By Amanda Fox
There is a very present slogan online which states “Society teaches don’t get raped rather than don’t rape.” What is sad, is this is for the most part true. Even at our universities, a number of freshmen orientations offer advice to entering female freshmen on how not to get raped rather than any sort of admonishment to entering male freshmen, or the freshmen class in general, that rape is wrong and will prosecuted. It’s all a part of the rape culture we live in and like it or not, the deck is stacked against women.
In light of the recently reported Michigan rape apology we are currently facing in the news in which a school administration protected their star basketball player while discouraging his rape victim from filing charges, we have seen a few consistencies with other cases of this ilk:
- The victim was shamed by authorities and told she likely encouraged her rape by behaving a certain way.
- The victim had pressure exerted upon her by authority figures to not speak of her rape or file charges. In this case, the school did this again two weeks later, when the alleged raped yet another female classmate.
- The victim was harassed and bullied by classmates for speaking out against her rapist.
- The rapist was championed by his classmates and offered overwhelming support online that he did nothing wrong and the girl must have wanted it.
- It’s another star high school athlete being protected.
The last point needs to be looked at closely. Not all star or even average high school athletes are predisposed to rape in any way. it is the minority that are. However, we have had several high profile rape cases hit the news in the last two plus years in which schools and communities rallied around their star athletes and shamed the victim for daring to speak up.
Some of you know, I was a high school and Division I athlete. I was very good, but never a star by any means. I have been surrounded by sports and athletes of all sorts my entire life. I do know firsthand this happens. When I was in high school, a slightly better than average athlete with a famous father raped a girl at a party one weekend. What happened? Nothing. Not a thing.
She wound up moving out of state to live somewhere else with family until her baby was born and placed in foster care. Several years later I heard through the grapevine she eventually had some sort of breakdown and killed herself. Several years after that, I ran into her brother who told me she never got over the event. The school administration told her to shut up, and got new weight room equipment the month the attack happened – out of the blue as we were to believe from an anonymous donor.
Her parents encouraged her to shut up because they told her the shame of being known as “that sort of girl” would ruin her. She was damaged goods and no one would ever let her forget it. Her attacker went on to ride his fathers coattails and become somewhat famous himself and she could see him on TV and talk shows almost every week. You can see how that could push someone over the edge.
That all brings me to a couple of statements I saw yesterday that I almost took the defensive against until I stopped and thought about it for a second:
- “The on surefire way to avoid a rape charge is to be a star athlete.”
- “Don’t rape, but be a great athlete if you do because someone will get you off.
My natural inclination was that it is only a small percentage of athletes that commit rapes and even then, many are prosecuted and pay the price. Rather than respond, I researched. I went back through my notes to around the time of the Cleveland TX., gang rape of a preteen girl until the present. What I found did surprise me a bit.
In each of the 6 cases I looked at which had sufficient updates since the attacks to make an informed analysis:
- The star athletes involved in them got overwhelming support from friends and strangers in their age ranges alike. We need go no farther back than the Steubenville case to see how much support those boys got online.
- Schools pressured victims to not file charges or formal complaints because it might ruin the rapists attacks at a college scholarship, a possible professional career or their current team’s chances of a championship.
- The victims were harassed and bullied on and offline, and in at least three of the cases, there is documentation they received threats of further violence or had death wished upon them by those supporting their attackers.
- Two recent victims, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons from Canada and 15-year-old Audrie Pott from California committed suicide after being bullied after going public and filing charges against their rapists.
I hate to say we give athletes special treatment whether they be high school stars on up through the pros, but we do. It pains me to say that. I know it firsthand though. Even as a slightly above average athlete, I got special treatment because we brought home championships. I watched a basketball player in college get off for trying to buy beer with a fake ID and then later punching a uniformed police officer fleeing the scene of a reported crime with running laps around the gym. Of course, I watched an alleged rapist walk for the cost of new weight room equipment. How can I not say athletes don’t get a pass more often than non-athletes?
When it comes to rape, there can be no free passes. It doesn’t matter if the rapist is a hobo, an internationally known athlete or public figure of the highest stature.
- No always means no.
- Rape is always wrong.
- No one asks to be raped.
- No one has the right to minimize the crime and pressure victims into not reporting them.
- No one has the right to bully the victim.
Yet those realities that should be well known and universally accepted are not adhered to. They are barely paid lip service far too often. We need to stop shaming victims and admonishing them for potentially ruining life opportunities for their attackers by reporting rapes and we need to start encouraging them to speak up and supporting them when they do.