The following article can be found in its original form through the link attached to the last photograph, at the end of the article. Provided through Interactive Theatre and Multiple Offended Survivor Survey and Treatment of Gainseville, Florida. Note: this is an informative piece of media and is not an attack on any specific school or team.
OUT OF BOUNDS: THE TRUTH ABOUT ATHLETES AND RAPE
BY JILL NEIMARK
Meg Davis was gang raped in the spring of her freshman year by seven members of the university’s football team – guys she used to hang out with at fraternity parties. “I knew the guys I ‘buddied’ with sometimes had group sex, and that they even hid in a closet and took pictures of the event,” she says now, “but I never thought it would happen to me.” She was sexually assaulted for nearly three hours. She blacked out as she was being sodomized, and came to later with a quarterback’s penis in her mouth. When she tried to push him off, he shouted, “Hey, what are you doing? I haven’t come yet!” Back at the dorm that night, she says, “I took shower after shower. I stayed in until there was no hot water left. I felt so dirty. Even so, I didn’t call what happened to me rape. These were guys I knew. It wasn’t until I went to a woman’s center in town that someone explained I’d been gang-raped.”
Men have been raping in gangs for centuries, from Russian soldiers in Germany and American soldiers in My Lai, to the infamous gang of boys “wilding” in New York’s Central Park two years ago. When we think of group rape, it is exactly those packs of men who come to mind. But these days a disproportionate number of gang rapes are being committed by men whom we look to as our heroes, whom we laud and look up to for their grace and power and seeming nobility: young male athletes.
Psychologist Chris O’Sullivan, Ph.D., of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, studied 26 alleged gang rapes that were documented between 1980 and 1990, and found that fraternity groups committed the highest number, followed by athletic teams. In addition, she found that “the athletes who do this are usually on a star team, not just any old team. It was the football team at Oklahoma, the basketball team at Minnesota, the lacrosse team at St. John’s. It seems to be our most privileged athletes – the ones, by the way, most sought after by women – who are often involved in gang rape.
From June 1989 to June 1990, at least 15 alleged gang rapes involving about 50 athletes were reported. Among the most publicized cases: At Berkeley, a freshman claimed she was raped and sodomized in a dark stairwell, among shards of a shattered light bulb, and then dragged by her assaulted – a member of the football team – to his room, where three teammates joined him. In Glen Ridge, New Jersey, four high-school athletes – all of them former football teammates – have been charged with wielding a small baseball bad and a broomstick to rape a 17-year-old slightly retarded girl. In Washington, D.C., a 17-year-old girl maintained, four members of the Washington Capitals hockey team assaulted her after the team was eliminated at the Stanley Cup play-offs (but none were indicted by a grand jury); and at St. John’s University in New York, five members of the lacrosse team (plus one member of the rifle club) were accused of raping a student.
In spite of surging publicity about the phenomenon, athletes accused of rape usually escape with little more than a reprimand. Virtually every athlete accused of participating in a gang rape insists that it was not rape: He says the victim wanted group sex. She asked for it. Juries and judges seem to agree, for charges are often dropped. Pressing charges is crucial for rape victims’ recovery. “A guy gets suspended for half a season and then he’s back,” notes Ed Gondolf, Ed.D., a sociologist at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and author of Man Against Woman: What Every Woman Should Know About Violent Men (Tab Books, 1989). In the occasional gang rape cases that proceed to prosecution, notes Claire Wals, Ph.D., director of Campus and Community Consultation, and organization in St. Augustine, Florida, that specialized in presenting rape-prevention workshops across the country, “convictions are very difficult and rare.”
“This act is so heinous,” explains Dr. Walsh, “that we don’t want to admit we have this kind of brutality in our culture. We don’t want to believe our athletes are capable of this. So we immediately rename it, call it group sex, and perform a character assassination on the victim. It’s her fault – no matter what the circumstances.” What professionals involved in studying gang rape are beginning to understand is that there seems to be something very specific about the gloriously physical, sometimes brutal camaraderie of team sports that can set the stage for brutal act.
