Over the weekend I received a small but very significant number of emails regarding an opinion piece I had written on Saturday entitled “Vanderbilt’s Shocking Details.” Each pointed out that while I had written Vanderbilt was “smeared” and its football program was “staggered,” I had made no mention of the unimaginable horror the alleged gang rape created for the victim.
To me that is a given fact. As a son, a brother and father of females, I think an untimely death is the only thing worse that could happen to any of the many women I love. If I created the notion that Vanderbilt, or its football team, matters more than the dignity and honor of just one person on earth, I first want to apologize because that was not my intent at all. I hate evil and I really hate rape.
In the past month I have written about rape four different times. I lashed out at a judge in Montana who gave a rapist a preposterous sentence – 15 years with all but 30 days suspended. I wrote about him again when he got his comeuppance from the state’s Supreme Court. But my maddest moment was when a jerk-of-all-jerks held up a sign during ESPN’s GameDay telecast before the Notre Dame-Michigan game bearing the name of a rape victim who later committed suicide.
Writing about rape is hard to do. Any victim should never be identified, even if she (or he) appears in court, and you strive to protect their anonymity to the smallest clue. Clearly an interview or conversation is out of the question so instead you go after the perpetrators. In this particular case, the fact Vanderbilt and some football players are involved lends a much brighter light, as sad in itself as that may be.
Actually Vanderbilt had nothing to do with the criminal acts of several individuals. I firmly believe a huge percentage of the Vanderbilt teammates and fellow students would have fought with bare knuckles in order to stop what happened. I am told that when the facts are presented at the forthcoming trial, more details will be revealed. I am also told university officials and students have made the victim their highest priority, many now wearing green stickers at games in an awareness effort.
But rape is a problem everywhere. Allow me to share an email from a friend, who will remain anonymous because this wasn’t written for publication (but should have been.)
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“I know you've received other emails about the above-named column. Thank you for writing about the issue of college athletes and rape. However, please be careful how you write about it. This piece expresses no concern at all for the victim, and completely ignores the ramifications the rape will have on her life going forward. Instead you express concern for how it affects Vanderbilt, football fans, and the young men implicated.
“You write that ‘those who love college football’ are weeping because ‘Vanderbilt University has been smeared...by allegations...and...the fact that four football players have been charged...’
“You write as if the problem were the charges, rather than the rape. It is the football players, not prosecutors, who have smeared and shamed Vanderbilt.
“This kind of writing, focused only on one's own interests or the way a rape negatively impacts the sport (or the alleged rapists!) is part of what creates a culture that encourages rape and makes universities an unsafe place for women.
“Please do your part to stand up to rape culture. Your column gives you an excellent forum for speaking out for rape victims, and offering some advice that would help prevent rape. I don't mean advice to young women; I mean advice to men. Tell them that an unconscious woman can never give consent. Tell them to protect, rather than exploit, intoxicated women.
“Tell them what to do if they receive a text or photo that indicates a rape is occurring. Comment on how coaches and teams might offer their players classes and support on the issue of sexual consent, since this seems to be problem with so many athletes.”
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According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 44 percent of rape victims are under the age of 18 and 80 percent are under the age of 30. Every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted and ever year it is estimated 207,754 victims are assaulted. But, get this: RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, claims that 54 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police and – worst of all – 97 percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail.
If I left anyone with the impression a sport or an institution is bigger than rape, I can assure you that is not the case at all. Again, I apologize to anyone who might have been offended because I hate evil and I really hate rape.