• Leda Alvim

Students, alumni address sexual assault and rape cases within Greek community

bit.ly/2WVk4uU


June 29, 2020 1:20 am by Leda Alvim, EDITOR IN CHIEF, and Lauren Pieper, STAFF WRITER

Over the past week, USF students and alumni used social media to speak out and share stories about their experiences with sexual assault and rape within the Greek community at USF.

The tweets quickly received attention and thousands of reactions, becoming a trigger to start the conversation about rape culture on campus.

At first, five different threads of tweets reporting sexual assault and rape cases gained attention and received over 2,000 retweets, 4,400 likes and 250 comments, leading fraternities, sororities and institutions to use their social media to address the Twitter storm.

Chelsea Engel, a USF alumna and former member of the sorority Delta Delta Delta (Tri Delta), was among the first women to share her story, igniting discussions about rape and sexual assault within the Greek community while inspiring several other survivors to do the same.

In her tweet, Engel described how she was raped by a former student and brother of the Theta Alpha Chapter of Sigma Nu in August 2017. Her tweet, posted on June 23, received more than 600 likes, 40 comments and 150 retweets as of June 28.

Engel said she never filed a report nor spoke up about her experience as she was terrified and didn’t want to be “ostracized by the Greek community.”

“I was terrified to speak up because I knew he had the support of the Greek community and I did not … I spoke to him about what happened and he claimed that I must be misremembering things, as he claimed it was consensual,” Engel said in a tweet. “I told him that it couldn’t have possibly been consensual since I was too drunk to stand and I could barely remember a thing.

“I dropped out of my sorority and was basically ousted by most of my ‘sisters’ once I dropped … I regret not speaking up every single day as I wonder if he did it to anybody else after me and whether or not I could’ve prevented it.”

In an interview with The Oracle, Engel said she dropped out of her sorority in 2018, before the spring semester started since she wasn’t receiving support from her sisters.

“I felt this ‘sisterhood’ was not a sisterhood. It was to me and from what I experienced all about relationships with frats, going to the frat parties and going to the tailgate,” Engel said.

“Not only not having support, but having people tell me that I was at fault, in a way, I think that kind of pushed me over the edge to where I was like ‘I don’t want to be part of this. This is not anything to what I expected it to be, and it’s actually worse than what I would have expected.'”

Although she reached out to friends and sisters from her sorority, Engel said she did not receive “any support at all” at that time and that similar issues were “just swept under the rug.”

“I had a couple of people that listened to me, but they were still friends with him,” Engel said. “So, I felt as though the relationship with the fraternity was prioritized over the well-being of the members. I was a sister, and they didn’t care about me or what happened to me, they cared about maintaining the relationship with the frat.

“It felt very backhanded. It was like ‘Oh, I believe you,’ but then it was somehow put on me like it was my fault. So I don’t think that I received much support during that time at all.”

After Engel tweeted about her story, more survivors began to speak up regarding similar traumas they faced while attending USF.

Alumna Elizabeth Stafford was among several other women who shared their stories over the weekend. In her tweet, Stafford said she was sexually assaulted in 2015 by a drunk fraternity member after helping him get home safely from a party.

Once they arrived at his apartment, Stafford said he started kissing her and holding her down on the bed.

“I finally threw him off of me and started feeling the walls, looking for the lights,” Stafford said in a tweet on June 28. “As I was looking, I heard him come up from behind and try to start grabbing me. Then, I felt something warm on my leg. I finally found the lights, turned them on and realized he was pissing all over me.

“I ran to the bathroom to wash off and he followed me in there. I told him I didn’t want to have sex but he grabbed me by the neck of my dress and tried to push me back into bed.”

For Stafford, the university and Greek community need to work toward creating a safer place for women and a place where men hold their brothers accountable.

“If I had been smaller or drunker, it would have been worse,” she said in a tweet. “When I did try to reach out, brothers invalidated my concerns and feelings. I made it a joke to cope with the trauma in the following years.”

Alumna Hailey graduated in 2017 and completed her master’s in 2018. She said she had multiple encounters with a former USF student between late 2015 and early 2018. During one of these encounters where he sexually assaulted her multiple times, Hailey said that the man raped her while she was taking a shower.

“I didn’t know what to do because I had never been in that situation,” Hailey said in a tweet on June 27. “I convinced myself not to tell the police because I didn’t want to ‘ruin his life’ … I told myself it was my fault for putting myself into those situations. I made up excuses like he was only like that when he was really drunk and didn’t know what he was doing.

“Now, I’m ready to accept it was never my fault. It’s not a woman’s job to protect herself from men who rape them. It’s a man’s job not to rape.”

After graduating from USF, the former student accused of raping Hailey and other women began studying law at Stetson University.

Besides the rape accusations, a video of the former USF student that included him making hateful and racist comments surfaced.

The video soon gained more than 3,000 views and multiple accounts started demanding action from Stetson. After many users on Twitter tagged Stetson and its law school, the university tweeted a response on June 28.

