Chris Kilmartin wants us to put the Penn State Situation in context and look at campus-wide sexual assaults.
I spent a year in “Happy Valley” as a predoctoral intern and remember passing Joe Paterno on the street while he was walking his dog. He smiled at me and said hello. His phone number wasn’t even unlisted. He gave large amounts of money to the University for non-sports things like libraries. He seemed to me to be the nicest man in the world. Now I find myself in shock that he was apparently complicit in one of his coach’s repeated and escalating sexual assaults of young boys at summer football camps. If the allegations are true, a “nice guy” failed to do the right thing, and his amazing legacy as a coach will be forever tarnished.
In this rare historical moment, people seem open to understanding sexual assault as the product of both the perpetrator and of the systems that support the offender by failing to report incidents of violence, covering them up, or ignoring them completely. Finally, we appear to be holding the coach, athletic director, and university president of accountable for not stopping or preventing the crimes they knew or should have known about, and thus putting potential victims at risk from these serial predators.
So here’s my question: when are we going to do this with administrators and Boards of Directors at the majority of colleges and universities that are doing so little to prevent or hold perpetrators accountable for the scourge of acquaintance rapes that plague every campus in America? Why do most colleges and universities pour infinitely more resources into the security of their email systems than the protection of their students from sexual trauma that can cause so much damage to their bodies and their psyches?
Our hearts go out to the young boys who attended summer football camp and their parents, who may have worried that they might be injured on the field but had no idea that they were at risk in the locker room. Can we also find room in our hearts for the thousands upon thousands of college women and men who suffered sexual victimization when they went out for an evening of fun with friends and thought that designated drivers were all they needed to keep them safe?
Why are we, as a society, so reluctant to address the needs of relationship violence victims? Is it because we believe that they are party to their own victimization because of drinking too much, dressing the “wrong” way, having poor judgment? Would we deserve what they got if we did some of these things? I want to look forward to the day when these victims and survivors get as much empathy as the boys in the Penn State locker room, and when our outrage at these violent crimes and passive bystander behavior of people in power matches that of the horrific scenario that has unfolded in University Park.
Like child sexual predators, acquaintance rapists show a strong tendency to be serial offenders, so if we don’t stop them, they will hurt others, just as Sandusky is alleged to have done. The bottom line is this: if athletic directors, coaches, fraternity advisors, college presidents, Boards of Directors, and all those in power on campus care about sexual victimization, they will educate themselves about the scope of the problem and do whatever they can to invest time, money, and other resources to provide swift remedies when someone commits a crime as well as to invest in prevention efforts that make campuses safer.
Christopher Kilmartin, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at the University of Mary Washington. www.chriskilmartin.com
photo: caitlinator / flickr