March 12 (Bloomberg) -- A Wesleyan University student sued a fraternity where she says she was raped in a common room during a “strip show” pledge party last year.
The woman, then a freshman, sued Psi Upsilon Fraternity Inc. and its Wesleyan chapter in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, yesterday. The woman said that soon after arriving at the off-campus chapter house on May 3, new members began performing a “strip show” as part of an alcohol-fueled pledging event. When she tried to leave, a party-goer grabbed her and raped her as others watched, according to her complaint.
“No security or other form of sober, responsible management was present at the Psi Upsilon fraternity house,” according to the complaint. “The event got wildly out of control.”
This month, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the largest national fraternities, banned the initiation rite of pledging because of the risks it poses to the youngest members. Almost half of more than 60 fraternity-related deaths since 2005 have been of freshmen, according to Bloomberg data.
While Middletown, Connecticut-based Wesleyan isn’t named in the woman’s complaint, the suit is the second in two years to allege sexual assault at a fraternity there. A former student sued Wesleyan in 2012 after reporting a rape at a fraternity in 2010. Wesleyan didn’t provide her with services after the crime and declined her requests for security before her attacker was arrested, the student claimed.
“We intend to focus our attention on improving the safety of these spaces,” Wesleyan President Michael Roth said in a statement. “I wish to express our horror at this shameful assault.”
The university, one of the most selective in the U.S., dismissed the student alleged to have committed the 2013 rape and sanctioned the fraternity and its members, Roth said. The school’s three fraternities, with a total 67 students, have been subject to “increased scrutiny,” he said.
Wesleyan has about 2,900 undergraduate students.
Indianapolis-based Psi Upsilon, which has chapters at about two dozen colleges in the U.S. and Canada, didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment on the lawsuit. The local chapter also didn’t respond to an e-mail.
The alleged assailant was also sued.
According to the complaint, the woman and friends visited the chapter after receiving an invitation from a dormitory hall-mate who was a member. Soon after she got there, she said, the pledges’ strip show got under way.
Among fraternity members, the event had been promoted “as an opportunity to engage in sexual encounters with female guests,” according to the complaint. “Many of the pledges and attendees were underage and extremely intoxicated.”
As party-goers danced with naked pledges, the woman grew “extremely uncomfortable” and began to leave, according to the complaint. One man picked her up from behind, and then a second man grabbed her “and raped her in the presence of numerous others,” according to the complaint.
The fraternity is across from Wesleyan’s main campus and occupies a privately-owned house, said Kate Carlisle, a spokeswoman for the university. According to the complaint, the chapter limits the circumstances when campus security may enter.
“Wesleyan immediately intervened and took appropriate judicial action to protect the victim’s rights,” Douglas Fierberg, one of the woman’s lawyers, said in an e-mail. “It also supported her and has protected her academic record while she has returned to her family’s home and support.”
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