One clue to the trigger for such an act may lie in the dynamics of the team experience itself: You don’t find gang rape among tennis players or swimmers or those who participate in other solo sports. According to Bernice Sandler, Ph.D., director of the Project on the Status and Education of Women at the Association of American Colleges, it is athletes on football, basketball and hockey teams who are most prone to group rape. Athletes who work and play together – hours each day, for months and years – become profoundly bonded. I remember my first, and only, outsider’s taste of this bond: I was the sole woman attending a stag party for former rowers on the Yale crew team. I was the play waitress. The men wore nothing but loincloths. They were told to gulp down as many shots of whiskey as they could when they walked in the door. Then they slathered one another with mud and beer and spent much of the evening wrestling with a kind of wild, erotic joy. These guys never once talked about women. I went home shaken but, I admit, also envious. I knew I would never experience that raw, physical abandon with my own sex.
One rape victim recalls a similar experience. The group of athletes and fraternity brothers who later raped her, she said, used to dance a tribal dance in a darkened room, finally collapsing on one another in a heap. The “circle” dance, as it was called, was ecstatic and violent. “They’d be jumping up and pounding the ceiling and singing a song that began, ‘When I’m old and turning gray, I’ll only gang-bang once a day.'”
Most psychologists believe that powerful male bonding is the essence of gang rape – that, in fact, the men are raping for one another. Peggy R. Sanday, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania anthropologist and author of Fraternity Gang Rape (NYU Press, 1990) explains: “They get a high off doing it with their ‘brothers.'” The male bonding in these groups is so powerful and seductive that, says Dr. Walsh “one man leads and the others follow because they cannot break the male bonds.” Those men present who don’t rape often watch – sometimes even videotaping the event. And, explains Gail Abarbanel, L.C.S.W., director of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica Hospital in California, “There has never been a single case, in all the gang rapes we’ve seen, where one man tried to stop it.” Even the voyeur with a stab of guilt never reports his friends. “That’s the crux of group rape,” explains Abarbanel. “It’s more important to be part of the group that to be the person who does what’s right.”
But there is more to team gang rape than male bonding. These athletes see the world in a special way – a way that actually legitimizes rape. They develop a powerful subculture founded on aggression, privilege and the scapegoating of women. Friendship is expressed though hostile teasing one player calls “busting.” And, according to Dr. O’Sullivan, “Sports fosters this super-masculine attitude where you connect aggression with sexuality. These men see themselves as more aggressive. I talked to one pro-basketball player who says that for years he raped women and didn’t know it. Sex was only satisfying if it was a conquest.”
According to Dr. Gondolf, who was also a football player, “For some athletes there’s an aggression, a competition, that’s heightened in team sports. You come off the field and your adrenaline is still flowing, you’re still revved up, and some of these guys may expect to take what they want by force, just like they do on the field.” Dr. Gondolf says that he recalls certain movements from his team as a player, “where the whole team was moving as one, where we became part of a collective whole, rather than individuals.”
Within that collective whole, according to experts and some athletes themselves, one way the men can demonstrate their power is by scapegoating women.” There was a lot of classic machismo talk,” recalls Tommy (names have been changed), now 24, who played on the football team at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. “The talk was very sexist, even threatening. I recall some guys sharing that they were really drunk as a big excuse for having sex with a girl everyone thought was a dog. The guy would say, ‘I had my beer goggles on.” He’d act like he was embarrassed, but the fact was he did have sex, so it was a bragging kind of confession.”
The pressure to score is powerful. Months after one gang rape had taken place, one of the men who had participated in it was still uneasily lamenting his impotence that night. Dr. Gondolf recalls how some men tended to talk about scoring on and off the field as if they were the same thing: “Abuse of women became the norm – not necessarily out of meanness, but because we saw the person as an opponent, an object to be maneuvered. Because the camaraderie among us was so important, we never questioned or challenged one another when these things came up. I remember hearing about forced sex, group sex, naked showers with women, and the tendency was to shrug your shoulders or chuckle. The locker-room subcultures fed on itself.”
