The Rape-stained Doors of Our Ivory Towers

Should we be calling the student-athletes criminal-athletes instead?

“Scary Stats” – that is what I call the rape statistics that I present to my self-defense students. Some of the facts that they are told about rape in the United States is that rape is the fastest growing violent crime; it is the most under-reported crime with 84% of the victims never reporting the crime; women ages 16-24 are at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted, four times that of all women; most rapists are 15-29 years old; more than 90% of all rapes occur in the same race and socio-economic class and 70% of female rape victims knew their rapist (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003).

My psychology degree and subsequent research into sexual assault for my self defense course has led me to identify two commonalities shared among all rapists: (1) They are afraid of detection and (2) They are afraid of rejection (Stasik, 2004). The first characteristic – the fear of detection – may appear to be common sense but none-the-less deserves some elaboration. Besides stalking, a rapist often commits his crime on his turf – his apartment or home, his car or some pre-selected location chosen out of his fear of detection. In fact, more than 50% of acquaintance rapes occur on the man’s turf (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). Fear of rejection is the second characteristic. Just think of the number of rapes that could have been avoided if the attacker was able to take “NO!” for an answer!! Unfortunately, victims of sexual abuse sustain an increased amount of physical injury if they plead, cry or try reasoning (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003).

Do I dare suggest that there is a third commonality – participation in college sports, especially power and performance sports? Since most rapists are 15-29 years old, how many of them participate in college sports? What factors contribute to student-athletes staining the Ivory Tower doors with rape? The purpose of this research was to explore this possible new commonality and answer these disconcerting questions.

How prevalent is rape in American colleges? Are student-athletes who participate in college sports more likely than nonathletes to commit sexual assault? According to the joint research findings of the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2.8 percent of college women will experience a complete or attempted rape during any academic year (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000). Thirty-two percent of the perceived age of single-offenders that committed rape is between the ages of 18 and 29 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). The stereotype of male student-athletes as the perpetrators is so prevalent that Lapchick and Lapchick attest to this mindset stereotype of 1999: “athletes, especially basketball and football players, are more inclined to be violent towards women than non-athletes” (Lapchick & Lapchick, 2000). Contributing to this stereotype is the growing list of sexual assault complaints filed against players and athletic recruits. In one year (2001) three such charges were issued against student-athletes at Colorado State University, seven total between 1997 and 2004 (Jacobson & Suggs, 2004).

What are the facts behind this stereotype? Between 1980 and 1990, 26 documented gang rapes allegedly occurred at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Psychologist Chris O’Sullivan, Ph.D., found that athletic team members committed the second highest number of these rapes, preceded by fraternity members (Eitzen, 2005). In 1986 the Philadelphia Daily News conducted a survey of some 200 college police departments and rape counselors, which pertained only to reported cases and presumed that all reported campus rapes were committed by on-campus students. The survey found that on average, student-athletes were accused of raping another student once every 18 days and that they were nearly 40 percent more likely than the average male on campus to be reported for rape (Johnson, 1991). In his 1991 article, “When sex is the issue,” Johnson refers to a 1990 national survey of more than 12,000 students by the Campus Violence Prevention Center at Maryland's Towson State University. This study found that athletes and fraternity members committed about half of all reported acquaintance rapes (Johnson, 1991). In a 1993 published study of 925 undergraduate women, Fritner and Rubinson found that male athletes were more likely than male nonathletes to be involved with both sexual intimidation and assault. Furthermore, sports team members were found to comprise 20.2% of the men involved in sexual assault or attempted sexual assault even though they made up less than 2% of the campus population (Frintner & Rubinson, 1993).

In what has become a highly publicized study, Benedict and Crosset (1993) examined collegiate sexual assault cases to determine if student-athletes were more likely than nonathletes to behave criminally. They reviewed 107 cases of sexual assault reported at 30 Division I schools between 1991 and 1993. Their study found that 19 percent of sexual assault perpetrators and 35 percent of domestic violence perpetrators were male student-athletes. The significance of these findings is felt when viewed in relationship to their collegiate population - only 3.3 percent of collegiates are male student-athletes. The Benedict-Crosset Study concludes "male college student-athletes, compared to the rest of the male population, are responsible for a significantly higher percentage of sexual assaults reported to judicial affairs on the campuses of Division I institutions" (Benedict & Crosset, 1993, as cited in Locklear, 2003).

More recently other researchers have also found that college student-athletes are more likely than their nonathletic counterparts to sexually assault women. In 1996 Boeringer (1996) found that male athletes were more likely than male nonathletes to use force and coercion in addition to drugs and alcohol during a sexual encounter (Boeringer, 1996 as cited in Sabo, 2000). Similar results were found by Chandler et al in research that utilized a 40-item questionnaire to survey 342 college students at a historically Black Southeastern university; surveys were voluntary and anonymous. They found that 15% of the athletes fondled someone of the opposite sex against his or her will versus the 5% of the nonathletes and also that 8% of the athletes had forced sex with someone of the opposite sex versus the 2% of the nonathletes (Chandler, Johnson, & Carroll, 1999).

According to various reports in the press between 1995 and 2000, between 350 and 500 athletes and coaches have been accused of sexually assaulting a woman. That averages to be between 70 and 100 such accusations a year (Lapchick & Lapchick, 2000). Let me put this into the proper perspective. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, rape is the most under-reported crime with up to 84% of the victims never reporting the crime. The total number of victimizations for rape/sexual assault in 2003 was 198,850 with only 38.5% having been reported to the police (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). Applying this percentage to the average yearly accusation against athletes and coaches, approximately 182 to 260 yearly incidents really occur (with only 70 to 100 being reported to the police).

The research reviewed for this paper revealed that between 8 and 40 percent of sexual assault perpetrators were male student-athletes. Once again, allow me put this into the proper perspective. Assuming that the college sample is representative of the nation’s population, male student-athletes committed approximately 15,900 to 79,540 of the 198,850 victimizations for rape/sexual assault in 2003. Are these findings significant? That is for you to decide. But let me remind you that both the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics funded research regarding the sexual victimization of college women, which found that 2.8 percent of college women will experience a complete or attempted rape during any academic year (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000). As far as I am concerned, I now have one more identifiable commonality among rapists and will update my article as a result of these findings.

The above findings presented statistics regarding male student-athletes and rape/sexual assault. It was easier for me to find research pertaining to factors contributing to sexual assault perpetration by college athletes. This research revealed five major categories in which these contributing factors lie: (1) rape-supportive attitudes, beliefs and feelings (2) rape-supportive behavior, (3) the privileged climate of athletics, (4) the notoriety of the students-athletes, and (5) socioeconomic and ethnic background. The remainder of this paper will review research pertaining to these factors…

Excerpt from 27-page research paper by DiAnn Lanke Stasik 4/25/06.
The complete paper is available in DiAnn’s Curriculum Guide to W.O.W.’s Fundamentals of Self Defense. Please contact her at

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