McGill University’s Zeta Psi fraternity, based in a three-storey brick house near the campus in down-town Montreal, was holding one of the parties for which it has become famous. The Sept. 22 occasion was in honor of McGill’s female rugby team, which was initiating 20 of its rookies. As part of their initiation, the young women were required to obtain male signatures on their stomachs. At 8 p.m., they arrived at the packed Zeta House, where they were offered beer.
The male rugby team had 25 of its initiates pay a naked visit to the party. Later, a 19-year-old rookie member of the female rugby team told a reporter for the campus newspaper, The McGill Daily, that she was sexually assaulted by three men while as many as 10 others looked on. At the time, she was in an apartment in a coach house behind the frat house.
Last week, while Montreal police continued their investigation into the complaint against three Zeta members, feminist organizations on campuses across North America voiced alarm at what they say is a striking increase in campus sexual assaults. Surveys put the number of campus rapes in the United States at about 6,000 a year—roughly two for every college .in the country. And only 10 per cent of those, according to officials at the Rape Treatment Centre in Santa Monica, Calif., are reported to authorities. A recent poll of 698 American colleges by the newspaper USA Today showed that only 38 per cent of the female students interviewed felt safe walking home alone on campus after dark. At a candlelight vigil two weeks ago at the University of Illinois, at Champaign, where a series of sexual attacks have alarmed female students, coed Laurel MacLaren said, “Making women sex objects is closely tied to the degradation of women, which ultimately can lead to rape.”
A few days before the vigil, the University of Mississippi suspended the charter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on its Oxford campus for violating the university’s alcohol policy,
after a freshman Chi Omega sorority pledge said that she was driven to a field, beaten, then raped by a Sigma member. At Florida State University in Tallahassee, three fraternity men were charged last April with the sexual battery of an 18-year-old freshman coed at a fraternity party, after carrying her to a neigh-
boring frat house so that it would appear she had been assaulted there. And last month, five students at Frankfort’s Kentucky State University, including four members of the football team, were charged with the first-degree rape, sodomy and unlawful imprisonment of a female student in a men’s dormitory.
In Canada, there are few signs to suggest that the incidence of campus rape is reaching those alarming proportions. But aside from the McGill incident, there have also been five
official reports of sexual assault at Ontario’s University of Guelph since Jan. 1, after eight in 1987. Two of this year’s assaults involved attacks on women walking on campus, while the other three involved men allegedly entering unlocked female residence rooms and fondling the occupants. Now, some women at the university are protesting against the handling of the assaults by campus police. Maureen Evans, 22, news editor of Guelph’s student newspaper, The Ontarion, labelled campus police “chauvinistic” for categorizing the incidents as minor and for suggesting that the victims should have kept their doors locked. For her part, Kathryn Edgecombe, coordinator of Guelph University’s Women’s Resource Centre, criticized campus police for only reluctantly releasing statistics on sexual assaults when she wanted them to prepare a study last year.
At the same time, sexual assaults by off-campus intruders have become a concern at some universities. Another concern among women on campus is the phenomenon known as “date rape”—situations in which men force sex on women at the end of a date. Said Ruth Gillings, a staff worker at one of Vancouver’s rape crisis centres: “Eighty per cent of our calls are acquaintance rape, by a date, a husband, co-student or colleague at work.” Many reports of rape by a stranger go to the police, not the crisis centre, she said. “Women who are raped by someone they know are afraid to report to the police, so they come to us,” added Gillings. “But it’s hard to know if rape is on the increase or if women are just reporting it more.”
Indeed, the number of reported sexual assaults in Canada has increased by 87 per cent in the past five years—to 22,369 in 1987 from 11,932 in 1983. Experts in the field say that it is not clear whether the figures reflect more sexual assaults or the fact that women are more likely to report them. “It probably has more to do with a change of attitude,” said Nathan Pollock, a coordinator of clinical psychology at _ Toronto’s Clarke Institute of Psychi5 atry. “The status of women has been I elevated in society. Rape used to be ° seen as a woman’s lot in life. Now it is a violation.”
Meanwhile at McGill, where the Zeta Psi fraternity has suspended three of its members pending the results of the police investigation, reports of the incident shocked the McGill campus. “If this complaint is true,” said dean of students Irwin Gopnik, “it is reprehensible, and we will not tolerate this behavior.” But if feminist critics are right, some old campus institutions will have to change.
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