Thursday, March 24, 2016

Recent sexual harassment and assault cases

A few cases of boys behaving badly recently have gained public attention and can be added to the data that suggest a correlation between male homosocial groups/behaviors and sexual violence.

Just a few months after a few upperclass boys on a Tennessee high school basketball team sexually assaulted a first year player, causing extensive damage to his colon and bladder, a high school football team in Pennsylvania has drawn public attention for its No Gay Thursdays. This was a weekly event at Conestoga High School and entailed sexual assault and harassment, apparently of a "gay" nature since it was initiated by and directed towards boys. The press calls it a form of hazing. (My thoughts on sexual assault as hazing can be found at the above link about Tennessee. They haven't changed much.) There seems to be something deeper at work here, though. To institute a day when behavior that would--under other circumstances--be deemed gay is permissible suggests more than a desire to initiate first-year students. This is more than hazing. The no gay/no homo phenomena among high school boys is causing serious damage.

This time that damage included sodomizing a first-year player with a broomstick. Three seniors were charged with the assault, which occurred in October. Unfortunately, the district attorney, Thomas P. Hogan, of Chester County, Pennsylvania has bought into No Gay Thursday as well and would not charge them with sexual assault. They were charged, as juveniles, with assault, unlawful restraint, and terroristic threats because, according to Hogan, "from our perspective, it's a physical assault and not a sex crime."

It is a sex crime. In most sexual assaults the goal of the perpetrator(s) is not sexual pleasure but demonstration of power that is enacted through a sexually charged act. These boys very deliberately chose this form of assault on a day they set aside for just this type of assault. It is undeniable that this is a sex crime. They should be charged with a sex crime.

No Gay Thursday is not a new event at Conestoga High School, either. Apparently it has been going on for three years and is a well-known secret. Three years. Hogan mentioned that this (sexual) assault is the result of "ignorance, violence, and a lack of supervision." To that I would add a culture of homophobia, male privilege, and silence--all of which are related/overlapping.

The head coach was initially suspended but resigned last week and the rest of the football staff has been fired. The reason provided for the loss of jobs has centered on the lack of staff supervision in the locker room where most of the hazing occurred. I would argue that the adults were also responsible for informing the culture on the team; a culture which should not include hazing of any kind and should also not perpetuate homophobia.

I am so frustrated hearing coaches say--in all of these cases of sexual assault and exploitation--from high schools in Pennsylvania to universities in Kentucky--that they knew nothing. Coaches are notorious micromanagers. They call players the night before games to make sure they are home. They establish and/or enforce training and diet regimens. They intervene when their athletes are performing poorly academically. Maybe they do not know--in some cases--the specifics; but they know what is happening on their teams.

Farther west, at the University of Missouri, a Title IX complaint has been filed within the university over a sexually offensive and threatening email that was sent by a member of a campus fraternity and directed at the women of a sorority. The fraternity and the student have apologized for the email which included the following: “Get your towels ready because it’s about to go down....[W]e get to stick our arrows straight up their tight little asses. Now don’t go be ass hats, go be as social as possible with our new friends.”

Interestingly, not all the news sources are actually posting what was in the letter. I found it here on the student newspaper's website.

The sender, Edward Lowther put the following apology on Twitter: "What I said was unprofessional on every level. I take full responsibility for my actions, and I will take steps to show that what was said in no way defines my morals or the morals of the men of Alpha Gamma Rho."

I don't think unprofessional is the right word here, because there was no professional context. What he said was aggressive and violent and misogynistic and to at least hint at his morals. The theme of today's post seems to be yes, this was wrong, but not wrong in the way you might think it's wrong. The University as well as the Greek community at MU seems to be taking it seriously, however, as they investigate the incident as sexual harassment and more than just unprofessionalism.  

It has not been a good month for Mizzou. Anti-Semitic graffiti was found on campus a few weeks ago. And of course the school is no stranger to Title IX issues.

Finally, a few states over, parents of a University of Kansas rower are suing the university for false advertising and violating the Kansas Consumer Protection Act after their daughter was sexually assaulted in a residence hall by a football player. They were explicitly promised, they said, that the dorms were safe. This was also listed in the school's promotional materials. While that is going forward, the university also conducted an investigation after the student reported her assault a year after it occurred. A student conduct hearing based on the investigation is forthcoming.

While the lawsuit is a slightly differently and certainly unproven tactic, what these parents are really suggesting is that the realities of sexual violence are being hidden by the university. The lawsuit lists at least seven other incidents of sexual assault in the KU residence halls in a year and half period between 2013 and 2014. The parents say that if they had known about these, they would have reconsidered allowing their daughter to attend KU. They admit, however, that they did not check the university's Clery Act report, which actually shows more than the seven incidents cited in the lawsuit. This remains a case about transparency, and it will be interesting to see how a court interprets it.