Attacking Campus Date Rape With New Codes of Conduct

Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers at the University of Oregon (UO) can barely imagine campus life 20 years ago, when the makers of "National Lampoon's Animal House" chose their school to film its off-color ode to frat boy bacchanalia and excess.

Those days are long gone, and the latest change on the Eugene, Ore., campus drives home that buttoned-down message. Since May 28, students have had to adjust to a new set of rules governing the age-old rituals of romance. Among them: a rule requiring students to get explicit consent from partners before sex. The idea is to prevent sexual assault - particularly date rapes. The consent may not count if the partner is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Across the nation, universities are adapting student conduct codes to deal with sexual violence. Some, such as Boston's Northeastern University and Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., offer men-only workshops. Others have set up special hot lines and counseling centers. Brown University requires freshmen and fraternity pledges to attend "peer education" classes.

But UO's new rules represent one of the more aggressive approaches to campus sexual violence. It's the first attempt to establish a consent policy on a large scale and others are watching: The University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., is also mulling a 'consent' rule.

"Colleges are trying to do something that as a whole ... larger society is not," says Gary Pavela, head of the University of Maryland's judicial programs. "Prosecutors often won't take these cases."

Critics say the UO policy - debated through 22 drafts - is unenforceable, violates privacy rights, and presumes guilt by placing the burden of proof on the accused. "People are pretty wary around here," says Kappa Sigma president Rafe Hanahan. "It's kind of scary to think what you think is a safe situation isn't."

Consensual sex makes common sense, says Mr. Hanahan, but some Kappa Sigmas worry they could end up on the short end of a he-says, she-says situation. "Some people were saying you're going to need a signature," says Tyler Johnson. "Might not be a bad idea."

A student who violates the code may not be legally charged with rape, but could face punishment from the university ranging from a reprimand to expulsion. The policy defines explicit consent as "voluntary, non-coerced, and clear communication indicating a willingness to engage in a particular act."

SUZANNE Jensen, a UO sophomore, says the rule will give sexual assault victims more confidence to report crimes. Other than that, she says, "I don't think it's going to change anything. You can't legislate ... behavior."

David Fidanque, head of Oregon's American Civil Liberties Union, applauds UO's efforts, but says the emphasis should be on educating, not regulating. "The danger is innocent people are going to get swept up in this."

OU isn't the first school to try this. In 1992, Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, required verbal consent before any act - from kissing to intercourse. The rule drew international attention and Antioch is still recovering from the subsequent drop in enrollment, says associate faculty dean Jan Miller. Still, she believes the policy has created a greater sense of security. Students there say it probably won't become much of an issue until charges are brought against someone.

At the Kappa Sigma house, where the floor is still sticky from last week's beer bash, Mr. Hanahan says he expects to see an effect. "I don't think it's going to have a huge impact as far as ... activities go," he says. "But I do think it's going to make people think about ... whether they're making the right decisions."

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