Sexual Assault in Greek Life.

I didn’t know what that night meant until I got back to school this fall and looked him in the eyes. Like a flood, the reality of last year’s late-night cruelty became real. I had been raped. Worse, my abuser roamed free in the comfort of the walls of his fraternity house, able to drown out the sound of my persistent “No’s” with cheap vodka and half-naked girls, all of whom could be his next prey. The hunger in his dark, soulless eyes prompted a fear inside me I never thought anyone, let alone a boy, would have over me. 

The first few weeks back were blurry; I put on blinders to his constant presence. It felt like when I was there, he was not. His way of acknowledging the unspoken was never letting me believe it was real, never letting me be close enough to taste the bathroom air from that night. Lucky for him, it almost worked. As long as he stayed out my way, I believed I could be okay. If I didn’t face the situation, or him, I would never become a victim or “the girl who was raped.” 

Our system here at the University of Michigan in Greek life is one that forces girls to feel threatened and afraid to speak up against what “beloved brothers” believe is fun. By “fun” I mean assault and abuse. A sense of fear had been so deeply instilled in me that I convinced myself that speaking up would make me “hated” or even blacklisted from a fraternity of boy’s who would never leave a “brother” behind. 

I am blessed to say I was wrong. It wasn’t until I sat down with my abuser, face to face, that the night’s memories rose to the surface and came pouring out like a broken faucet. He was “sorry,” he said. He was “thankful” I didn’t report him to the school. He acknowledged that “it could be worse for him,” and even took it upon himself to remind me “what a great person I was.” Even after coming to terms with the truth of that night, the fear of rejection or being called a liar pushed me back into a silent corner of trepidation and anxiety. 

This all changed when another girl told me she was afraid of him and his forceful nature. Hearing his threatening behavior was felt by not only me, but by other women in our school’s community forced me to consider how I would ever make a change as a proud, powerful, and relentless feminist if I retreated back to hiding once again, giving him and other abusers the power they crave. He would not win. 

Coming forward to a Greek institution that promotes itself with the phrase “the boys’ you want to take home to meet your parents” was probably harder than learning times tables in the third grade. It felt impossible and daunting and every time I wanted to scream my truth, I felt silenced by a system that makes women feel inferior and unimportant

To my surprise, I had never felt more loved than by the brothers of this fraternity. In confiding in one friend, he took it upon himself to report it to the fraternity’s governing board who acted quickly and quietly, following my exact wishes, prioritizing my well-being and needs. My abuser was immediately removed from the chapter, with the only wish of the remaining brothers being that more should be done to punish him for actions that they are uncomfortable being associated with. 

scrabble quote Photo by Sincerely Media from Unsplash

 

I have three big takeaways from one of the toughest and most emotionally draining chapters of my life. 

 

  1. Survivors are strong and important fighters who, unfortunately, don’t always get this type of acceptance and respect, especially in the Greek community. Trust your story and yourself. You matter and are worth so much more than you may feel like. Fight for justice and speak up and out. No one controls your life and your destiny but you. 

  2. Justice feels really fucking good. After my abuse, I felt as though it was easier to let the night disappear like the ones before it, rather than bringing the reality to fruition where I would be forced to deal with it. And yet, I now enter that fraternity free from any form of violence or threat that used to so deeply haunt me. He deserves much worse, but ensuring that there are consequences for committing the most evil act of disrespect is something I am proud to have been part of. 

  3. As a member of Greek life, I hate Greek life -- and there are many reasons. The male toxicity that is too often promoted is deeply troubling and embarrassing to be associated with. However, like I mentioned, my faith in the power of community and in this case, brotherhood, was largely restored. Trust that there are people ready and willing to advocate for fairness and respect, who won’t stand for anything less, even from inside their tightest community. 

 

Finally, to the brothers who feel like my very own now. You know who you are. Thank you for making me feel like a survivor rather than a victim.