Stopping rape culture starts at schools
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an op-ed from Katherine Redmond, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. She was sexually assaulted as a Nebraska freshman by a first-year student and football recruit. The views expressed here are hers and do not necessarily reflect those of FOXSports.com.
Recently, we witnessed the horrific acts in Steubenville, Ohio. I am purposeful in mentioning the entire town. The town comprises the parents of kids who bullied the victim and advised their kids not to cooperate with authorities, faculty who were silent, and an “educational” environment that bred entitlement and lack of accountability for its most visible community group — athletes. The coach, who told the boys he would take care of it, is still coaching. And I ask, what are the continued messages being sent?
Katherine Redmond.Kathy Redmond
More reports of rape and bullying at Torrington High School in Connecticut and Southern Columbia Area High School in Pennsylvania show that the rape culture starts at a young age. In communities such as these, we see preferential treatment of athletes, who are often not held accountable. We often witness a complete lack of leadership by authority figures wielding immense power. The coach is often visibly dominant in communities where sports reign. So why aren't the coaches setting zero tolerance policies on issues of sexual violence? These boys are able to rape with impunity because they are told they can — by the town, by school and community leaders, by their parents.
Do I envision those people saying, “Go out and rape, boys?” Not at all. It’s much more subtle.
We’ve bred a rape culture in our schools and families for decades. Sexism can permeate a locker room without a thought or an admonishment. Reports of rape can go unaddressed by “zero tolerance” school administrators who believe “boys will be boys” and who hesitate to punish influential athletes. Entertainment and newscasts will tell us how women deserve to be raped. But they won’t call it rape — it’s aggression. It’s sex. Jay Z sells it. Pitbull sells it.
The news wants us sympathetic towards the perpetrators. And parents are oblivious to their own rape-supportive environment, and to the actions of their children.
On the evening news, we hear reporters referring to victims as “accusers” without a thought as to how biasing the term is. The commentary provided by parents tells kids how the girls lie (not boys — see Catholic Church and Penn State). “Why was she at the party?” “Look how she was dressed!” “She went to his room, what did she expect?”
Parents, your children hear it. And it not only affects the boys who now believe those actions are a free pass to rape, but think of your daughters. You’ve just told them that they are to be blamed for rape when it happens to them.
And for schools, how many have sexual assault prevention programs for athletes whose distorted messages of masculinity fuel rape culture? I see highly touted high school athletes posting sexually violent and misogynistic tweets and I wonder if the schools understand that those are red flags bearing consequences. Their prospective colleges watch it, detectives watch it, shouldn’t schools? Schools will blindly stand by an accused athlete, or ignore obvious warning signs of rape acceptance — setting a destructive stage of entitlement and impunity.
Simply, one in five high school girls are raped. One in four college women are raped or have it attempted. Boys know not to drink and drive, or text and drive. But rape? Nope. Schools and parents don’t teach that. And it’s doubtful they know the legal definition. And for athletes, the sexual assault statistics are worse. They assault at a higher rate and, if they happen to be charged, their conviction rates are half that of the general population.
As a rape victim in college, I received death threats, harassment and vilification. All of the victims I help have experienced it, too. My dad was harassed on the green at a golf tournament because I stood up against my attackers. Victim blame and bullying has been common for years, but now it’s for public consumption.
Social media allows cowardly bullies to sit behind a computer without the frightening possibility of being confronted. Kids and adults now fly their rape-permissive, victim-blaming freak flags for the public to see and act shocked when exposed. Please, continue by all means. Show the world what ignorant tormenters of rape victims look like.
And yet, there is hope. Athletic departments and front offices are beginning to understand the impact of sexual assault on their organizations. Men are beginning to understand that rape prevention begins with them — as leaders. The University of Nebraska, the Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals are examples of the organizations that take sexual violence seriously. Men Can Stop Rape addresses men's contribution to and responsibility for sexual assault. Yet, can you name a single athlete who uses his fame and status to stop sexual assault?
At the end of my presentation to a professional sports team, a coach stood up and yelled, red-faced, at the players, “I have three daughters and if this ever happened to them, I would kill you!” The players realized immediately that when it came to violence against women, their behavior would not be excused by the coach. There would be no protection, no constitutional right to play, and their careers would end there. That was the underline, bold print and exclamation point to the presentation. That’s what we need from coaches. From all leaders.
The Steubenvilles, Torringtons and others have existed for decades. We are witnessing the harm of years of distorted messages of masculinity and institutionalized rape acceptance. But we have an opportunity to equip high-status, visible athletes with the right messages. We know the power of sports. Let’s use it in a positive way — to fight sexual violence.
Katherine Redmond Brown is the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. Her husband, Derek Brown, is a former college and NFL running back.