As a video circulated online Wednesday showing what appeared to be a sexual hazing ritual at an Indiana University fraternity, some who saw it shrugged. Others thought it was funny, tweeting “LOL” and “LMAO.”
Some, however, thought it was rape.
On Wednesday night, the university weighed in, announcing via Twitter that it was suspending Alpha Tau Omega “immediately, pending investigation into hazing allegations.”
On Thursday morning, the fraternity’s national leadership issued a harshly worded statement calling the video “highly offensive” and promising “swift disciplinary action.”
Hours later, Alpha Tau Omega’s national leadership confirmed that the “highly inappropriate and vulgar” video does show its fraternity brothers engaged in a “sex act,” but said that the event was “unauthorized” and that it had decided to close its IU chapter and revoke its charter.
The video, which still could be found on YouTube, Twitter and other Web sites on Thursday morning, appears to capture a fraternity hazing party. In the 29-second cellphone video, a young man in nothing but boxer shorts is seen performing a sex act on a naked woman atop a dirty inflatable mattress.
The woman is on her back with her legs around the man, as if restraining him. At one point, he appears to try to get up but she prevents him.
Six other men in underwear appear to wait their turn as music plays and a crowd of fully clothed people shouts and laughs.
It is unclear from the footage where the incident occurs or which fraternity is involved. However, in a statement provided to The Washington Post, Alpha Tau Omega’s national CEO Wynn Smiley said that the video does show fraternity brothers, but not pledges.
“The video from a smartphone shows a sex act that occurred last week,” Smiley said in the statement. “The event was unauthorized involving about half of the chapter’s membership. The National Fraternity investigation revealed the 21-year-old man in the video was an initiated member, not a pledge, and the two women in the video were exotic dancers hired by one of the members. Our investigation revealed that no pledge was compelled to participate. Regardless, the actions are contrary to the ideals and principles of Alpha Tau Omega and are highly offensive.”
Our campus is committed to a culture of care. Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) is suspended immediately, pending investigation into hazing allegations.
— Indiana University (@IUBloomington) October 8, 2015
Long before Smiley’s statement, the video was already being linked to Alpha Tau Omega, known as ATO. The controversy appeared to begin at 7:38 p.m. on Wednesday, when an account called @ATOVideo posted the footage to Twitter.
The first Web site to mention the video appears to have been the college humor site Total Frat Move, which has broken fraternity hazing and sex scandals in the past. Earlier on Wednesday, the site posted a short article discussing the video without mentioning ATO.
“We received the below tip this evening, along with a few others, about a leaked video that allegedly shows some graphic and egregious fraternity hazing at Indiana University,” Total Frat Move’s Dillon Cheverere wrote.
“[Fraternity redacted] at Indiana university leaked a video by accident that involved them hazing their pledges by making them give strippers oral sex for extended periods of time,” according to the tip. “The video has gone viral and is circulating around IU’s campus as well as other campuses in the midwest region.”
“I can’t confirm much of anything at this point,” Cheverere concluded. “Oh, I can confirm this: This story is about to blow” up.
Shortly afterward, IU posted its tweet suspending ATO.
Cheverere updated his article, adding: “So the worst kept secret is no longer a secret at all. It was ATO, and they are now suspended.”
— Alpha Tau Omega (@AlphaTauOmega) September 23, 2015
Statements from university spokesperson Mark Land appeared to strengthen the connection between the video, ATO and the fraternity’s suspension.
In a news release sent Wednesday night to local NBC affiliate WTHR, Land said that ATO had been suspended due to “allegations of hazing activities which perpetuate sexual misconduct.” He added that ATO local chapter would not be allowed to host social events, participate in interfraternity events or sponsor new members while under suspension.
“The university is fully committed to fostering a culture of care and respect on our campuses,” he said. “Allegations of actions that run contrary to that commitment are taken very seriously and will be investigated vigorously.”
Despite the university’s move to suspend the fraternity, some took issue with the school’s initial tweet.
“That wasn’t hazing that was RAPE you clowns,” responded a Twitter user whose tweets suggest he is a former IU student. “Quit the double standards.”
The university tweeted a clarification, the Indianapolis Star reported.
Online reactions to the video and ATO’s suspension ranged from bemusement to outrage.
“Quit being a bunch of overreacting cry babies,” one person wrote on Twitter, adding an emoticon of a baby.
“Are you f—– serious?” a female Twitter user in Bloomington, where IU is located, replied. “Check your privilege. That is rape.”
“If you are ever witnessing something like this and the person is struggling, please for the love of God STOP IT,” wrote one IU student on Twitter, referring to the apparently forced sex act on the video.
Disappointed that people are spreading such a vile video across social media but luckily @IUBloomington handled things rather quickly.
— Andrew (@andrewdhenn) October 8, 2015
Idk about anyone else, but I'm absolutely DISGUSTED after seeing and hearing about the hazing incident on campus.
— Megan Padgett (@megan_padgett) October 8, 2015
And for people to joke about this incident makes me sick. It's not a laughing matter.
— Megan Padgett (@megan_padgett) October 8, 2015
The incident is not the first for Alpha Tau Omega’s IU chapter. In 1992, IU charged 26 ATO brothers with violating student ethics after a pledge was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. Among the charges: possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages, hazing, actions that endanger a student and giving false information to university officials, Richard McKaig, then the dean of students, told the Chicago Tribune.
The fraternity announced it was going “substance free” shortly after but quickly backslid.
“The first year, it was a mark of distinction and pride,” McKaig told the Star-Ledger in 1997. “The second year, it wasn’t their idea. And in the third year, it became a burden.”
In 2010, two-thirds of its members were kicked out after an investigation by ATO’s national leadership found evidence of hazing and alcohol violations, the Associated Press reported.
At the time, ATO national chief executive Wynn Smiley said that IU chapter members had denied knowing about hazing rituals and didn’t acknowledge a low chapter grade point average, according to the AP.
Smiley said some members had an attitude that the fraternity’s purpose was to be “party central.”
On Thursday morning, ATO’s national leadership sent The Washington Post a statement distancing itself from its IU chapter.
“Alpha Tau Omega National Fraternity has suspended all operations of the Delta Alpha chapter at Indiana University as we begin our investigation,” began the statement, which was attributed to Smiley. “We are working with the University.”
“The video is highly offensive and is antithetical to the values of Alpha Tau Omega,” the statement continued. “If confirmed, swift disciplinary action will be taken. The men who were a part of such a vulgar incident do not represent the fraternity and damage the fraternity’s name for thousands of ATO undergraduates and alumni across the country.”
Several hours later, ATO leaders made good on their threat.
“The National Office of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity has revoked the charter and closed the Delta Alpha chapter at Indiana University following the release of a highly inappropriate and vulgar video,” Smiley said in a second statement.
“The National Fraternity, with strong encouragement from local alumni advisors, investigated the incident and took swift disciplinary action. The revocation of the charter means the chapter is closed, effective immediately and all chapter activities must cease. The National Fraternity will con- tinue to work closely with Indiana University officials.”
This post has been updated with a statement from Alpha Tau Omega leadership as well as details from the national fraternity’s investigation into the incident.