So. From the Department of Depressing News comes this latest gem: a young woman at a nearby school accused a Notre Dame football player of sexually assaulting her. The school, depending on whether you believe their pre-publicity statement or post-publicity statement, either did nothing with these allegations, or very, very little. The athlete in question wasn’t even benched pending investigation, he just played on as if nothing had happened. And then, tragically, the young woman recently killed herself.
Right. So. When your friends ask you what rape culture means? This is a terrible, brilliant example. Rape culture is the structure of decisions, actions and inactions that protects a football player from even being investigated on a credible allegation. It’s the culture that says: sorry, honey, his contributions to the team are just worth more than your life. Them’s the breaks.
But I’m not writing about this just to spleen my bitterness. I’m not even writing this to point out the egregious ways in which Lizzy Seeberg was denied justice, though obviously she was, and there’s no chance of her getting it now. I’m writing this because Notre Dame is sending an even more dangerous message, one that’s inaudible if you’re not tuned in to the right frequency. The venerable university is sending a clear, high-pitched warning to all of its female students: your bodies, your lives, your right to an education? Not as important as our football team.
You (well, probably not you, but someone) may object: the student who accused the athlete didn’t even go to Notre Dame? How is this sending a message to the women there? And I’ll tell you:
There are many reasons sexual assault allegations must be taken seriously, and those found guilty must be made to face real justice. Some of them have to do with healing for the survivor. Some of them have to do with removing impunity — sending a message that this is a felony violent crime, and you can’t easily get away with it. But one of the most important reasons for holding rapists to account is prevention. Because solid research tells us
that the majority of rapists are repeat rapists, averaging six victims before they even graduate college.
Know what that means? If this football player is guilty of what he’s been accused of, there’s a strong chance he’ll strike five more times before he graduates. The Notre Dame administrators either a) know this and don’t care as much as they care that their star atheletes aren’t messed with, or b) don’t know this because they don’t care about rape prevention enough to read the most central research to be done on the subject in the last 10 years. Either way, their blithe apathy to this case is a big "Eff you" to the women of Notre Dame, the young women whose lives and educations have been entrusted to the school’s care.
What’s more, it’s an illegal "Eff you." The Supreme Court has clearly ruled that Title IX – the statute that guarantees women equal access to education at any institution that receives federal funds (that is: pretty much all of them, and you bet it includes Notre Dame) – obligates schools to take active steps to prevent and remedy sexual violence on campus. I probably don’t have to tell you why, but I will: because it’s awfully hard to get a decent education when you’re living in fear of or trying recover from sexual violence.
So, Notre Dame, what’s it going to be? Are you going to start taking this and future allegations seriously, even if they involve your cash-cow football team? Or should female students just understand that you don’t care if they’re raped by your star athletes? Perhaps all of the women currently considering applying to Notre Dame should look elsewhere, and those already enrolled should lawyer up
? It’s entirely your call.