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It took the Steubenville rape case to rouse me from my torpor. I haven’t been around much  for the last few months. I was sick with bronchitis and a sinus infection and on nasty antibiotics for a bit,  and then the holidays came along and then the Newtown shootings (I spent two years living in Cheshire, Conn., when I was in junior high and freshman year of high school, so this hit home hard), the fiscal cliff, and the NRA ‘s claims that arming teachers is the answer…I was, I think, burned out. And then  came Steubenville.

If you want to know what is alleged to have occurred, the Steubenville police  have set up a website with the facts as they know them, but I’ll sum it up briefly. On August 11, 2012, there was a party celebrating the end o f summer at the house of volunteer football coach.  There was lots of underage drinking, and some of the alcohol appears to have been provided by the host. A sixteen-year-old girl became intoxicated and passed out. At some point during the night it is alleged that she was sexually assaulted by two members of the football team. The girl has no memory of the night, and only learned of what allegedly happened via social media—because a Twitter page filled with repulsive comments appeared. There was also a You Tube video in which an obviously intoxicated young male makes some appalling and disgusting remarks about the situation. I won’t repeat the remarks. Google them, if you want to read them or listen to them.  I want to make it clear that none of those commenters have committed a crime by their actions. What they did was nauseating, but it wasn’t illegal.

The girl’s parents went to the police, and two young football players were charged at a hearing during which the girl did not testify but several witnesses did.  This isn’t a he-said/she-said case; it is a witnesses-said/they-said case.

We might not know even this much about the case if Anonymous hadn’t gotten involved and posted the video, and if a young woman blogger hadn’t gotten a screen shot of that Twitter page before people started taking comments down.  I am not a big fan of Anonymous, but if they hadn’t gotten involved, this might well have stayed a local story and we wouldn’t be having any discussion at all about rape and athletes and about how cavalierly some men treat rape.

I freely admit that I don’t know what happened that night, and, I will point out, neither does anyone else here, unless they were at that party.  What I do know is how appalling the reactions were on that Twitter page and in that cell phone video (for which the freshman at Ohio State has apologized profusely).  Making crude jokes about sexual assault, calling the girl a  “train whore” and generally cheering on the young men accused of rape left me depressed and nauseated.  

There are a lot of factors involved. First of all, the young men (who are being tried as minors since they are under 18) were likely intoxicated, as was the college student who was featured in that You Tube “comedy routine”. Secondly, the two young men were rising stars on the high school football team—and Steubenville is a football-crazy town. Think Friday Night Lights level of football mania. A judge and  several others have had to recuse themselves because of ties to the football team.

Let us assume, just for discussion, that it happened the way that the witnesses, athletes themselves, have described it. It raises some questions we should consider.  Do athletes, whether  at the high school, college or professional level, get preferential treatment in sexual assault cases?  The mother of the girl in this case thinks so

In the courtroom that day, she remembered thinking, how dare he?
“Just Coach Reno saying he would testify for those boys, saying he was so proud of them, that speaks volumes,” she said. “All those football players are put on a pedestal over there, and it’s such a status symbol to play for Big Red, the culture is so different over there.”

The mother added: “I do feel like they’ve had preferential treatment, and it’s unreal, almost like we’re part of a TV show. It’s like a bad ‘CSI’ episode. What those boys did was disgusting, disgusting, and for people to stand up for them, that’s disgusting, too.”

That coach, Reno Saccoccia, was the sole person who decided that the players who posted comments and photographs of the alleged victim were not punished but allowed to play. From that same N.Y. Times article:
 Saccoccia, pronounced SOCK-otch, told the principal and school superintendent that the players who posted online photographs and comments about the girl the night of the parties said they did not think they had done anything wrong. Because of that, he said, he had no basis for benching those players.
The two players who testified at a hearing in early October to determine if there was enough evidence to continue the case were eventually suspended from the team. That came eight games into the 10-game regular season.
It was, apparently okay with him that his players who posted vile photos and remarks to play because they didn’t know it was wrong (I would like to know why they didn’t think it was wrong).  They got to play. But the young men who had the guts to come forward and who testified at the probable cause hearing were suspended. Seems to me that this coach  cares more about football than a young woman being raped and vilified in social media.  He also threatened a reporter who tried to get a statement from him that “You’re going to get yours…And if you don’t, somebody close to you will.” He is a real prince of a guy.
Is that the kind of man we want as a role model four sons? A pathetic bully who threatens a reporter simply for asking him some hard questions? Who thinks it’s just fine for players to vilify a young woman on the Net?