And when the adrenaline rush of the field does get translated to a sexual assault, Dr. Gondolf theorizes, “a high definitely takes over during the rape, and it has a neutralizing effect. There is enough momentum present that it negates any guilt, fear or doubt. The man thinks to himself, “Oh, we’re just having a good time, nobody’s gonna get hurt.’ It’s the same rationalization men use when they beat or abuse their wives: ‘She had it coming, she asked for it, she didn’t get hurt that bad, I was drunk, it wasn’t my fault.'”
What is perhaps most difficult to comprehend about gang rape is that the men involved don’t feel guilty; they don’t see this act of group violence as rape. May Koss, Ph.D.,a University of Arizona psychologist, studies over 6,000 students at 32 universities and found that 1 of 12 college males admits to acts legally defines as rape or attempted rape, and yet only 1 out of 100 admits they have raped or attempted rape. “Of the one hundred thirty-one men who had committed what we would legally define as rape,” says Dr. Koss, “eighty-four percent argued that what they did was definitely not rape.”
In many of the team-gang-rape cases around the county, the athletes involved readily, almost eagerly, admitted they’d had sex with the victim. In fact, they seemed to offer up their confessions as juicy tidbits. One witness in a case against members of the Kentucky State football team, in which all the men were found not guilty, testified that guys had lined up in the hall holding their crotches and saying, “Me next.” And in an Oklahoma case, a player testified that he saw three former teammates – who were also subsequently acquitted – take turns having sex with a screaming girl, saying, “If we have to, we’re going to take some from her.” In many of the cases the athletes described how they viewed their victim as different from other women: cheap, a slut, a whore. Many quoted the old cliché, “When she says no, she really means yes.” Usually they’d heard she was “easy” – sometimes because a teammate had already slept with her. At Kentucky, teammate testified that he’d had oral sex with the victim three days before the alleged rape. “Any woman who would do that would do anything.” he’d said. In fact, according to Dr. O’Sullivan, “Some of these guys are really sweet. They can be very nice to other women in their lives. But once a woman is in this category, it’s almost as if she isn’t a human being. All their beliefs say it’s okay to abuse her.”
I found the same disturbing paradox when I interviewed athletes. When confronted with the abstract idea of rape, these men use words like “shattering, disgusting, immoral.” (Jay, 25, a former football player at the University of Rochester, said, “I’ll tell you something, I’d never even dream of doing anything like that, it makes me sick to my stomach.”) But if they personally know of a case involving their teammates, they’re curiously lenient and forgiving. A former starting quarterback at Lafayette College recalled rumors of a gang rape by his teammates on campus. “From what I understand she came on to one of the guys. Not that this justifies it, but she did like one of the guys who allegedly raped her, and she was willing to come up to the room with him” Even when I interviewed an old friend of mine, formerly on an Ivy League track team, he mentioned offhandedly that some members of his team had shared a girl with a baseball team in Alabama, which “offered” her to the visitors. My friend never questioned where it might have been rape: He assumed the girl was willing.
One possible reason for the astounding lack of guilt among athletes who rape is the special privilege accorded a star athlete – and the constant female adoration he attracts. “The ‘hotshot syndrome’ is inevitably part of team sports,” says Dr. Gondolf. “If you’re an athlete in college, you’re given scholarships, a nice dorm, doctors, trainers, a lot of support and attention and fans and cheerleaders who ogle you. That sense of privilege influences you, and some guys may then think. ‘I deserve something for this. I can take women, the rules don’t apply to me.’ They feel they’re above the law.”
