternity house on The Hill in the fall of 2018. (Lucy Haggard/CU Independent)

It was a month into Mable Sanders’ freshman year at the University of Colorado Boulder when she went to her first frat party. Her friends had been partying at fraternities for weeks but Sanders declined the frequent invitations. “I was always too scared to go out because of the things I heard happened at frat parties,” she said. However, on Sept. 27, 2017, after watching her friends leave and return countless times without incident, she decided to tag along. Sanders and her roommate arrived at the party armed with a group of girlfriends who were already tipsy off of Burnett’s. Sanders and her roommate took one swig from a wine bag held up by an enthusiastic fraternity member chanting, “slap the bag!” The girls then retreated to the dance floor. Happily swaying along to the blaring music, Sanders felt silly for waiting so long to come to a frat party.

It was nearly an hour later when she realized she had been drugged.

Incidents like Sanders’ are all too common. Fraternities have been proven to foster environments of sexual violence leading to increased rates of sexual assault and druggings. This has become a recurring trend in Boulder specifically.

As Sanders and her roommate both began to stumble through the party, losing control of their bodies, their girlfriends physically dragged them out of the frat house and back to their dorm. There, the two spent the remainder of the night throwing up.

“At the party, everyone was super friendly and the guys carrying the wine bags weren’t forceful or aggressive,” Sanders said. “I felt deceived by this fraternity and shocked by my own naiveté.”

While Sanders escaped this situation relatively unharmed, some people don’t leave the dangerous atmospheres created by fraternities so easily.

A 2015 sexual misconduct survey revealed that the majority of sexual assaults at CU occur off-campus, with places like house and fraternity parties being a common location. The survey also found that 92 percent of sexual assaults at CU Boulder go unreported. Despite this, last semester saw several dramatic instances of sexual assault and druggings happening to female CU students. 

According to Teresa Wroe, Director of Education and Prevention and Deputy Title IX Coordinator at CU, druggings have become “somewhat typical” occurrences.

“We have issues pop up every fall semester where people are concerned that they were drugged,” Wroe said.

Most recently, four fraternities, including the fraternity that hosted the party where Sanders was drugged, were involved in accusations of drugging six female CU students at parties hosted on Oct. 17, 2018.

The investigation for this alleged mass-drugging took a disappointing turn as it was revealed on Feb. 1 that the blood samples from the victims had been mishandled and are not viable for drug identification.

Even when evidence is not lost, Jessica Ladd-Webert, the director of the Office of Victim Assistance at CU, says that drugging investigations often lead to nothing.

“The biggest concern and challenge with these cases is proving,” Ladd-Webert said. “That’s always a challenge I see in druggings is them being able to get enough evidence criminally or administratively to move forward and take action.”

Though there have been very few studies on the frequency of druggings, one 2016 study of three colleges found that about one in 13 college students reported being drugged before. A different study found that 62 percent of women who had been drugged didn’t report to the police and 65 percent of those women were “not confident” that their assailant would be held responsible by the law.

This kind of inaction in Boulder has created an atmosphere for fraternities that allows them to endanger female students without consequence. And the issue of sexual violence in fraternities stems far beyond CU Boulder alone.

It has been found that fraternity members are three times more likely than nonmembers to commit sexual assault and rape. Studies have also shown that fraternity members are more likely to hold rape-supportive beliefs and sexual aggressive attitudes towards women. In addition, fraternity members are also more likely to use alcohol, coercion and threats to obtain sex. Members of sororities are also 74 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted than nonmembers, which can likely be attributed to their increased contact with fraternities.

The inconclusive ending of the investigation into the latest case of sexual violence from CU fraternities sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Despite the numerous women who came forward, no one was held responsible, there were no real punishments and there is nothing deterring the perpetrators from doing this again.

Boulder has created an environment in which victims have no reason to seek help when they have been violated. This is evident in the fact that only 8 percent of sexual assaults at CU Boulder are reported, compared to the national average of 23 percent. Victims of druggings like Sanders’s also often believe that coming forward is useless.

“I felt that reporting would be a waste of time,” Sanders said. “I knew that this kind of thing happened all the time and I know they would somehow find a loophole to avoid trouble.”

While the perpetrators of druggings and sexual violence are taught that their actions are without consequence, the university prefers to focus on preventative measures for the victims rather than discouraging aggressors.

“Bystander intervention is something I think we want to continue education on,” Ladd-Webert said. “So, increasing our friends’ noticing skills. ‘Wow my friend is acting really weird, what’s going on?’ Or maybe a friend seeing another friend considering putting something in someone’s drink. How do they intervene?”

While encouraging safe habits for friends and victims can be helpful, the threat of sexual violence is never going to decrease if CU is putting all of its effort toward teaching people how to not get assaulted, rather than deterring the assaulters themselves. Regardless of how many effective bystander slideshows the university sends, failing to punish abusers and allowing men to fester in these problematic environments encourages sexual violence.

The lack of ramifications in the mass-drugging of female students has taught all aggressors on this campus that they are able to get away with anything. The precedent that has been set by this case puts all CU students in danger, reinforcing the problematic atmosphere fraternities have created.

Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Hannah Metzger at hannah.metzger@colorado.edu.

Hannah Metzger

Hannah Metzger is the head opinion editor for the CUI. She is a second-year student from Aurora, Colorado pursuing a major in journalism and minor in political science.

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