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Victims: Separate, not Equal

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Patrick Smith

Like so many of you, I am on Facebook. I've been on it for years, and while I don't spend as much time on it as many, I do post links to various articles that I find interesting, newsworthy, or both. As you might expect, much of my posting is PSU-centric.

Back when IT hit last year, many of us were on the defensive. Many of us weeded through our friends list, determining who to keep or get rid of based in part on how they posted and interacted with Penn Staters in the aftermath of the scandal. I was no different. As my personal posting timeline was filled with what some might have seen as homer-centric views, I'm sure I was muted by some who were just sick of me talking about it.

To my knowledge, only one "friend" de-friended me after everything went down, and here's why:

I posted a link to a story that, unfortunately, I can no longer find (edit: with the help of Adam Shell, you can read that initial story here). In it, it talks about the repeated sexual abuse of U.S. Gymnasts by their coach, someone in whom they and their families had immense trust and who was directly involved in their athletic training and development. In the article, the author posits that the main reason why this scandal got little to no reporting, as opposed to the Sandusky scandal, was simply the sex of the victims--little girls getting raped was not as scary or foreign to the masses as the potential rape of little boys.

In linking to this article, I called the author's viewpoint interesting. I didn't condone it, I didn't say I agreed or disagreed. I simply called it interesting, because I think the premise was, and is. The gender dynamic in cases such as this just isn't discussed in the mainstream, and whether you agree with the author's premise or not, gender equality (or inequality) is a discussion that we as a society should have. I was lambasted after posting the link for my choice of adjective, because, among other reasons, there shouldn't be a difference between how the rape of boys and the rape of girls is treated.

My one-time friend was right: there shouldn't be a difference. But there undoubtedly is, whether or not it's comfortable to talk about.

Take the events that occurred at the University of Montana. I'm loathe to call these events a "scandal," because in addition to the circumstances surrounding the rape of young female co-eds being less than surprising nowadays, the majority of national media has completely ignored it. Many of those close to the program are calling it a "crisis." I prefer the term "epidemic."

I'm unsure of the totals, but dozens of young women were found to be sexually assaulted, raped, and gang-raped by members of the university football team. What then resulted was horrifying, and unfortunately probably all too common (I'm looking at you, Notre Dame): they were encouraged to change their stories, change their terminology, deny that it even happened. There was a systemic cover up by the football coach and the athletic director, both of whom were fired. When the story came out, many public figures attempted to paint the football program itself as a victim--all this despite actual, tangible proof of a systemic cover-up within the University.

Would the same lack of public outcry or outrage have happened had fifty young boys been raped at the same university, by students at the university? If those victims were ones that the University itself was charged to educate, house and protect?

In the wake of the entire Manti Te'o "girlfriend" revelation and Jack Swarbrick's attempt to paint the Heisman finalist as a sort of victim, I'm reminded again of this gender disparity. Others have railed more eloquently than I against Te'o as a victim, citing Lizzy Seeberg and Declan Sullivan and another still-unnamed rape victim of a still-unnamed Irish football player as the real victims. They're not wrong, and hopefully with this latest weird story their names and what happened to these real victims will actually come to the forefront of any national discussion on the real national culture of big time college football, and by extension of Notre Dame.

But right now, as I read stories of Te'o and the comments disparaging a possible female perpetrator, I keep coming back to this idea: that had this sort of thing come out about Serena Williams, Danica Patrick, Diana Taurasi, Shawn Johnson or any other female athlete instead of a male football player getting such overwhelmingly praising press before a puzzling, character-questioning revelation, that the media reaction wouldn't be the same. The comments wouldn't be that they must have had a reason to lie so repeatedly and so publicly, or that maybe they were duped, and they wouldn't be portrayed as a victim by much of the media that helped build up their persona and their celebrity.

That idea is incredibly morose to me. It seems, to me, in an era in which we're trying to strive for more gender equality, a frank and honest discussion that we need to have.

In short, I find it interesting.

For a good take on the real victims of Notre Dame, see Matt de Bear's piece at Victory Bell Rings.

For more on the Montana cases, see a year-old opinion piece here. Even after the crisis gained limited press, their quarterback was charged with rape last summer.