“At Stetson Law, we abhor all violence and bigotry,” the statement said. “We are actively looking into the situation. Now is the time for all of us to focus on dismantling destructive and harmful behaviors, oppressive and harmful behaviors, oppressive structures and all attempts at division. Stetson Law will continue to stand against racism and violence in all its forms.”

Many of these assaults went unreported to authorities for months or years, and are just now coming out publicly.

The women Engel spoke with had their own reasons for why they did not report their cases to police or university authorities.

“A lot of women that I talked to, either they were too scared to say anything or when they told their sisters or someone at the fraternity they were met with a lot of skepticism, like ‘It doesn’t sound like him’ or ‘Oh, well you know he gets that way when he’s drunk’ and ‘You were flirting with him,’ and that was the same thing I was told,” Engel said. “A lot of people either don’t report it because of the fear of that, or they try to report it and they get shut down.”

Tri Delta and Sigma Nu released statements addressing what was said in the tweets and the subsequent comments from other students and alumni.

Tri Delta responded on Twitter to Engel’s tweet in which she said she was a member of the sorority when she was assaulted and nothing was done by the organization.

“We have reached out to Chelsea and offered our support as she bravely shares this story,” the statement said. “While we can’t change that past in our chapter, we can learn from this situation and move forward in a positive way focused on supporting our sisters.”

Several other accounts spoke up about sexual assault and allegations of rape by former members of Sigma Nu. In response, Sigma Nu released a statement on Twitter claiming that this is the first time they are hearing of rape accusations against one of its former members.

“This is something that took the entire chapter by surprise as we were never aware of these events nor any accusations toward said past member,” the statement said. “That being said, we wish that we were made aware of any and all accusations so that we could have stopped and prevented any victimization.”

Sigma Nu’s statement said the fraternity is taking it upon itself to do a sexual assault workshop in the fall that will be led by a member of the Title IX office which will be open to all members of the Greek community.

A petition to suspend Sigma Nu was created June 26 and has already received over 2,000 signatures.

“We, as members of the Greek community and student body, do not believe that Sigma Nu should stay on campus as they do not comply with our mission and standards,” the petition stated.

“IFC should take action on such a serious problem faced with fraternities today. It is sickening, outrageous, and problematic to not take action … We need to put a stop to this. We can’t stand by and wait for another girl to be raped by the brothers of Sigma Nu before taking action.”

In addressing the accusations, USF Dean of Students Danielle McDonald said in an email to The Oracle that the university is taking this issue seriously and wants students, faculty and staff to feel safe at all times.

“I am aware of the reports on social media and have referred them to the Title IX office,” McDonald said. “USF takes these allegations very seriously and will act accordingly as part of our commitment to promoting a safe and healthy environment on our campuses.”

McDonald encourages any former or current students to speak out on their experiences with sexual assault at USF.

“Members of the university community are strongly encouraged to report allegations of sexual violence, or any other type of misconduct, through the university’s established processes,” McDonald said.

“Any victims are encouraged to contact the Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention for confidential support and resources and the DIEO Title IX office and/or University Police to file a report. We want to make sure victims get the support they need.”

USF Panhellenic posted on their Instagram a statement by Michelle Sanchez, the Panhellenic president, where she said that the organization does not condone sexual assault and stands with those who have spoken out about their experience while in Greek life.

“Although we cannot change the past, I apologize for all the women who felt like this community failed you,” Sanchez said. “Panhellenic will do better.”

Many USF sororities have said that they are severing ties with all fraternities that have members who have sexually assaulted women with no repercussions.

Kappa Delta, one of the sororities that issued a response, said the actions of certain fraternity men are unacceptable.

“We no longer stand with these fraternity organizations as it is completely disgraceful how numerous instances of sexual assault have been made and were encouraged to keep taking place by these fraternity men,” the sorority’s statement said.

This response is not what Engel said she received from her own sorority, and many other women’s stories were pushed aside to keep good relations with the fraternities.

“I thought I was the only one and that’s why I never came forward,” Engel said. “Had we known that there were all these other girls I think this might have come to light sooner, but it never did because nobody talked about it.

“Nobody wanted to talk about it because nobody wanted to be that girl who reported someone and ruined their [sorority’s] relationship with the frat because that’s what was prioritized.”

Engel’s story, like many others, is inspiring survivors to come forward, and Engel said the support she has received since her tweet has been nice and very different from the response she received from those she told when it initially happened.

“[The support] is not what I expected at all, and it’s nice to feel like you are heard, and it’s nice to feel supported as opposed to three years ago when it happened, people telling me that like they’re still going to be friends with him, and they’re still going to hang out with them,” Engel said.

Engel said that after posting her experience on social media, her outlook on life completely changed.

“Just having people message you and tell you ‘You inspired me to tell my story’ and ‘You’re so strong’ it just like, I don’t know, it really has been having an impact on me the past couple of days,” Engel said.

“The only word I was able to come up with for it is it feels surreal because it’s just not what I expected. It’s amazing that we’ve built a community of women that are supporting each other and helping each other through this.”