Baylor University perpetuated “a culture of silence” for rape victims in the way the school handled claims of sexual assaults by football players, victim advocates say.
Baylor football coach Art Briles was fired after an external review found that the private school’s athletic department and football program “failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players.”
The case highlights how higher education institutions are called to establish systems that protect victims — a responsibility that falls on everyone from the president to coaches to law enforcement, said Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus.
“Campus safety is an institutional obligation,” Kiss said in a phone interview. “It shouldn’t fall on one department.”
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Kiss said that when university leaders don’t take reports of rape or sexual assault seriously, it sets a tone for the entire campus.
“It perpetuates a culture of silence where people will not come forward,” Kiss said.
817-927-2737 hotline for rape victims at the Women’s Center of Tarrant County.
The Clery Center is a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that works with universities nationwide to create safer campuses. The Clery Act is a federal requirement that universities provide support for rape victims and publish annual crime reports. Both are named after Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered in 1986.
Baylor’s latest Clery Act report, from 2015, says that no on-campus rapes were reported in 2012 and 4 each in 2013 and 2014.
‘This is an epidemic’
Becka Meier, clinical coordinator for the Women’s Center of Tarrant County’s rape crisis program, said the Baylor case is one part of a societal problem.
“This is an epidemic that happens at lots and lots of universities, not just Baylor,” said Meier, whose program responds to sexual assault cases involving victims of all backgrounds, including college students.
Meier said the repercussions university administrators are facing sends a message to victims that they need to come forward. Still, she said that decision is very difficult for some victims.
“They are afraid that people won’t listen to them and won’t believe them,” she said.
I am a huge football fan, however we can never allow any individual to be sacrificed for the sake of a game.
Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the
Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network in Washington, D.C., said it is a positive sign that Baylor’s regents have made significant changes based on the investigation.
“I think it is going to be a wake-up call to a lot of university presidents across the country,” Berkowitz said.
‘Rape with impunity’
Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the Austin-based Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, said the organization supports the firing of Briles.
“The way the rapes of these students was handled was deplorable and the repeated callous mishandling of these reports and indifference towards these young women very well may have resulted in more victims, since clearly the message was that one can rape with impunity,” Burrhus-Clay said in a statement.
Burrhus-Clay said Baylor should immediately reach out to the local rape crisis center to work together with campus resources to provide comprehensive services for survivors.
“I am a huge football fan, however we can never allow any individual to be sacrificed for the sake of a game,” Burrhus-Clay said.