Ruthless and Ruleless: A Fight Against Sexual Violence

WARNING: This may be triggering for some. 

I attended my first protest last week. I’m not usually one to protest because I’m not confrontational at all. However, a friend of Florida State University senior Melissa reached out to our Editor in Chief and told her about what was happening – a sit-in to protest the lack of acknowledgment of sexual assault in fraternities. I was immediately intrigued. I got the chance to talk to Melissa about what her goals were for the sit-in, what events have led up to this sit-in, what she plans to do in the future, and more. 

Melissa attended a party at the Sigma Lambda Beta fraternity house last September. She believes she was drugged and raped. She woke up without her clothes and was confused because she didn’t remember anything. A Beta brother explained to her that she got drunk and when he asked if she wanted to hook up, she agreed. But again, she didn’t remember any of this. After she left the house that morning, she began thinking about how his explanation made no sense. Melissa explained to me that she has never blacked out and she didn’t drink enough that night to blackout. She also explained that it would have been extremely out of character for her to hook up with a guy she didn’t know. After piecing all of it together, she registered that she had been sexually assaulted. She filed for a Title IX hearing.  

During the hearing, her alleged attacker described how drunk she seemed, stating she was falling all over the place, throwing up all over herself, and peeing in random places. He then explained that he asked if she wanted to have sex, she said yes, they had sex, and he used a condom. Despite him confessing that he had had sex with someone belligerently drunk, he was found not guilty. Immediately following the not guilty verdict, the Beta page posted a photo inviting potential brothers to an informational. The photo was of Melissa’s attacker being hugged by the rest of the group with the words “Be the most ruthless Beta!” Melissa saw this and emailed the Beta president, expressing her concerns about what seemed to be a celebration of sexual assault allegations.  

Melissa decided to press criminal charges. The court found him not guilty again due to a lack of evidence. The Beta page posted another informational directly after hearing the news. Melissa noticed a pattern and decided to act on it. She wanted to sit in at the next informational to get some answers. So, that’s what we did.  

We decided to meet outside of the Globe, where the informational was being held, at 6 p.m. I expected only a handful of people to show up, maybe five or six. To my surprise, close to 50 (rough estimate) people came in support of Melissa and her cause. I was honestly amazed. The Beta’s watched in a mix of panic and astonishment at the size of our group. As Melissa said, this was going to be nonviolent, just dialogue. She spoke first and spoke directly to the President, a former friend of hers. She said, “Alex. I just want answers. We were friends and you left me. You are President of a fraternity that advocates for justice and people of color. We are people.” Silence.

After a solid minute, Alex broke the quiet with, “So, I’m not going to speak on behalf of the chapter at this moment only because I’m more than just the president of the fraternity. But I want you to know the reason I haven’t responded and the reason it was so hard for me to help you out back then is because I have my own traumas that I have experienced. So, what I’m not going to let happen is for you to continue to attack me publicly and put me in that position when you don’t even know the stuff I’ve been through with my family.” Melissa went on to explain to Alex that as the President, he is responsible for acknowledging sexual assault and coming up with preventative measures.  

The actual informational didn’t last much longer. Questions started arising, such as the following: “Why do you refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem within your brotherhood?” “Do you really put brotherhood before victims?” “Why did the person accused of assaulting Melissa receive a ‘punishment’ of community service when that’s already a requirement for your frat?” “Why did he get a punishment at all if he wasn’t guilty?” “Do you call a rapist your brother?” and, finally, “What have you guys done to prevent this in the future?” This question was the breaking point for the Beta brothers and their response to it was, “We don’t have to deal with this,” and walked out.  

And that concluded the sit-in. After the brothers left, the guys who came to learn about the frat stayed behind to ask questions about what had happened. When I sat down with Melissa earlier that day, I asked what she wanted to come of this. She replied that she wants answers and action. She stated, “This isn’t just my fight. This isn’t just for me. This is for all the survivors of sexual assault that were ignored.”  

If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, please reach out. You are not alone in this fight. FSU has a great victim’s advocate program and counseling center. Or, call the anonymous hotline at 1-800-656-4673.  

All photos courtesy of Cheyanne Walker.

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