content warning for rape, sexual assault.
I recently read this article about the sexual assaults at Baylor University in Waco, where apparently the football team bonds by gang-raping freshman women whom they’ve drugged at their parties. Several individuals are suing the school for failing to investigate. I have about a thousand questions following my reading of this article, but most of them come back to the culture that these incidents occur in– a culture that I just don’t understand. Where were the dissenters? How could no one stand up and protest this mass victimization? I mean, what’s that thing that men always tell me on the internet? “Not all men,” right?
I did some digging into Baylor. After a wave of sexual assault allegations were filed in 2016, the head football coach, Art Briles, and the president and chancellor of the University, Ken Starr, were removed from their posts. Apparently Briles and his assistant coaches had actively intervened in the discipline of football players as well as trying to arrange for legal representation for them. “The regents’ response alleges Briles and his coaching staff created a disciplinary ‘black hole’ into ‘which reports of misconduct such as drug use, physical assault, domestic violence, brandishing of guns, indecent exposure and academic fraud disappeared’.” One lawsuit alleges that there were 52 assaults committed by at least 31 members of the football team between 2011 and 2014.
Art Briles was hired in 2008, and the football team was a mess. According to their records on ESPN.com, Briles transformed the team into a winner within the next two years. His son, Kendal Briles, served as an assistant coach at Baylor between 2008 and 2016, and one of the lawsuits filed by a Baylor sexual assault victim alleges that the younger Briles used sex to recruit players: In the lawsuit, which describes a “culture of sexual violence” within the program that was allowed to go unchecked, the younger Briles allegedly told a Dallas-area high school athlete “Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor and they love football players.” A woman who was assaulted by two Baylor football players was a member of the Baylor Bruins, a group that would host prospective athletes when they visited. Her lawsuit alleges that Bayor encouraged “making Baylor Bruins available for sex with recruits, as well as taking recruits to strip clubs, implied promises of sex and using alcohol and drugs in the recruiting process”.
It’s clear from just a few google searches that Art Briles and his assistants created Baylor’s winning football team at the expense of Baylor’s female students, which they could not have done without the willingness of Ken Starr and others to turn a blind eye to their methods.
This is the example I would point to when someone tries to tell me that there is no such thing as rape culture, that feminism isn’t necessary in the Western world (which is a pretty racist statement anyway). This is the example that I would point to when someone tells me that women are raped because of what they’re wearing, or where they decided to go, or how much they decided to drink. The women weren’t the problem at Baylor. The problem was the group of men* that decided that the success of the men was more important than the safety, health, comfort, and education of the women. In fact, this probably wasn’t even a conscious decision. I’m inclined to believe that they never considered the women they were victimizing at all. And this isn’t just at Baylor either, this is all over the country. It was a similar culture that allowed for the rape of an unconscious teenage girl by two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, in 2012. This incident occurred in front of many witnesses, some of whom took pictures and videos of the assaults. No one stopped it. In a case that wrapped up recently, a former Vanderbilt football player was sentenced to 17 years for orchestrating and filming the gang rape of his unconscious girlfriend by three of his teammates in 2013.
We hear about these kinds of assaults, this kind of danger for women, in fraternities, too. Football players and fraternity brothers have in common a kind of social currency that can pave the way to their mistakes being swept under the rug, even at the expense of the people who come into contact with them. But what does this say about men, in general? What does it mean that these kinds of sexual assaults occur with a frightening frequency in these male-only spaces? Women are ridiculed when they ask for safe spaces from the multitude of real issues affecting their lives, but these male-only spaces are functioning as safe spaces for rape, sexual assault, and homophobia, among other bigotries.
To ask a deeper question, what does it mean that when men gather together without women, these kinds of cultures are produced? While mainstream sororities often perpetuate things about the larger culture that I disagree with, we don’t see news about sorority sisters roofying and gang-raping their male peers. Women’s volleyball teams aren’t out getting men wasted and assaulting them. While we can acknowledge the group mentality impact on these kinds of cases, it must be noted that the group mentality does not explain the problem, it simply exacerbates it.
A 2014 study from researchers at the University of North Dakota discovered that one third of straight college males would force a woman to have sex if they knew they could get away with it. However, when the researchers changed the language of the question to include the word “rape”, the number dropped to 13%. This obvious misunderstanding of what actually constitutes rape might be symptomatic of all-male groups as well as a culture that discourages the open discussion of sexual assault between men and women. In male-only groups, these misunderstandings might be enforced without anyone there to correct them.
Male-only spaces like these are dangerous breeding grounds for violence against women (as well as nonmale-identified and queer individuals). Spaces like these exist only for men– women don’t have access to spaces that are both women-only and come with the privilege and protection that football players, fraternity brothers, etc. experience. These groups are the shitty, arrogant, offspring of a larger culture of violence against women that exists in the United States; slowing them down with court cases and sanctions won’t spell the end of rape and sexual assault. I can’t say that I have a solution, but I can say that I am sick of seeing nonmales dehumanized by our culture over and over, treated as commodities and toys and means to a capitalist end.
Kendal Briles has since been hired as offensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic University (the same position he held at Baylor). FAU coach Lane Kiffin confirmed that he thought about hiring Art Briles after his termination as head coach at Baylor, but decided against it because the inconvenience of protesters wasn’t worth it.
Knock yourself out: https://directory.fau.edu/
*For clarity’s sake, I would like to note that for the purpose of this piece I am using “male-only spaces” to refer to cishet male spaces that are not support groups, etc. This is not meant to erase the identities of gay men or trans men; the issues addressed in this piece are not rampant in those communities as they are in cishet male spaces.