Sexual violence in college sports is starting to catch more and more attention in the media. This summer, we were outraged when we found out about Brock Turner, a former student-athlete at Stanford, was only sentenced to 6 months in prison for raping a woman behind a dumpster. Before that, we were all shocked to find out about the scandal at Baylor University in which the school failed to investigate multiple claims of sexual assault involving players from the football team. Let’s not forget about Jameis Winston who played college football at Florida State and allegedly raped a female student in 2014. Despite evidence from the victim’s rape kit, the school conveniently postponed Winston’s hearing until after he led his team to win the BCS Championship game and the charges were ultimately dropped.
A lot of these events seem to come and go. The media will mention it as soon as word gets out and then move on to the next groundbreaking story. But is this something we could just turn away from? And is it happening more frequently than we think?
A recent study demonstrated that of the 46% of participants who engaged in sexually coercive behaviors on campus, more than half were intercollegiate and recreational athletes. Because this was a small sample, however, more research needs to be conducted to better understand the rates at which sexual violence occurs in intercollegiate athletics. (Young, Desmarais, Baldwin, and Chandler, 2016).
Earlier this year, Louisville’s Basketball program was under major scrutiny for hiring recruiting hostesses. An article highlighting this story actually found that isn’t uncommon. They cited Sports Illustrated for uncovering the use of recruiting hostesses at Oklahoma State University’s football program to encourage prospective athletes to play for their school. One former athlete admits that, “There’s no other way a female can convince you to come play football at a school besides sex,” and “The idea was to get [recruits] to think that if they came to Oklahoma State, it was gonna be like that all the time.” Are we perpetuating a culture in intercollegiate athletics that permits objectifying women? Does this play into the pattern of sexual assault and rape that we have seen among these college athletes?
Last March, I attended a powerful lecture by Tony Porter at the University of Connecticut entitled “A Call to Men” promoting healthy masculinity. I made sure to quickly catch him afterwards to speak to him on this issue within the world of sports. He emphasized that sexual violence isn’t just committed by male athletes; it’s only a small percentage of athletes in comparison to the general population. Keeping that in mind, I do think it’s important to work with student-athletes to not only educate them on sexual assault and consent, but to also use their status as athletes to prevent sexual assault. Just last month we heard about Cristian Garcia, a linebacker player for the University of Florida, and his co-worker Leroyea Simmons prevent a nearby rape. Trainings on bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention are crucial in tackling sexual violence.
I’m incredibly grateful to intern with the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) at Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society as they are one of the only programs working to address sexual violence specifically in sports. Through their bystander intervention model, they can influence more athletes like Garcia to prevent sexual assault and gender-based violence. Despite the fact that 82% of Division 1 programs provide sexual assault prevention to student-athletes, only 37% of schools overall offer this training to students playing college sports (U.S. Senate, 2014).
The time is now for intercollegiate athletic programs need to stop protecting their players and the reputation of their program, and start putting an end to sexual violence.