Frat-house accidents and sexual assaults are getting so common they're impossible to ignore—but how did it get this bad, and why does it keep happening? In an extensive Atlantic piece, Caitlin Flanagan looks at the history of fraternities and their myriad ways of avoiding legal obligations for what goes on behind closed doors. As Bloomberg reported, 60 students have died in frat-related incidents since 2005, a fact "that is dwarfed by the numbers of serious injuries, assaults, and sexual crimes that regularly take place in these houses," writes Flanagan. She chronicles a few incidents, from a freshman girl's heinous rape at Wesleyan University to a young man who fired a bottle rocket out of his butt at Marshall University—and the guy who fell off a deck videotaping it, and later sued Alpha Tau Omega for his injuries.
To avoid financial ruin, fraternities have merged into "vast national organizations" that buy liability insurance, and they've created rules about alcohol consumption that are nearly impossible for party-lovers to follow—so when the inevitable lawsuits come, frat members are considered at fault for breaking the rules. That means their soon-to-be-retired parents pay extensive legal bills, and parents' homeowners insurance often pays settlements. So why do universities allow this perilous environment to persist? Largely because fraternity dorms save schools "untold millions of dollars" in housing, writes Flanagan, and the frat-house party image helps lure students into expensive universities. To be fair, advocates also describe the positives—like increased confidence, brotherhood, and leadership training. But parents should know the dangers: "Until proven otherwise," a lawyer tells Flanagan, "they all are very risky organizations for young people to be involved in." Click for her full piece. (Read more fraternity stories.)