17 September 2015

Sexual assault and sports: Reframing the Derrick Rose conversation

The sports arena, particularly men’s sports, is a great container to discuss many social issues as it relates to masculinity and gender-based violence with men. The “off the field” situations that professional athletes constantly bring onto themselves is magnified by the incredible cultural and capitalistic machine of sports media. This gives us many opportunities to discuss important issues like men’s violence against women. The Derrick Rose situation is no different.

In short, a woman has anonymously come forward with a lawsuit stating that Rose and 2 of his friends drugged and raped her in August of 2013. More details can be found by simply googling Derrick Rose. (More details here, here, and here.)

This isn’t the first (and unfortunately, won’t be the last) time that a high profile male athlete is accused of rape. We have some evidence of what conversations around these stories are like, so I would like to take a moment to respond to some of the common responses that I hear.

“This is totally a money grab. She’s just a gold-digger.”
THE ISSUE: This statement implies that women falsely accuse for financial gain all the time. However, many studies, including ones conducted by the FBI, have found that only 2-8% of reported sexual assaults are false, which is on par with other violent crimes. With that said, any false accusation should be taken seriously, but the national conversation jumps to false accusations too quickly.

HOW CAN YOU RESPOND? If your friend says, “oh this is just another case of someone trying to get some easy money,” it’s a good idea to interrupt it. Saying that the FBI has found that 98% of reported cases are true might help demonstrate how extremely unlikely someone accusing for money really is. Also mentioning that 1 in 4 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime might help someone understand the magnitude of the issue.
Unfortunately, statistics isn’t always the answer to reframing someone’s understanding. Try asking, “Can you name the women who are filthy rich from falsely accusing an athlete?” The truth is that the spectrum of action from survivors is extremely diverse. It can range from doing nothing and trying to forget, to wanting their perpetrator’s ass thrown in jail. Sometimes, the act of filing a report is enough, or all they want is their perpetrator know that what they did was wrong without any legal consequence. All of this is ok, and supporting a survivor means supporting their decision.

“Why didn’t she report right away? It seems pretty shady to wait until now…”
THE ISSUE: People expect that the criminal justice system should take care of these kinds of matters so the conclusion is that it’s weird that the victim didn’t go straight to the police. The issue is that people have faith in the criminal justice system to sort this out. If perpetrators are consistently tried and jailed, then this would be a viable course of action. Unfortunately, the court system has a dismal history of supporting survivors and convicting perpetrators of sexual assault, particularly at the intersection of gender and race. Additionally, most survivors of stranger assault report right away. However, the court system isn’t immune to the victim blaming culture that we live in so most cases never gain any traction.

HOW CAN YOU RESPOND? Getting someone to think one step forward can be effective. Asking “What do you think are some of the reasons why someone wouldn’t report right away?” will challenge someone to think of it in a different way. For example, maybe the victim fears retribution, especially if the perpetrator is a boss, a professor, a family member, or a celebrity. Maybe reporting also means revealing other personal information such as sexual orientation. Sexual violence is a traumatic event, and whatever the survivor does to survive the situation is the right thing for them to do. When experiencing such emotional upheaval, the logic side of the brain tends to shut down. For more information about what happens during moments of trauma, check out this site here.

“Any woman would be lucky to have sex with D Rose. There’s no way she didn’t want it.”
THE ISSUE: There are a lot of layers to this statement. It assumes that all women are available to all men. It assumes that money and fame grants you the power to have anything you want, including access to women’s bodies. It objectifies women in the sense that she’s not in control of her own body. It feeds into a culture that breeds male entitlement. And in particular to Derrick Rose’s case, the victim repeatedly refused many of his sexual requests. But it doesn’t matter if she had said yes to everything during the course of the relationship, consent needs to be obtained for every interaction.

HOW CAN YOU RESPOND? I would start off with a “That’s not cool” for this one, particularly in the case of Derrick Rose because drugs were involved. And there’s definitely no place to tell someone how they’re supposed to feel. If someone says they don’t want something or don’t like something, why would we believe any different? If you told me that you don’t like watching football, I’m not about to say, “yea you do”. By saying “there’s no way she/he/they didn’t want it”, we take away their right to a choice and their right to feel the way they want to feel, which is fundamentally ridiculous.

All of these questions are victim blaming. And one of the most damaging aspects is that it centers the conversation on questioning the victim’s actions instead of Derrick Rose’s actions and the culture that allows him to think his actions were ok in the first place. If we start with the topic of Rose’s situation and not make it about his innocence or guilt, the conversation should move to “what can men do?” and away from “victims should do this.” The statements above shut down conversation that needs to happen between men on how we can examine our own behaviors that creates a culture that ultimately harms everyone, but especially women. Centering the experiences of victims and survivors and understanding the dynamics of interpersonal violence helps us critically examine the culture of men and how we can create positive change. It starts by engaging with our friends, family, and ourselves.

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