Sororities express solidarity, some fear, in wake of Texas rapes

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With north Texas police still searching Friday for a man who allegedly broke into the homes of four former members of the same sorority and raped them, members of other black sororities in the Dallas area expressed their support but said they too are worried for their safety.

The attacks -- all on alumnae of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority -- took place in the Dallas suburbs of Plano, Coppell and Corinth; the most recent assault occurred Oct. 14, police said.

Plano police have released a surveillance videoshot in April showing a "person of interest." He fit the victims' description of the suspect: a heavyset black male in his late 30s to mid-40s, 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-9, with a balding or shaved head. Investigators declined to say where the video was taken.

The alleged victims are all black women in their mid-50s to mid-60s. They say their attacker had information suggesting that he knew them, but investigators say they believe the man was a stranger who may have cased their homes.

Fellow members of the "Divine Nine" black sororities and fraternities nationwide expressed solidarity with the Deltas online.

“We pray for the Sisters of Delta Sigma Theta who are being attacked,” Pamela B. Porch, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in Chicago, wrote on the Delta Facebook page. “We know that it is an attack of the enemy, and we stand with you in prayer for those who have been attacked and those that live in fear.”

“An attack against one of us is an attack against us all!” added Herthesia Sinclair, an Alpha Kappa Alpha sister in Jacksonville, Fla.

Said Rhetta Washington McCoy, 39, past president of the Dallas Kappa Zeta chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority: “We all have become a little more conscious” of the danger. “Especially as women, when we hear things like this, it heightens our awareness.”

Staff at the Delta Sigma Theta national headquarters in Washington, D.C., said sorority alumnae in Dallas-area chapters had been asked not to speak publicly about the incidents. The sorority's national president did not return calls after issuing a statement earlier this week urging alumnae in the Dallas area to remove sorority insignia from their cars, homes and offices and to take care when discussing their comings and goings online.

“Our primary concern is the safety of our members,” said Ashley Chaney, a spokeswoman at Delta headquarters. “We want to protect our members.”

The sorority has 250,000 members in more than 1,000 chapters worldwide, about 76% of them alumnae, many of them accomplished professionals involved in civil rights and other political efforts.

In the Dallas area, it's common for black women to wear or carry sorority insignia with them as a means of networking, McCoy said.

“I’m driving to the grocery store and see someone with a T-shirt on saying Zeta Phi Beta and I’m more apt to go up to you and say ‘Oh, you’re a Zeta — I’m a Zeta too, where can I find out more about that or get more involved?’” she said. “You have that bond with brothers and sisters.”

“Of course, it’s a pride thing, too,” she added.

Membership in Delta Sigma Theta comes with a rich history, including decades of struggle against racism and sexism, historians said.

“All of the black Greek organizations were founded for the purpose of racial uplift, and they were founded at a time when they were excluded from mainstream campus activities and they were experiencing racism, not just on campus, but in those communities where the campuses were located,” said Tamara Brown, a Delta alumna and co-editor of “African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision.”

That’s why it's so distressing to think about Deltas peeling off their Greek bumper stickers, unfastening lapel pins and tucking away monogrammed shirts, some said.

Brown, 44, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, said she was upset and “disturbed” by news of the attacks, and called the situation “tragic.”

“This is home for me because these are my sisters,” she said. “Any time that you are part of a group that’s singled out, it raises your alert meter, and it takes some time to return back to normal. That’s true of any traumatic situation, and this is certainly one.”

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston

Image: A still image from a surveillance video released by police this week shows a person of interest being sought in connection with four rapes in the Dallas area; all the victims were alumnae of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. The first assault was in November 2010. By the time the second woman was attacked in April, police were worried they might have a serial rapist on their hands. The third woman was assaulted in September and the fourth earlier this month. Credit: Plano Police Department

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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