Who’s Liable For What Happens in Fraternity Houses?

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Heightened Awareness as a Result of the #MeToo Movement is Effecting Procedures, Policies and Prosecutions Across the U.S.

As part of a larger investigation into multiple allegations of sexual assault at a now-suspended Temple University fraternity house, the former president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, Ari Goldstein, has formally been charged with attempted rape, indecent assault, simple assault, and other counts. Last month, Temple University suspended the chapter after several women came forward with similar claims of sexual assault by other fraternity members.

The Temple investigation is just the latest example of why there needs to be better systems in place for ensuring students’ safety on and off campus. In recent years there has been heightened awareness of crimes being perpetrated on college campuses nationwide. One of the most high-profile cases, which continues to make headlines, involves the Penn State University hazing death of 19-year-old Beta Theta Pi pledge Timothy Piazza.  Piazza’s parents, and others, are calling for meaningful change at colleges and universities, pushing for legislation reform, including increasing the crime of hazing from a misdemeanor to a felony charge.

Since the traditional college party is not going to change or stop anytime soon, perhaps in addition to legislation reform, the #MeToo movement has contributed to some change by magnifying sexual assault. Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner, has made it known that he is taking a very hard stance on sexual assault charges, exhibiting it by setting extremely high bail for Goldstein.

While at this point only Goldstein has been formally charged, there may be others charged, considering that two additional victims have come forward accusing more fraternity members of alleged assault. Temple University almost immediately suspended the Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter in the wake of the allegations, and if Temple administrators learned anything from the Penn State case, the school is undoubtably already preparing for the inevitability of forthcoming civil suits and nationwide news coverage, which could negatively effect enrollment and alumni capital contributions.

In addition to the colleges and universities, what is the liability of fraternities when it comes to serious offenses such as sexual assault, hazing, underage drinking and drug crimes? In this case, the accused was the President of the fraternity, who should have been the one ensuring that rules were followed and laws were obeyed. In the Penn State case, there was a live-in advisor in the Beta Thea Pi house who claimed no knowledge of what was happening in the house, and has not been charged.

It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds and who will be held liable for these serious offenses. Goldstein’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 31 in Philadelphia.