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March 24th, 2015

The Penn State Fraternity Sexual Misconduct Scandal – A Crime Victim Injury Lawyer’s Opinion

Penn State University Fraternity in Trouble for Sexual Misconduct on Facebook

Penn State University is embroiled in a scandal involving allegations that a campus fraternity used popular social media website, Facebook, to showcase images of nude and partially nude young women. Some of the images are alleged to contain unconscious women in sexual poses. The images were shared on a private page accessible only by other members of the fraternity. Local police worked with an informant, a previous member of the fraternity.

This isn’t the first time Penn State has been involved in a scandal involving sexual misconduct. The infamous Jerry Sandusky scandal highlighted the school’s failure to take appropriate action in the face of horrific acts of child sexual abuse. Roughly two years ago, former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky was tried and convicted of 40+ counts of sexually abusing multiple children. He was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison, and given his age, this effectively results in a life sentence. He will die in prison.

While Sandusky’s actions were of course, abhorrent, the school’s response was just as wrong. Despite one assistant coach’s report of witnessing Sandusky raping a child on school property, local law enforcement was never called, and the report was effectively swept under the rug. This type of behavior provides a dangerous child predator with the ability to abuse more children. While it sounds incredible that a school would engage in this kind of behavior, it happens. Read more about the institutional problem of sexual abuse in schools.

serving beer

The new scandal involving the fraternity makes it seem as though Penn State has a problem. At least one news report indicates that it is widely known among students on campus that fraternities engage in precisely the same type of conduct alleged, and sometimes much worse. Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com, At Penn State, one woman’s rule at fraternity parties: don’t go upstairs.

This recent case isn’t an isolated occurrence, quite the opposite. Fraternities around the country are facing increasing scrutiny. There certainly appears to be an epidemic of hazing and similar behavior across colleges and universities in the U.S. Earlier this month, a fraternity in Oklahoma was expelled after a video surfaced showing frat members chanting racial slurs. In addition, there have been countless reports of pledges being injured or dying during hazing events. Just last month, two students at West Virginia University were charged in connection with the death of a pledge during a hazing event in November. The death appeared to be related to underage drinking of alcohol.

The Problem of Group Think

Like with most organizations, fraternities are susceptible of the psychological phenomenon known as group think. Basically, members of a group adopt a singular identity or purpose. Individuals stop thinking for themselves or are too afraid to appear different from the group. Given the structure of these organizations and how they operate, fraternities certainly perpetuate group think. The problem is that decision makers are often young, immature and under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This explains why hazing events can quickly get out of hand. It also explains the recent Penn State scandal.

Are Criminal Cases Working?

One of the purposes of the criminal justice system is to reduce crime by acting as a deterrent. The fear of criminal punishment deters others from engaging in similar conduct. Students across the country have been charged with crimes for hazing deaths and injuries. However, the question is, are these criminal cases working to reduce rates of hazing injuries and similar conduct, such as excessive drinking, sexual misconduct, etc.? The answer is, probably not. We’re just not seeing a decrease in this type of behavior. In fact, recent studies highlight the persistent problem of binge drinking in college and even more dangerous behavior, drinking to black out.

A Practical Solution – Make Fraternities and Other Organizations Financially Responsible for Their Members

Here’s a viable solution. Colleges and universities should require school sanctioned organizations to purchase and maintain special insurance policies which specifically cover these kinds of activities including hazing, underage drinking, and other types of behavior. These policies would act much like auto or home owners insurance; the more claims there are, the higher the premium. The premiums would be collected from all members. Eventually, if there are too many claims, the organization becomes uninsurable and is no longer allowed to operate on campus.

If fraternities and other organizations were required to obtain special insurance policies to cover such activities, there’s a strong likelihood that the activities would decrease. The insurance policy makes the fraternity/organization directly responsible for the actions of its members. In essence, the special insurance policy premiums would act as a deterrent.

About Laffey Bucci D’Andrea Reich & Ryan

Philadelphia law firm, Laffey Bucci D’Andrea Reich & Ryan, specializes in representing victims of crime who have suffered physical and mental injuries. For more information or to schedule a free case review, please call our office at (866) 641-0806.