Friday, January 25, 2008

B is for backlash

A few days I commented that young female athletes are frequently subject to sexual harassment to which they have little recourse and receive little sympathy.
The situation in Warrensburg, MO goes beyond even this lack of empathy. Six high school athletes there accused the basketball and softball coach (it's the same person) of sexually inappropriate conduct. According to the article there was a brief investigation this past fall during which no one bothered to talk to any of the accusers. The coach, who is also a local elementary school teacher, was allowed to continue coaching. The girls have filed a lawsuit against the coach and school district. Allegations against the coach include: inappropriate touching of female athletes during practices and weightlifting sessions; pressing his body against players repeatedly; putting his hands inside players' tops; forcing players to change into their team uniforms on the bus to an away game.
Since these are allegations that have yet to be proven I can't really speak to their merit except to say that I have read and find reliable the research on sexual abuse and harassment that says women rarely lie about these things. A lack of motive for ousting the coach also seems to weigh in favor of the accusers at this time.
Regardless, the harassment they, and their parents, have been subjected to since filing the lawsuit is ridiculous. The accusers have left the team, of course, but they have faced ridicule and threats. Someone even attempted to get fired the parent of one of the accusers.
People are quick to place in the category of victim the person being accused. And on occasion the accused have been victims--for example, the Salem witch trials. Of course these girls don't appear to be playing a prank and the accused isn't a woman the community isn't so keen on anyway. [Please excuse my somewhat reductionist retelling of the Salem witch trials--it's been a long time since high school US history.]
I don't have any data on this--if such data even exist--but it seems like when accusations of sexual misconduct occur in the context of athletics there is immediate and often violent backlash against the accusers on top of the usual discrediting that goes on when women raise the issue of sexual harassment and assault. Off the top of my head: Kobe Bryant's accuser; Katie Hnida, former kicker at University of Colorado; and sportswriter Lisa Olson.

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