By Zack Taylor
As a male athlete at a predominantly female university, I believe it is essential for all athletes to understand and be aware of rape culture, while also trying to limit it among their peers. With demonstrations and events like “Take Back the Night,” participating collegiate athletes have the opportunity to inform fellow male and female athletes on the statistics about violence against women. Since rape is something apparent in all sports, and I was previously involved in both soccer and basketball, I believe that the Student Athlete Association at Carlow, in accordance with all coaches and athletes, is vital in creating demonstrations and awareness events on campus.
For example, the Student Athlete Association could host an opportunity for the Carlow community to act sometime during the school year leading up to Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), which is in April. This action could be the creation of wallet-sized cards that provide local statistics about violence against women and list local women’s resources such as the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR). Then, the Student Athlete Association could distribute these cards in public and place them in areas in which those who may need them can find them. This is a perfect activity in which everyone can participate equally, while learning very important statistics about rape and dispelling myths and misunderstandings many may still have.
As reported on phys.org in June 2016, “An online study of male undergraduates shows that more than half of study participants on intercollegiate and recreational athletic teams—and more than a third of non-athletes—reported engaging in sexual coercion, including rape. The increased risk of sexual coercion by athletes was linked to ‘traditional’ beliefs about women and a higher belief in rape ‘myths,’ which are used to justify sexual assault.” If you believe this is an alarmingly high rate, you would not be alone. The traditional beliefs about women many male athletes still have need to be dispelled; however, it is difficult because the United States is only now addressing this issue on a national level. This country is still very much a patriarchal society, considering it has taken this long for a woman to finally become a major party presidential candidate. Society has created these myths that fellow classmates, teammates, friends, etc. believe and think are correct. Blaming the patriarchal society we live in is not enough though; men need to fix the problem that has become so ingrained in our culture.
Changing this culture can and should start within athletic departments and associations across the country because they, as a collective group, are among the worst perpetrators of sexual assault. Utilizing athletes to represent this cause and deliver this message is important in order to change the views of future generations, who oftentimes look up to these athletes at a very young age. Many athletic conferences, along with high profile athletes and activists, have started an organization called “It’s On Us,” which is spreading an important message across all platforms. The “It’s On Us” pledge reads: “This pledge is a personal commitment to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault. It is a promise not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution.” The last piece, which addresses not being a bystander but rather a solution, is important for men and women alike to understand. In December 2016, Carlow University announced that it has received a $27,940 grant from the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office and the Department of Education in order to help the university prevent, address, and respond effectively to sexual assault.
A great opportunity to provide a solution rather than act as a bystander is getting involved in the “Take Back the Night” demonstration. Held annually around the country in April (during SAAM), and often organized by women’s university centers, these events usually feature a nighttime walk followed by a rally with speakers. I propose that student organizations on campus, the Student Athlete Association, and PAAR work together to create such an event. It would allow all the teams to display and pass out their wallet-sized cards with statistics and facts learned throughout the school year. But how could Carlow expect coaches to coach, while also informing their players full-time about sexual violence? PAAR has the answer.
PAAR has a program in place already in which teams can enroll to educate athletes about rape and help them combat sexual violence. Among other organizations in the Pittsburgh area, PAAR has implemented “Coaching Boys Into Men,” a national program developed by “Futures Without Violence.” In fact, during the Carlow basketball team’s first year, our team participated in this “Coaching Boys Into Men” program; however, it was never continued, for reasons still unknown. I believe that the program should be implemented again for all men’s athletics at Carlow. It is a step in the right direction, and will allow athletes to become more informed as well as dispel any myths about sexual assault.
By incorporating the distribution of wallet-sized fact cards, participating in the “Take Back the Night” event, and continuing the “Coaching Boys Into Men” program, student athletes at Carlow will be able to join the movement to decrease the violence against our sisters, mothers, aunts, friends, etc. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 17.7 million American women have been victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. This equates to one in six women; yes, one in six women. It is unacceptable for even one woman to experience sexual assault in our country, let alone one out of every six. Women have been carrying the load of this devastating issue for too long. The men of this country need to step up and change the social norms and patriarchal constructs that plague this country and allow violence against women to continue.
Featured image courtesy of The Odyssey Online.