Why Do So Many Athletes Rape Women?

Brock Turner's rape of an unconscious woman has re-ignited the national conversation surrounding sexual assault and, specifically, sexual assault committed by athletes.

A 1990s Benedict/Crosset study, as reported by the National Coalition Against Violent Student Athletes, found that male student-athletes only make up 3.3 percent of the population, but they account for 19 percent of sexual assault perpetrators. The study reports that one in three sexual assaults on campuses are committed by athletes.

No other similar studies have been released since then, but that doesn't mean this problem is going away. In April 2011, the Nexis database, which has the world's largest collection of legal and public-records related information, contained 700 stories regarding violent acts against women committed by college athletes. In 1995, it contained 368.

Jessica Luther, an investigative journalist who studies the connection between sports and culture, has written a comprehensive list on her blog of every football sexual assault investigation and case, starting from the 1970s all the way up until today. There are hundreds and hundreds of cases listed.

It's evident there's a correlation between athletes and sexual assault. Katherine Redmond Brown, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, has extensive experience working with athletes and has been a victim of rape by an athlete herself. As an advocate for victims, Brown believes much of this problem lies in the way athletes have been conditioned to think the world revolves around them.

"It seemingly starts in a way that's well-intentioned," she tells Elite Daily over the phone. "Kids in Little League, Pop Warner football, whatever. Everybody notices he's gifted; he's talented. He gets treated differently, maybe not hugely different, but different enough. Parents are talking about him; coaches are talking about him."

By the time that kid goes to high school, she continues, the coach has heard about him and begins to build a strategy around anticipating him joining the team. When he finally joins, newspapers write about him, girls start coming to him, he gets popular and his talent renders him invincible. All of this follows him to college.

"If he fails a test, coach is going to go to his teacher to see what he can do to keep him eligible [to stay on the team] because they need him for the games. So, [the athlete] starts realizing that his talent sets him apart, makes him different, and he can be entitled to a lot of things because of his talent." This including tutors who do his homework for him, academic advisors who pick his classes for him and boosters who hand him money, Brown says.

An athlete's sense of entitlement also comes in part from his high-stakes competitor mentality. Because athletes need to compete with other people, Brown says, they can't waste time empathizing. They just have to do what they need to do to win the big game. As a result of this, an athlete's value becomes rooted in his ability to perform.

"There's this unconditional love versus performance-based love," Brown explains. "You and I understand the concept of unconditional love, from our parents and from our families. What [athletes] have is a coach, who is probably closer to the athlete as a member of the family. [The coach is giving] performance-based love. The athlete gets to this view that his worth is only as great as his performance."

This need to perform and the lack of empathy trickles into other areas of the athlete's life, including his interactions with women. With cases of sexual assault, Brown says, "The whole thing is for him. It's about his performance, his conquest, his power, his vanity. Like, [Brock Turner] would not see his actions as anything to do with the victim. He separates that out because that person is nothing to him, so it's about what he gets out of it."

Athletes in the heat of conquest have a hard time understanding when women aren't interested. A recent NCAA report, taken from a survey of 379 male undergraduate students (29 intercollegiate athletes, 159 recreational athletes and 191 nonathletes) at a large, public Division I university, found more than half of athletes have used physical or verbal coercive tactics to pressure women into having sex with them.

Another study of 923 undergraduate students at a mid-sized Division I university, also conducted by the NCAA, found that athletes were more confused about consent than nonathletes. Almost two-thirds of male athletes, for example, agreed with the statement “it is OK to take it to the next level unless you get a definite no,” compared to 47 percent of nonathletes.

So much of this is rooted in an athlete's need to be admired, says Brown.

"A prized athlete know[s] there are multiple women who are competing for [his] attention. If that [admiration] gets shut off, then the female is seen in a very negative light. She's seen as almost like the adversary if she's not engaging in that admiration."

Data supports this claim. More results from the previous study of the large Division I university found that athletes were more likely than nonathletes to have negative or traditional beliefs about a woman's role in society. Athletes were more likely to agree with statements like “women should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers.”

Because of this, athletes are very exploitative in their interpersonal relationships. According to the police report of the Stanford University incident, Brock Turner was going from girl to girl, dancing with them and kissing them because, Brown says, "He was going to hook up with somebody that night."

Brown believes that's a prime example of exploitation.

"He wanted something. He was going to get something from one of them," she says. And it didn't matter who gave it to him.

"Your entire world, and this is really important, is about you," Brown says in regard to an athlete's mentality throughout much of his life. "Because so many people have made it about you ... You have everybody around there just for you, and the rules don't apply."