A hush came over the fraternity men as Jerry Prieto stood up.
"You're all potential rapists," he told the 40 students, most of them in shirts and ties, gathered behind closed doors in the Student Union at Cal State Long Beach.
For the next two hours Prieto, a sergeant on the campus police force, lectured the young men in forceful and graphic language on the sexual dos and don'ts of dating.
Pressuring a female acquaintance or date into unwanted sex is rape, pure and simple, he said during a talk that sometimes sounded more like a harangue. "Rape is never the woman's fault," he told his attentive audience. "If I ever find out that you raped a girl, I'll put you away."
Prieto has been presenting the all-male workshops regularly for the past three years to acquaint campus men with what he describes as a new sexual climate in which date rape is likely to be vigorously prosecuted. "I did some research and found that (most workshops) were geared to women," he said. "So I decided to do something with men because they are the problem."
A policeman for 19 years, Prieto worked for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and the Rialto Police Department before coming to Cal State Long Beach in 1983. He says he developed the workshops "from the heart" rather than relying on any special training in the subject.
While a smattering of other universities--including USC--offer workshops for men on date rape, Prieto's was the first on a Cal State University campus, according to CSU spokesman Max Benavidez. As a result, he said, educators at other CSU campuses are considering starting their own.
The interest comes at a time when relations between the sexes is a hot topic at Cal State Long Beach, which counts more than 11,000 Orange County residents in its student population.
A campus fraternity was suspended last month for featuring a stripper at a party in the Student Union. And many students were angered by recent disclosures that an undergraduate convicted of having sex with an intoxicated woman in a dormitory this year has qualified for a work furlough program under which he spends his days at a regular job and nights in a minimum-security jail.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Ken Lamb, who prosecuted the case, said the outcome was fair given that the incident--considered a type of acquaintance rape--did not involve violence and the offender had no previous convictions.
But some women on campus saw it as an example of how some men do not consider date rape a serious crime. Prieto, who shares those concerns, said he started his workshops to persuade men that it is.
The workshops are generally aimed at fraternities and sports teams, he said, because those are the groups most likely to generate pressure that could prompt a young man to "score" sexually with an unwilling partner.
"Look at the pressure those guys are under," he said. "You take a frat guy or a jock--their heads are so big that they think they can do anything."
To persuade them that they can't, Prieto begins his workshops with a 20-minute television film depicting a fictional date-rape situation. Then he asks whether anyone in the audience knows someone like the rapist in the film. Most usually raise their hands.
During the discussion that follows, the policeman uses graphic language and detailed examples to define date rape and to inform his audience of its legal consequences, which can include a long prison sentence. The graphic language, he says, is designed to get their attention and gain their confidence by talking to them in ways they understand.
The bottom line, Prieto tells the fraternity men, is that once a woman says no--even if it's in the middle of a sex act--anything that follows is a crime. If the woman is ambivalent, he says, sex may still be considered rape. If she's intoxicated, he says, it almost always is.
Often, Prieto said, the men argue with him, complaining about what they consider the unfairness of the law. Rather than place an equal burden on both parties, they say, the law errs to the benefit of women, in some cases allowing them to give mixed signals and later claim that they were raped.
In response, Prieto tells men to be certain that a woman fully consents before engaging in sex. Occasionally, he said, a man will approach him after his presentation and sheepishly admit to having committed acts that he now recognizes as rape. When that happens, Prieto said, he talks to the man and, when appropriate, recommends counseling.
Only two rapes and one sexual assault have been reported on the Cal State Long Beach campus since 1984. That does not include incidents at off-campus fraternity houses over which the university has no authority, Prieto said. Based on conversations with students, however, Prieto puts the true number of on-campus rapes at more than 20 in the last two years--most of them date rapes unreported by victims who felt ashamed or intimidated.
While workshop attendance is voluntary, Prieto said, more than 5,000 men have taken part since 1989--an effort applauded by many Cal State Long Beach staffers. "I think it's great," said Marcella Chavez, director of the campus women's resource center which, among other things, handles rape complaints. "It's very important because men need to understand that women do have rights."
Participants in Prieto's workshops don't always like his style.
Arlyn Baggot, a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, which recently volunteered to attend a session, said he was offended by Prieto's use of vulgar language. "I was brought up in a good family and I don't like to hear it," said Baggot, 19.
Others said they found the workshop enlightening. "It was very educational," said Dave Cole, 19. "It was also scary--who wants to go to prison for years?"
That theme was expanded upon by Chip Sprague, 23, a Tau Kappa Epsilon member who helped persuade fraternity brothers to attend. "We wanted to put a little fear in them," he said. "A little fear can go a long way."