The town of Durham, N.C., – home of Duke University – has been in a state of upheaval during the past month.
A 27-year-old female stripper alleged she was gang raped by members of the Duke lacrosse team at a March 13 team party. After weeks of investigation, two members of the team have been charged with first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense and kidnapping, while a third team member is still under investigation for his involvement in the incident.
During the investigation, Duke’s lacrosse head coach resigned and the remainder of the team’s season was canceled. The allegations affected the 47 players, putting the team in a negative light in the community and the eyes of the nation. Though three individuals were charged, some people in Durham – and across the United States – vilified the entire team.
Sexual assault is one of this world’s cruelest offenses, a deplorable attack on a woman’s (or a man’s) being; a crime that goes beyond the physical pain, sending victims into a world of fear and degradation that can be with them forever. How someone can commit such a crime is outside my realm of understanding, yet it happens every day.
Sexual assault is a crime that leaves people searching to explain the inexplicable. I understand wanting to rationalize such tragedy but there is one explanation I refuse to accept – athletes are more likely than other types of men to attack women.
Duke’s lacrosse team is not the first athletic team or organization focused with sexual assault allegations. Most of us are familiar with the multiple incidents involving the CU football team, incidents that have permanently scarred the reputation of the university.
Athletes are known to be strong, aggressive men who know what they want and are willing to fight to get it. An easy generalization is not the answer to explain sexual assault.
Kyle Bell – one of CSU’s most elite athletes and the starting running back for Rams football team – has heard the stereotypes many times.
“Athletes are definitely viewed as more aggressive than your average guy, and viewed as more prone to commit sexual assault,” Bell said. “The sad thing is everyone is physically capable of committing a sexual assault, not just athletes. It is something that has to be looked at on an individual basis, because it is an individual crime.”
Athletes do not fit the mold of potential sexual offender anymore than guitarists or writers do. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) Web site, every two and a half minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States; 90 percent of those victims are women. Elite athletes do not attack all of those victims, yet we are more likely to hear about the crime when a high profile individual is involved.
“I think percentage wise, you would probably find that as a group, elite athletes are less likely to commit such crimes,” Bell said. “When athletes are involved, the spotlight is already on them, so we hear about it a lot more than if someone who isn’t in the spotlight commits the crime.”
There is no way to profile a sexual deviant. I covered the Take Back the Night rally last year for the Collegian and learned sexual assault can be committed by anyone. The fact there is no mold for what a rapist looks like is exactly what makes the threat of sexual assault real and terrifying, anyone may be capable of victimizing another.
Sexual assault is an epidemic in the United States, a crime we must shine a brighter, more comprehensive light on. According to the RAINN Web site, 58 percent of sexual assaults go unreported. Since 1993, incidents of sexual assault and rape have decreased 64 percent; yet, in 2003-2004, there were still more than 200,000-recorded incidents of sexual assault in the United States.
A decrease in the trend is a small victory, but we cannot stop paying attention to the problem until sexual assault ceases to be committed. As a nation we must improve how we respond to such crimes by increasing punishment and creating a more extensive, secure network for individuals to report assault.
There are many things we can and must do to save future victims from sexual assault, but stereotyping a group of individuals is not the answer. Athletes, musicians, writers and artists do not commit sexual assault-sick, cruel individuals do and we must deal with these individuals to stop sexual assault.
If you are a victim of sexual assault, contact the Larimer County Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Team at (970) 472-4200 or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1 (800) 656-HOPE for help.
Jake Blumberg is a sophomore technical journalism and political science double major. His column runs every Monday in the Collegian.