According to an online 2016 study conducted by researchers at NC State, the University of South Florida, Northern Arizona University and Emory University, 54.3 percent of intercollegiate and recreational athletes had engaged in sexually coercive behaviors – almost all of which met the legal definition of rape. 37.9 percent of non-athletes had self-reported similar data. To gain a grasp of where these sexual preconceptions stemmed from, researchers posed these male undergraduates with questions on their views of women. Non-athletes were much less likely to believe in rape myths, such as that if a woman is drunk or doesn’t fight back, it isn’t rape. In addition, non-athletes were less likely to nurse more patronizing beliefs about women, such as that “Women should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers.” Drawing from gathered data, researchers found that traditional ideological perspectives of women increased the likelihood that athletes would commit sexual assault. The sample size of the study consisted of 379 male undergraduates: 191 non-athletes, 29 intercollegiate athletes and 159 recreational athletes.
The evidence, irrefutable. The silence of university administrators and employees in their athletic departments, deafening. The injustice of these crimes remain ubiquitous in our universities, but these institutions have made little headway in preventing these crimes on their campuses despite the U.S. Department of Education’s call to institute efforts to educate athletes and address sexual violence in 2011. The negligence of these institutions is highlighted in “The Hunting Ground,” a Netflix documentary that explores the widespread culture that promotes the quieting of sexual assault victims and the practice of universities doctoring statistics in efforts to maintain a “clean” reputation.
We, as a nation, must address how these crimes are often committed by athletes and recognize the stigma women face within these sports-crazed towns. This isn’t a blame game, and these frequently negative preconceptions of women aren’t always held by male athletes. The ability to commit sexual assault also isn’t reserved for male athletes, there is a multitude of female athletes who commit similar crimes and deserve the same condemnation. However, this issue is too widespread in the male athletic community to ignore or to “sweep under the rug.” When an athlete feels entitled to the world and then some because they rack up a few points in a game, this can often lead to a sense of entitlement to everything, including a women’s body. When society nurtures this attitude by excusing these thoughts as just a part of “locker room talk,” we indirectly support this behavior. Words translate into action, and if an individual commits this crime, they need to know that there will be punishment.
To put it bluntly, the athlete’s value to their sports team undeservingly shields them from any criminal charges or blame. Victims are left frightened to come forward, feeling that the whole town would turn against them if the valuable player can’t participate in the playoffs. The psychological effects of the assault is only increased when the victim sees their offender around school every day. This can lead to a whirlwind of depression and suicidal thoughts, even resulting in the victim dropping out of school. This was seen in the case of Erica Kinsmen, an FSU student who left the university due to an assault committed by quarterback Jameis Winston. In this instance, Tallahassee police warned “This is a huge football town. You really should think long and hard if you want to press charges.”
Education is the key to sexual assault prevention and whether that comes in the form of courses, seminars or mandatory presentations, faculty members must be involved. We must end this crisis on our college campuses by focusing on this epidemic within the athletic community, not passively ignoring it. An institutional change needs to be made and that can only be accomplished with the tools of compassion, knowledge and awareness.