And therein lies the problem.  Athletes look up to their coaches. Look at the Jerry Sandusky case. This man was sexually abusing children. It was reported to the authorities. There was a damned eyewitness to one incident—and Penn State did nothing.  Joe Paterno was the beloved head coach renowned for being a good role model for his students, for teaching them to play fair and clean  and be gentlemen on and off the field—or, at least, that was JoPa’s rep until the Sandusky case. He was idolized by his players who rushed to defend him, saying he had taught them how to be good men as well as how to play football. Sadly, their idol turned out to have feet of clay when it came to a friend, and his legacy will forever be tarnished.
One thing I learned while researching this piece is that there have been studies done on athletes and sexual assault, and one of them shows a disturbing trend.

While athletes constitute 3.3 percent of the total male student population, they were involved in 19 percent of the sexual assaults reported to judicial-affairs offices at colleges, according to a Massachusetts-based study released yesterday at a sports-sociology conference in Georgia.

Sex crimes involving athletes are less often reported to campus police, suggesting that women are particularly reluctant to accuse athletes of wrongdoing unless they can do it quietly and efficiently, as the more private, campus judicial-affairs system allows.

I am not sure which is more appalling : that athletes are responsible for six times the sexual assaults in relationship to their percentage in the college population, or that women are more likely to report this to college authorities than to press charges with the police. I can understand why women don’t go to the police. College judicial officers can provide real solutions, moving them or their assailant to a different dorm, allowing them to change classrooms  to avoid him, etc. Cops, on the other hand are part of the local community and may be afraid of reprisals if they arrest a star player or a coach. Recall the shit storm the Sandusky case kicked up, and how vilified his accusers were—and that happened on this blog as well, when women who were victims of child sexual abuse spoke out about it and against Sandusky and Paterno.
But why do athletes seem to be disproportionately responsible for sexual assault?  The researchers are careful not to suggest that participation in sports causes this. As they say in that article:
"Does this study say participation in college sports causes this? Clearly, no. We're not saying that," he said. "We just think that at some point there is an association between sports and sexual assault. A lot of people have been afraid to say that.

"My impression is, the higher you go as an athlete, and if you reach the pros, the opportunity for these incidents increases. It's more difficult for athletes to deal with it all because the farther you go up, the more entitlements there are. And one of those entitlements is women."

And that is the issue in a nutshell. Star athletes feel entitled. In high school and college, they’re Local Heroes. In small town America, especially down here in the South where I live, football is a huge deal. Everybody goes to the high school games. The local PBS station televises games. And everybody follows the fates of the college teams. In GA, the UGA and Tech teams are  watched as enthusiastically as the pros.  The college coaches are revered, and their abilities provide meat for endless discussions.  In college towns, there’s a substantial slice of income to be made from game weekends from returning alumni who spend freely at bars, restaurants and hotels, so college ball is big business. Locals are not pleased when someone endangers that cash flow. And if the coach turns out to be a Saccoccia more interested in winning than in teaching his players how to grow up to be decent men who respect women, you end up with a Steubenville situation.

I strongly believe that Saccoccia should lose his job for his lack of leadership. He failed to discipline the players who posted the degrading comments and the pictures because, he claimed, they didn’t know it was wrong.   When I read that statement, my jaw hit the ground. They didn’t know it was wrong.  
Forgive me for not buying this.  With all the brouhaha about sexting and teenagers being prosecuted for possession and distribution of kiddy porn after  sending pictures of their underage girlfriends to other guys, these young men must either have been living in a cave in Tora Bora or be suffering already from concussion-induced TBIs not to know this. At the very least they should have known it was morally wrong to behave that way.  But when all the coach cares about is winning, and the town treats them like heroes, the privacy of a young woman and common decency may get lost.
What is the solution? Why don’t young men from decent families not know that  having sex with a woman who is too drunk to stand or who is unconscious is wrong? Why don’t they recognize that posting pictures and cruel comments about her are wrong? What are we doing wrong?
Women like me have spent the last 30 years  speaking out about rape versus consensual sex. It hasn’t stopped misogynistic pols from claiming that women can’t get pregnant from rape  or that some girls “rape easy”. At least Todd Aken lost his job! It hasn’t prevented Rush  from calling Sandra Fluke a slut for defending a woman’s right to contraception, implying that any woman who needs birth control is a floozy. He still has his show, by the way, despite out best efforts to Flush Rush.
We’ve taught our daughters to be very careful about the way they live. Don’t go out alone if possible—certainly, never go to a bar alone.  Never drink to intoxication, even if you’re with friends. Never leave a drink unattended. Avoid the bad parts of town.  Try never to walk alone at night. Avoid frat parties and other events where alcohol flows freely.  Don’t speak to strangers. The problem is all those well-intentioned rules don’t prevent rape because most rapes don’t happen in dark alleys and most aren’t the work of a violent stranger.