“I used to have girls call me up,” says former quarterback Jay, “and say, ‘I go to football games and watch you, I look at your picture in the program, I’m writing a paper on you.’ It happened all the time. You get this attitude where you can do anything you want and nobody is ever going to say anything to you.”
Coaches and universities contribute to the athlete’s unique sense of entitlement. As Dr. Walsh notes, “When we’re talking about athletic teams and gang rape, we see how, time after time, the entire community comes to the support of the team. Athletes are very important in the fabric of a campus or town. They keep alumni interested, and produce money for the community.”
New studies are showing that there is no such thing as a typical rape victim. Many women who are raped in college are virgins, according to Mary Koss’s study – and the vast majority (75 to 91 percent) of rape victims cannot be differentiated from non-victims in terms of risk factors like personality or circumstance. Women are often raped in the “honeymoon” period, however: those first few months of school when they’re learning to negotiate their new world. And drinking is almost always involved; in fact, states Dr. Walsh, “alcohol is used deliberately to impair the woman.” At parties, punch is massively spiked with liquor – to the point where some rape victims complain that they had only two drinks before they passed out drunk. One victim at San Diego State University recalls asking for a nonalcoholic beverage. Instead she was brought punch spiked with Everclear, a 95-percent-alcohol drink that is illegal in California.
But if outside observers have difficulty finding common attributes among victims of team rape, it seems clear that the men themselves have an unspoken code that divides women into classes – the nice-girl girlfriend and the party-girl rape victim. The scare part is that the cues are so hidden most women are completely unaware of them – and the rules may be different among different teams, different campuses, different locker rooms. Athletes will sometimes let drop a few clues: Usually a woman is more vulnerable if she’s had sex with one of the group before; if she’s buxom, wears tight clothes and lots of makeup; if she’s from a college that has a certain reputation. One fraternity actually stuck colored dots on women’s hands as they came to a party, color-coded to indicate how “easy” each woman was. It’s that kind of hidden code that has more and more colleges warning young women to say away altogether from the fraternity and house parties where athletes and their buddies gather – just as one must avoid dark alleys at night. Dr. Gondolf explains: “Athletes are so tangled up in their glory and their privilege, and they get such big benefits for it. We need women to prompt them to check up on one another.” But that is only half the answer.
In the case of gang rape, almost all college women are so devastated they drop out of school. “These are overwhelming rapes, and the trauma is profound,” explains Abarbanel. “A lot of these women are freshmen who are just beginning to test their independence. They have hopes and dreams about college and achievement, meeting new people, a career, a future. After gang rape, everything that college means is lost to them. They’re afraid to be alone, afraid of a recurrence. And since these are often men they know, the sense of betrayal is very profound.”
In some cases, says Dr. Sanday, a woman may have subconsciously been courting danger. She knows she should avoid certain parties, be careful about her drinking, come and leave with friends. But she’s looking for power, on male territory. “We all, at certain times in our life, test ourselves. It’s like going into the inner city on a dare. These women are using the men that way. They want to court and conquer danger. And legally…they have a right to go and have sex with whomever they want, without being gang raped.”
One of the most important ways to prevent rape may be to understand what the word means. Many men and women don’t know that the law requires that a woman give consent to sexual intercourse. If she’s so inebriated that she can’t say yes, or so frightened that she won’t say no, the act is rape.
But just knowing that distinction is not quite enough; the seeds of team gang rape are buried deep, even subconsciously, in the athletic culture. Dr. O’Sullivan tells of an incident outside the courtroom of the Kentucky State football-team trial. According to her, “We were all standing by the candy machine, and some guy mentioned that it was broken. And Big Will, a huge man who had charmed everybody, and who was testifying in behalf of his dorm mate, said, ‘I’ll make it work. Everybody always does what I want.’ And everybody laughed. I couldn’t believe it. This is exactly the kind of attitude that can lead to the rape.” The perception that force is “okay,” that it is masculine and admirable, is really where gang rape begins – and where the fight against it will have to start.