On March 24, 2022, Louisiana State University suspended Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity following investigations into numerous hazing allegations. SAE was found to have violated the school’s coercive behavior, endangerment and hazing policies for activities during “Hell Week” from 2017 to 2020.
The fraternity had pledges complete humiliating and degrading initiation tasks, including cleaning members’ homes and running errands. But the investigation revealed the forced activities went even further. In the fall of 2020, pledges kidnapped and assaulted a current member as part of their initiation.
The suspension will last through May 31, 2023, followed by a two-year probationary period. SAE is barred from sponsoring or participating in on and off-campus activities, as well as from recruiting and initiating pledges. The fraternity’s national organization also suspended the chapter, and not for the first time. It was suspended in 2012 for reports of hazing, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.
Unfortunately, SAE is one of many organizations at LSU that’s faced repercussions for hazing, misconduct, and physical and sexual violence. These are prevalent activities and crimes among not just fraternities and sororities but other student organizations and clubs and at on- and off-campus events. LSU’s recent history of hazing, binge drinking, and misconduct paints a sordid picture of its campus environment.
University and college campuses in Louisiana and across the country have been wrought with these types of scandals for decades. Students and non-students who attend school events and parties have been victims of serious and often life-changing crimes, and the cycle has yet to be broken.
Impact of Campus Assault and Misconduct
The outcomes of hazing, misconduct and violence on Louisiana campuses are serious. Students have died after being coerced and intimidated – often through the threat of violence – into binge drinking and other harmful activities that cause serious bodily injuries.
In 2017, a fraternity member at LSU died after several nights of heavy drinking. The victim, Maxwell Gruver, had a blood alcohol level of 0.495%, and the investigation into his death revealed he was forced to drink alcohol as part of the frat’s hazing ritual. Two years prior, a pledge for another LSU fraternity was a victim of forced physical activity that caused him to collapse and later die. Sadly, these are just a few incidents of unsafe and illegal hazing activities that had catastrophic consequences.
To make matters worse, campus violence and hazing are widely underreported, hindering the ability to support victims and other students affected by these incidences. Schools provide services like counseling to a small portion of student victims because so few report what happened. This also means that those who commit harm are rarely held accountable, putting others at risk.
Louisiana’s campuses should be safe and welcoming. Those who attend are often young, impressionable, and on their own for the first time in their lives. A campus is a place where new friendships develop while, at the same time, students prepare for their future. But the impact of campus assault and hazing is widespread and complex. It can cause depression, anxiety, risky behaviors, substance abuse, poor educational performance, and distrust of an institution that should protect its students – not to mention the physical health problems that can occur.
Types of College Campus Assault
College campus sexual assault, physical violence, and dangerous hazing practices frequently occur throughout the United States. It can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender or gender identity, race, religion, ethnicity, and those with disabilities. But research shows that certain people face more significant risks when it comes to students who are sexually assaulted.
Statistics from the Rape, Abuse, Incest & Neglect Network (RAINN) shows that 13% of all graduate and undergraduate students are raped or experience sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Women in undergraduate programs are at significant risk of sexual assault on campus, at a rate of 26.4%.
In contrast, men in undergraduate programs are at a much lower risk of experiencing these crimes, but the numbers are still substantial: 6.8% of male college students are sexually assaulted. While women are assaulted more frequently, men aged 18-24 are more likely to experience sexual assault on a college campus than anywhere else.
On top of widespread sexual assault, many other types of college campus crimes occur. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows 28,500 criminal incidents on campuses reported to police and security agencies in 2018. Of those, 12,300 were forcible sex offenses, 9,600 were burglaries, 3,100 were motor vehicle thefts, and 2,200 were aggravated assaults. It’s widely known that campus crimes are underreported, so these numbers are much lower than reality.
Whether it’s violent, humiliating, degrading, or harmful to another aspect of a person’s health and wellbeing, the rate and extent of harm that occurs on Louisiana’s college and university campuses are extensive. Advocating for change through improved education among students and employees, better school policies, more criminal charges, greater accountability, and proper support for victims is needed.
Dealing with Campus Assault in Louisiana
In 2020, only 12 cases of sexual assault were reported by Louisiana’s three largest public universities, and given recorded reporting rates, that number may seem accurate. However, it’s not a true reflection of how many students become victims of crimes. It reinforces a serious gap, lack of support and inadequate reporting procedures on college campuses.
The sad reality is that university and college students in Louisiana are at significant risk of sexual violence and harmful hazing rituals. Reporting these many forms of abuse and violence and a strict and swift response by the school is crucial to ending the normalcy and frequency of these crimes. Also, in order to hold perpetrators accountable, law enforcement should be notified when students in Louisiana are victims of assault, hazing, or endangerment.
In 2021, a new law was approved that requires Louisiana colleges and universities to implement new reporting procedures for sexual misconduct. Senate Bill 230 was pushed forward following a revealing report about LSU’s extremely poor and unclear sexual assault reporting policies and factors that affected a student’s ability to seek justice. Colleges and universities can lose their state funding if they fail to comply with the new reporting laws.
Many other states have introduced similar laws that require greater accountability on the part of schools. The changes have begun a slow yet positive shift in campus safety and culture. Still, there’s much work to be done to better protect and advocate for students subjected to campus violence and mistreatment.
Seeking Legal Help When Campus Violence Occurs
When someone experiences violence of any kind, it can have many short- and long-term effects. Therefore, it’s important that victims of hazing activities, misconduct, and physical and sexual assault get the support they need and deserve.
Reporting campus violence takes courage, but it’s integral in holding people accountable for their actions. Sometimes, the university or college where the assault occurred is also responsible for poor reporting procedures, lack of follow through and repercussions for the accused, and even for covering up or retaliating against students who come forward. Many students at LSU know all too well what it’s like to be a victim of this kind of institutional failure.
Knowing there’s a safe and effective place to report campus violence and misconduct is one part of ensuring student victims see justice and access support services. But seeking legal advice is another vital component of accountability and healing when campus crimes occur.
There are clear laws in Louisiana regarding hazing crimes and when physical and sexual assault occurs. The experienced attorneys at Herman, Herman & Katz offer a compassionate and safe environment for student victims in Louisiana. Contact us today to discuss your legal options at 504-581-4892 or fill out our confidential, no-obligation case review form.
Jed Cain is a partner with Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC. He has dedicated his career to representing injured folks and their families.