Disassembling Rape Culture in College Athletics

Hundreds of sexual assault reports on campuses involving student athletes go un-noticed and un-discussed due to their participation in the university’s sports team. We read stories in the news constantly about students at high-profile athletic schools getting accused or found guilty of rape or assault, and still being allowed to participate in sporting events. For good or bad, big-time sports are the public face of hundreds of colleges across the country, and the 18-23 year-old students participating in these sports are catapulted to the top of the social food-chain on campus. It is the universities’ job to protect their students from violence, sexual or not, by taking action and reporting claims and accusations to administration and now allowing those students accused to remain on campus. However, the overall issue lies in colleges failing to do so because protecting their sports team is seen as the equivalent of protecting the institution itself. A total of 80% of sexual assault cases on campus go un-reported, and more than half of those assaults involve student athletes (Wade, 2017). The problem starts the second a victim makes a report involving one of these athletes. In order for the university to maintain their reputation both athletically and academically, administration fails to punish these students accused of violent sexual acts or attempts to avoid the claims until that athlete has completed the sports season. Every single life on campus is affected by this issue because they are all being told that their university favors the reputation of their athletic teams over the safety of their students. Any victim who has had to go through the horror of an assault has to face their assailant on campus and watch them be praised by thousands as they participate in some of the country’s highest division of athletics. If this problem of protecting predators at colleges is not solved, athletes and students of a certain status on campus will continue to believe they are untouchable and that they can do no wrong. It sends a message to every student athlete that because of their participation in athletic programs, they are not deserving of the same punishment as any other rapist or abuser accused of an assault on another student.

Policies already in place regarding assault

Nearly every institution across the country has rules and regulations already in place for dealing with sexual assault cases, and codes to follow when a student is accused of or has committed one. The most common is Title IX of the Education Amendment, which is a federal civil rights law that forbids discrimination on the “basis of sex in any education program at any university” (“Know your rights,” 2018). Under Title IX, this discrimination based on sex can include rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. In the past few years alone, numerous survivors of sexual assault have successfully sued universities under Title IX due to the fact that any institution that knows and ignores sexual assault in programs or activities, can be held legally responsible. An example of this happening was in 2007 when a federal court did not rule in favor of the University of Georgia when they were accused of admitting and recruiting an athlete with past convictions of assault at other campuses, who would then later go on to rape a fellow student (“Know your rights,” 2018). This is just one of the many examples of a university who knew about the athlete and their past history of harassment at other institutions, and yet still allowed them to attend the school and play for their sports team. On the other hand, we as a country have recently taken a step back in this process of coming to a solution when Trump proposed a new policy for sexual assault claims on campus. His new policy exempts universities and colleges from investigating assaults that happen off-campus grounds (Harris & Kitchener, 2018). The previous policy under former president Barack Obama (Title IX) called for universities to investigate all assaults that occur between two students, regardless of where it took place. Kitchener and Harris (2018) both believe that Trump’s new policy would put the 87% of U.S. college students who live outside campus bounds at a higher risk of being assaulted or raped. This policy also discourages victims from coming forward with claims because they are under the impression that there is nothing the university can do to keep them safe or punish their abuser. The bystander intervention program is essentially a strategy for preventing different types of violence. It was created due to the fact that people make decisions, and continue to make those decisions based on the reactions they get from others. Wade (2017) believes that if hookup culture is status-based, then “high-status students like athletes are at an advantage”. As mentioned earlier, athletes on campus tend to hold very high social status’, therefore bystanders are less likely to speak up or report assaults involving any of those students.

New solution

It is fair to say that a majority of people can agree upon the fact that all students regardless of gender, social status or sexual orientation, to name a few attending a single university should be met with the same fairness and respect. The policies universities have right now regarding sexual assault do not necessarily need to be changed, they just need to be strongly enforced. These systems should be aimed towards every student on campus to ensure that not a single person is to be excluded from punishment or treated differently due to their status at the university. An effective solution to this problem should focus on not allowing any student who is under investigation or has a sexual assault claim against them to participate in any activity on campus, nor be allowed on campus grounds in general. This policy should hopefully lead to the reduction of controversies regarding college admin’s responses to sexual assault reports involving athletes in the past 5 years (Wade, 2017). This can be enforced by creating tougher guidelines for administration and staff to follow that are to be implemented immediately. This guideline should be about reporting any and all claims of harassment, assault, or rape the minute it is brought to light, rather than waiting until a certain time to inform administration. The goal of this new solution is to achieve a safer, more equal environment for the women on campus as well as every other student. These policies are no drastic measure, they are just being manipulated to how they should have been made in the first place. Since the start of the very famous ‘Me Too’ movement, colleges are working to try and reduce the amount of assault on campus by starting bystander intervention programs, increasing security presence throughout the institution, and educating students on the meaning of consent and the word “no” (“Realities of sexual assault,” 2017). The fact that sexual harassment or assaults on campus take place between two students sometimes blurs the understanding of consent and of assault and often leads to a smaller likelihood of reporting these crimes. Prevention programs, for example, should be required on campus for all students that aim to “proactively end sexual violence” (“Campus sexual assault,” 2017). Introducing new programs or classes that focus on educating students about assault and the meaning of consent can help draw a clear line between what is inappropriate and what isn’t and what guidelines the school follows to deal with such crimes on campus.

How the solution will improve the problem

One of the first steps to take in order to diminish the amount neglect universities have for victims of assault involving student athletes, is enforcing stronger policies that no longer protect those accused of some of the most horrific crimes due to their participation in college athletics. This regulation can and should be put into effect as soon as possible. There should be no time wasted on keeping assailants off campus and unable to participate in any school activity. This new solution exceeds far beyond the ones most universities already have in place because it does not promote inequality among students at these institutions. These new policies focus on making sure every single student attending whatever school in the country is treated 100% fairly and equally. This will not alone ensure that every single student at these universities leads happy, healthy, educated lifestyles, but also sends a message that they will be safe from any form of exclusion especially when involving punishment for serious acts committed between students. The main draw of this proposition is the fact that it will finally crack down on the administration and staff who are discouraging victims from coming forward and bring them to justice.

How can you help improve these policies

There is so much campus communities can do to help change or better their school’s policies. I know from experience how useless and un-important your opinions can feel, largely due to the fact that you’re just a young college student trying to make it through life without a scratch. Nonetheless, your voice is important especially while you are paying for, living in, and attending these universities. As a student, one big step you can take to help prevent the intense prevalence of sexual assault on campus is to involve yourself in your school’s ‘Bystander Prevention Program’. These programs are made to train and encourage students to stop sexual assaults before they even begin. It is one of the most promising and effective prevention strategies (Adams, 2018). If you are able to not let the social power of some of these athletes sway your decision to speak up, then it is 100% your job to take charge and make a difference as an active member in your university’s community. The most important thing young students can do, is to educate themselves on the issue at hand. Become aware of the codes and guidelines your school follows regarding sexual assault on or off-campus and know what steps they follow after a report is filed to administration. Not only can you participate in this program, but you can go to your school’s administration yourself and ask them what they are doing to make sure all assault cases are handled and the correct measures are taken following the report. As a college athlete, there are things you can do to put an end to sexual violence. Those who participate in high-profile sports team are already seen as role models. They are admired by peers for their strength, so what’s stopping them from using their strength and status to make a huge impact on campus by standing a stand against sexual assault?

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