73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.1
38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.1
28% are an intimate.1
7% are a relative.1

More than 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occured within 1 mile of their home or at their home.2
•    4 in 10 take place at the victim's home.
•    2 in 10 take place at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative.
•    1 in 12 take place in a parking garage.

43% of rapes occur between 6:00pm and midnight.
    24% occur between midnight and 6:00am.
The other 33% take place between 6:00am and 6:00pm

In other words, rapes occur where a woman should feel safest and are perpetrated by people she believes she can trust.

I wish I had a good answer.  We live in a world where rape is trivialized, fodder for comedians and men like Rush.  Women here call it the “culture of rape”. Sexual assault isn’t a joke, despite comedians who think it’s fodder for laughs. It’s a vi9olent crime.
But I DO know place to start. And that has to start with men stepping up to the plate. They can start with NOT laughing at rape jokes, which trivialize rape every bit as much as that  politician’s crack about some girl raping easy. When my husband was in the Navy, he banned rape jokes in his shop. When someone told him he couldn’t do it, he pointed out that the high rate of rape in the military made such comments prejudicial to good order and discipline and created an atmosphere that was uncomfortable for the women in his shop.  The LT agreed with him. Yes, it takes some balls to stand up to a clueless pal, but at least you’re not contributing to the poisonous culture of rape  which treats sexual assault as laughing matter. It’s not. It’s brutal crime, a violent crime. Ask yourself if you’d laugh at a joke about a lynching or the holocaust. If you wouldn’t find those subjects funny, why is rape a joke?
When your buddy  brags about how he nailed some gorgeous drunk chick, don’t congratulate him on being a player or a stud. Tell him he may be guilty of  rape (there’s about 8-10 states where that is true) and in almost every state, if she’s unconscious, it is rape.  Even if it isn’t sexual assault under the law, it’s certainly not the behavior of the kind of man we want our sons to become. Women  are people, not entitlements. Have the guts to point this out to friends—and if they get pissed off and you lose their friendship, why would you want to hang out with a guy who’d potentially treat your daughter or your sister that way?

Teach your sons to respect women. Have a long talk with them about women and sex and what consent means. Make it very clear that “no” means “no,” not “I really want to but can’t admit it” or “keep trying; it’s only a token refusal”. Tell them that if she doesn’t say yes, take her at her word, because otherwise you can find yourself charged with a felony. Make it clear that if the women is drunk, especially if she’s staggering or close to unconsciousness, it’s best to pass up the sex, even if she seems willing—because she may not remember consenting in the morning. Let them know that just because a woman enjoys sex doesn’t make her slut that the double standard is wrong. Above all, be a role model to your sons by practicing what you preach—by treating their mother with respect (even if it was an ugly divorce and you hate her guts), by not making remarks that denigrate women simply for being sexually active, by not listening to shows like Limbaugh’s.

Coaches have a role to play too. They need to realize that they influence their players’ behavior off the field as well as on. If they make light of sexual assault, or don’t discipline players who behave badly, as the ones who posted pictures and comments did, the players learn an important lesson: you get away with a lot of you are an athlete, and bad behavior is excused because you can throw a ball or tackle somebody and take them down. Coaches need to make it clear that this is not acceptable on their team. If it were up to me, every coach would have a sit-down with his team and explain that  this will not be tolerated—not if they want to play.

I’d like to see frank discussions of rape and sexual assault in health and sex ed  classes. Get them talking about it. A lot of young women who are date raped don’t even recognize that it was a rape.  A lot of young men don’t  realize that some things they have already done are a form of sexual assault under the law (even more scary, one study showed that about a third of young men have admitted they’d rape if they thought they could get away with it). Discuss the law. Have a police officer who handles sexual assault cases come in and talk to them, along with someone who works with a rape crisis center. Even better, if a rape victim is willing to talk to the class, invite them to. Make it clear that if men (or women) sexually assault someone, they aren’t just guilty of horsing around but of a crime that could land them in jail for years., and break the heart of the victim. Explain why rape jokes aren’t funny and how they add to the notion that girls ask for it by how they dress or behave.
Yes, I am putting forth a radical notion. MEN are the ones who can stop it. So, guys, start making it clear to your friends and your sons that only*8they* can prevent rape—by not committing it, by not condoning, by not contributing to the culture of rape in America.

 Most importantly, make it clear that Real Men Don’t Rape. Only cowards and misogynists do.

I’ll throw this open for discussion. But I have a simple rule: be civil.  That means if a woman talks about being raped,. do NOT tell her it was her own fault or make snotty comments. And if you can’t be civil, don’t post.

Originally posted to irishwitch on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 02:24 PM PST.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, Sluts, and Sexism and Patriarchy.

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