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Sports and Rape Culture

Though sports as a whole have many positive outcomes, we can’t talk about male team culture without acknowledging its driving force in sexualized violence.

As part of an awareness event earlier this year, Sexual Assault Awareness teamed with the film producers behind Roll Red Roll for a special screening of the award-winning 2018 documentary (now on Netflix!). Called “an essential watch” by The New York Times, the film explores Steubenville, Ohio’s attempted cover-up of the rape of a teenage girl by local high school football stars.

The powerful discussion that followed raised many key points and concerns about how we, as a society, prioritize winning and sports – from the playground to the professional arena – above women who have been harmed by those same athletes.

Though sports as a whole have many positive outcomes, we can’t talk about male team culture without acknowledging its driving force in sexualized violence. According to a 2014 study (“Expert Testimony on Sensitive Myth Ridden Topics: Ethics and Recommendations for Psychological Professionals” Gemberling, TM; Cramer, RJ, Professional Psychology Research & Practice, Vol. 45 #2, Apr 2014), male-inclusive groups, such as fraternities, segments of the military, and sports teams, are 300% more likely to commit sexualized violence than their non-affiliated male peers. 

For example, college athletes make up less than two percent of most campus populations, but comprise over 20% of the men involved in sexual assault or attempted sexual assault (“Sport, athletes, and violence against women” Flood, M. and Dyson, S.; NTV Journal, Vol.4, #3, Summer 2007). When we talk about how one in four women will be victimized by male predators in their lifetimes, that number goes up with women routinely exposed to male in-groups, such as sports teams.

As we all know, from a young age, men are taught and socially conditioned with group strategies for dominating, scoring, or winning, on the playing field, in the classroom, in conversation, in the bedroom, and beyond. These reinforced concepts easily translate over to the domination of women if they are not provided ways to recognize that a human being should never be seen as a “goal.” The same bonding and team spirit that can be so valuable and positive on the playing field can also lead to group intimidation and humiliation off the field.

Love for a certain team – as well as an antiquated “boys will be boys” mentality – on the part of local authorities and law enforcement can reinforce these negative aspects of team sports by not holding men responsible for their behavior, not taking the necessary steps to investigate or prosecute, and ultimately prioritizing perpetrators over victims. When parents, administrators, schools, and the community prioritizes their teams, games, and wins over the safety of girls and women, it results in increased instances of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault, with victims silenced and shamed into doing nothing to stop it.

We must all take responsibility to never allow women to be harmed because of celebrity and sports culture.  Here are a few suggestions on how to address and combat sports rape culture:

  • Adults and leaders, you should set the tone. When coaches, administrators, and authority figures insist on the values of respect and empathy for others, even your opponents, it becomes part of who you are both on and off the field.

  • Embrace cold, hard facts. Most men don’t like the idea of being thought of as hurtful towards women. Knowing that male athletes, who are “looked up to” have a higher rate of sexualized violence may help them want to change that perception by understanding consent, asking first, and checking in with their sexual partners.

  • Know that alcohol makes everyone vulnerable. It’s also no legal excuse for rape. So, be aware that a man is at a higher risk for a rape charge if he aggresses under the influence. And if a woman has been drinking, encourage the interested man to get her number and ask her out later.

  • Practice “bystander intervention.” When you see something toxic about to happen, step in and stop friends from hurting a woman, themselves, or their team – and encourage others to do the same. The easiest method is to address the potential victim directly, ask if she’s alright, and move her away from the aggressor. Here’s a quick article on the “3 D’s” of bystander intervention.

To learn more about combating rape culture or to set up a training for your team, you can contact me here.

 

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