I've written and spoken about how universities have an ethical responsibility to institutionalize sexual assault trainings for all students and athletes. Since writing this piece, there has been an escalation of political interest in the topic and the White House weighed in with an effort to get men involved.
By now you should be familiar with the case of Florida State University's prized quarterback, Jameis Winston. During his recent student conduct code hearing, it is clear that Winston's statement is in remarkable contrast to the statement of the woman who reported he raped her in late 2012. One is a story of sex and consent and the other is a traumatizing account of rape and intentional violation.
I'm not here to argue the complex details of the case, or about the statistics of false rape claims. Debating the validity of the victim's claims isn't useful and leans toward secondary victimization. I wasn't there and neither were you. I'm using this incident as an opportunity to remind all universities of the critical need to require violence prevention training for student leaders and athletes.
The prevalence of assaults within sports and college culture reflects the dire need to discuss ethical consent. University coaches, leaders, policy makers and legislators should require multi-session, leadership training for students. When educated, student leaders can confront attitudes and behaviors that some students employ to disregard the need for consent during sexual encounters.
My work as a Prevention Educator centers on working with young men and discussing the details of consent. During a recent training session a young man revealed a story that weighed on him the entire eight weeks of our training. He explained a scene where he was at a party and wanted my opinion on how he'd acted. Heavy drinking was involved and although he chose not to indulge, his date was quite intoxicated. He helped her to a room where she laid down and then pulled him close. He confided that there was sexual contact but no sexual intercourse. Then he asked me, "Was that wrong?" What was striking to me was that he waited nearly two months to ask this question. It takes time to build the trust and rapport needed to fully understand ethical consent and have real conversations.
I shared this story to demonstrate the need to discuss consent and sex with young women and men in such a way that offers an environment of trust, rapport and authenticity. On more than one occasion, students should be given a platform to share their experiences, attitudes and beliefs. Once educators are permitted access to these beliefs we have the opportunity to reframe them, which may influence actual behaviors, and students are able to model responsible behaviors while engaging in effective bystander strategies and interventions.
Ethical consent is defined as consent that is:
• Enthusiastically engaged
• Verbal and nonverbal
• Yes means yes
By providing this to students as a guide, we can help reduce sexual assault and therefore the life-long repercussions rape survivors face in the aftermath. It will continue to be a profound failure on the part of university leadership and athletic departments until it is standard practice to mandate multi-session trainings with student leaders.
We will likely never know the events that transpired that night in Tallahassee between Winston and his accuser, however, by starting the conversation now, we can become a part of changing the culture of rape. We encourage all universities to partner with local domestic violence agencies to design comprehensive prevention strategies that produce an environment that never accepts or tolerates sexual violence.