New Study Explores Sexual Assault by Male College Athletes

June 9th 2016

Tricia Tongco

In the same week that former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was given an extremely short sentence for sexual assault, a new study exploring sexual violence on college campuses was published in the peer-reviewed journal Violence Against Women. The study's survey sample was small — 379 male undergraduate college students — however, the findings regarding male college athletes are particularly disturbing.

College pool

Including both intercollegiate and intramural athletes, a shocking 54 percent of the student-athletes admitted to coercing a partner into sex.

Here's who the study surveyed, as described by the Washington Post:

"A total of 379 male undergraduates from a single large, public, Division I university in the Southeast volunteered to take the online survey. Of that total, 159 were members of recreational, or club, sports teams; 29 were intercollegiate athletes; and 191 were non-athletes. Having to rely on subjects from only one institution was an unavoidable limitation of the research, according to the scientists."

Just as shocking as the above percentage were the harmful attitudes that influenced the sexually coercive behavior.

According to the researchers, the reason for the difference in the rates of sexual assault between non-athletes and athletes came down to widely held beliefs among the athletes surveyed:

  1. The acceptance of rape myths, such as women often allege rape to get back at men; that rape isn’t legitimate if a woman doesn’t fight back; and that victims who were intoxicated are partly responsible for their sexual assault.
  2. Traditional views of women, such as women are not and should not be equal to men, and that they should be less concerned about their rights and more worried about becoming good wives and mothers.

Several of the actions listed in the survey, such as athletes forcing their partners to have sex without a condom, using threats to make their partner have oral or anal sex, or using physical force, fall under the legal definition of rape as defined by the FBI. Other behaviors listed may not meet that definition of rape, but they do meet the standards for sexual coercion, which can be just as psychologically damaging as rape.

As Bustle defined it, "Sexual coercion is when tactics like pressure, trickery, or emotional force are used to get someone to agree to sex." Victims of sexual coercion can suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD at similar rates to those who have been raped.

While previous research has reported the high proportion of sexual assault cases on college campuses committed by intercollegiate athletes, this is the first investigation into the behavior of intramural athletes, who play recreationally and comprise the largest group of undergraduate athletes in the country, the Washington Post explained.

The team of researchers discovered that there was no significant difference in the risk of sexual violence from intramural athletes compared to intercollegiate athletes.

Lead author Belinda-Rose Young told the Washington Post that she was surprised with the results, because she believed that intercollegiate athletes, who are more isolated in separate dorms and classes, would have a higher risk of committing sexual assault and be more likely to exhibit aggression and male superiority:

“'But we saw that that attitude is just part of the general sporting environment," Young said.

So how did the non-athletes fare? Well, they didn't exactly pass with flying colors — 38 percent of men who were not athletes admitted to similar sexually coercive behavior.

With such high rates of this type of behavior in athletes and non-athletes alike, it's no doubt that this rampant problem and the underlying sexist attitudes that foster it need to be addressed. For the researchers, this means honing education programs on rape to focus on eradicating harmful attitudes surrounding traditional gender roles and rape myth acceptance.

If you're interested in reading the full report, you can access it here.

[h/t The Washington Post]