A fraternity at University of Central Arkansas has been suspended while police investigate a rape that was reported to have happened over the weekend.
According to the Sigma Phi Epsilon national organization, the Arkansas Zeta chapter has closed its doors while the UCA Police Department investigates the claim. According to a statement the department released Monday, a female student reported that she was raped early Sunday morning by a fellow student inside the fraternity house.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Duyen Ha, a UCA senior, “because we’ve had a couple instances of reported rape on campus this semester that have been more frequent than usual.”
UCAPD sent an email alert to the student body Monday afternoon about the reported rape, and with general information about how to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault. Many students had not heard about the incident by Tuesday afternoon, but those who had expressed their disappointment.
“I don’t live on campus or anything, but still it makes me a little uncomfortable,” said Paige Erwin, a UCA senior.
“I mean, it’s tragic that it’s happening, but I think it’s good that they’re trying to notify everyone so we can be more aware of it,” Ha added.
This is not the first time in recent history that Sigma Phi Epsilon - Arkansas Zeta has been involved with potentially criminal activity. UCA shut down the fraternity from 2011-12 because of a beating of members of another fraternity, and three members were accused of sexual assault and video voyeurism in 2013, though charges were not pursued.
Sigma Phi Epsilon has worked to improve its national reputation recently by attempting to change the fraternity experience. Its undergraduates voted in August that all of its chapters would become alcohol and substance-free by 2020. On November 8, the national organization chose to implement that policy effective immediately for all 215 of its chapters. SigEp also voted to eliminate pledging, hoping to reduce the risk of extreme behaviors that can accompany rush week.
In a statement, a SigEp spokesperson said, “SigEp takes any allegation of sexual assault very seriously and is fully cooperating with the university and local law enforcement. The chapter has agreed to suspend all activities until an investigation can be completed.”
Erwin and Ha said UCA does a good job protecting them from and educating them about sexual violence. “At the beginning of the year, we always have, like, an online seminar that everybody—it’s mandatory to take, or they’ll put holds on your accounts,” Erwin mentioned. “And it talks about, like, being a bystander, what you need to do in a situation, like, if you see something like this happening, and stuff like that.”
“UCAPD, they offer self-defense classes,” Ha said, “and then there’s always police officers patrolling the area, even at night.”
But she also claimed that she does not feel very safe at night while walking near campus. “If I’m by myself, no,” she said. “I try to walk with someone as much as possible. And, you know, you always want to carry something just in case, like pepper spray. But you, like, just never want to be by yourself. But if it’s during the daytime, then you do feel safe.”
Erwin said it is important for women to take precautions. “I always carry Mace with me,” she noted. “And then I usually, I’m on the phone with somebody if I go out late at night, just so they know I’m in, or whatever.”
University officials declined comment Tuesday, saying they will not discuss issues surrounding the case out of respect for the victim.
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