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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sports, rape culture deters justice

opinion@dailylobo.com

Sexual assault is a growing problem on college campuses, and UNM is not immune to this trend. The sad fact, according to a study published by the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, is that one in three sexual assaults on a university campus is committed by a student-athlete. Research has consistently shown that student-athletes rape and commit acts of domestic violence far more often than their peers. Several big-name universities, including UConn, Michigan State, Wesleyan, Morehouse, Yale and UC Berkeley are facing federal investigations into alleged failures of accountability and outright hostility toward victims who speak out against sexual assault. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four women will be sexually assaulted while attending college.

Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy last year for his stellar performance as quarterback of the Florida State Seminoles. When a fellow student accused Winston of raping her back in December 2012, it took eleven months for police to refer the case to prosecutors. A month later, the DA decided not to charge Winston, saying there wasn’t enough evidence. FSU went on to win the national championship and Winston received the Heisman. Next stop for Jameis Winston: the NFL draft.

The Lobos made national headlines earlier this month when star running back Crusoe Gongbay was arrested on charges of kidnapping and rape. He has been suspended from the team pending an investigation. Gongbay was in a car with two other men when he allegedly assaulted a fellow UNM student in the early hours of April 13. According to court documents, the victim told police that three men grabbed her while she was sitting in a car outside of a party and forced her into another vehicle.

The woman claims the men undressed her and forced her to have sex with them in the back seat of the car as they sped through the streets of Albuquerque. The first man allegedly raped her while Gongbay and the other man watched. Gongbay then allegedly proceeded to do the same. According to the documents, Gongbay and the other suspect were subsequently dropped off at an unknown location, and the third man then reportedly drove the victim back to UNM campus where he pulled out a gun and raped her at gunpoint. The victim immediately returned to her dorm and reported that she’d been the victim of a sexual assault. She was transported to a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Unit at UNM, where DNA evidence was collected and sent to the state crime lab.

Regardless of your opinion on the allegations against Gongbay, the odds are good that he will be completely exonerated and all charges will be dropped. A recent study of sexual assault on college campuses conducted by The Center for Public Integrity found that the number of prosecutions involving campus rape cases is insignificant. Another study conducted by Jeff Benedict and Todd Crosset showed that student-athletes rarely face any formal criminal charges, or else that those charges are eventually dropped. The study found that while athletes make up only 3.3 percent of the male student population, they account for 19 percent of the sexual assault cases committed on campus.

These statistics demonstrate that student-athletes are much more likely to commit sexual violence than the typical undergraduate. It’s a sports-culture problem: Boys are taught from an early age that having lots of women is part of the reward for being a star athlete.

In America, an unusually large number of college students are sexually ignorant. There is simply no way for kids to learn about responsible sexual behavior at any publicly-funded K-12 school today. In a country where educators are forbidden from actually discussing safe sex, date rape and sexual harassment are even more rarely discussed. Still, universities have an obligation to their students, faculty and the community to promote a safe environment in which anyone may acquire an education — not an environment in which data about sex offences are downplayed or suppressed, and investigations are stifled in order to protect their interests for the sake of “Johnny Football.” Despite the millions of dollars poured into college sports every year, the vast majority of athletic programs still lose money. Yet schools remain caught up in an ever-escalating athletic ‘arms race’ at the expense of academic scholarships, educational facilities and quality faculty.

Transforming the rape culture endemic to many schools won’t be easy. Too often, campus sexual assault prevention programs try to focus on the responsibilities of potential victims. The most infuriating problem is that even when the victims do everything right — they report the crime promptly to authorities and they see a nurse to get a rape kit done — the institutions still refuse to fully investigate, often doing so only after pressure from outside sources.

So remember, ladies: the primary interest the university has in your well being is that you continue to pay your tuition and don’t complain too much. Whatever happens, you’ll probably be blamed for it anyway.