Sports Illustrated asked the question, and they seem to think the fact that the victims were male, and maybe 18-19 years old, and athletes means that, as opposed to small gymnasts, society struggles to see them as victims, and thus doesn’t really care as much.
I think there’s something to that. It’s probably more complicated than that, but I think this is mixed in for sure, and it’s a classic misunderstanding of the power dynamics of college sports, and the fight/flight/freeze reaction so many have to trauma. Yes, a college wrestler could have overpowered the doctor, but that would be the end of their athletic career, college scholarship, and everything they were working for, and let’s face it, if a doctor touched you inappropriately during an exam, how many of us would just freeze? Quite a lot, actually.
Look at what Mark Coleman, NCAA champion, Olympic wrestler, former UFC champion, had to say about it:
“People say, Why would they let a little man do this? Well, it’s complicated. You felt powerless. I wasn’t going to stir up s—, punch Dr. Strauss in the face and risk everything.”
That’s really the point. In the 80s and 90s, what were you going to do? The University had already ignored years worth of complaints, no alpha male athlete was going to admit to being molested by another man knowing that all they would get are the embarrassing jokes around campus about them, and nothing was going to change. And that was maybe a best case scenario. Others might just find themselves without a scholarship, or kicked off of a team. So again, what else were they going to do? Fight, and you are the one who ends up losing everything, but that’s even assuming that was a conscious choice. Very likely, it wasn’t their first reaction because that’s not how any of this works. As Kristy McCray, an Otterbein (Ohio) University associate professor of health and sports sciences, specializing in college sport and sexual violence prevention says in the article:
Why didn’t you fight? goes to basic myths about rape, and same-sex rape specifically. “It’s very clear that middle-aged Jerry Sandusky should not be showering with a 10-year-old boy. That is clearly wrong. Nobody supports that. Nobody supports Larry Nassar abusing young girls. It is abhorrent,” she says. “But when it comes to adults—both men and women—when we think about adult victimization, societally, we are more likely to engage in victim blaming. Why didn’t you fight back? Why didn’t you stop him? And then the extension of that with male victims is it makes us uncomfortable to think that this can happen to someone like me, someone like my dad, someone like my brother….Now add that these were not weak, soft men. These were highly competitive, physically strong athletes.”
It’s hard to imagine a college wrestler or football player being helpless. That’s not the image that comes to mind. They aren’t small children, they aren’t, as I said before, gymnasts in college. They are big, strong, muscular, and yet, the power dynamics were no different. As a college athlete, you need medical clearance to play. That clearance can only come from the team doctor, who, in this case, might also be giving you steroids as well, illegally. You want to keep that scholarship? You want to play your sport, and make a career out of it? Well, that little doctor can put an end to that, or he can allow it. It all depends on what you have to say about his “extra” examinations. What are you going to do?
This isn’t just limited to athletes. I don’t know a single male childhood sexual abuse survivor, or male adult sexual assault survivor, who hasn’t either been asked, or asked themselves, these same questions. Why didn’t you fight? Why didn’t you run away? Why didn’t you tell? (And yes, I know women get these questions more often than not too, but I feel like that is starting to change slowly as it may be, but it’s not changing for men.)
Simply put, we aren’t talking about Ohio State because we aren’t comfortable with what it represents. [click_to_tweet tweet=”We aren’t comfortable with the idea that men, no matter how big and strong they might physically be, can still be victimized. We aren’t comfortable with the idea that same-sex sexual assault happens much, much more often than we want to admit.” quote=”We aren’t comfortable with the idea that men, no matter how big and strong they might physically be, can still be victimized. We aren’t comfortable with the idea that same-sex sexual assault happens much, much more often than we want to admit.”]
Maybe the one thing in this story that shocked me more than anything was this statistic:
According the Department of Justice data, male college-aged students (18-24) are 78% more likely than non-students of the same age to be a survivor of rape or sexual assault.
We talk a lot about women being in danger on college campuses, but how often do we talk about how much danger male students are in on campus? This was the first time I’ve seen this statistic. It’s stunning to me that it’s this high and we aren’t talking about it at all. If we accept that males under the age of 18 might be targeted by male pedophiles, why would we be surprised that 18-19 year olds would be targeted as well?
Dr. Strauss is dead. These men will never get their day in court to read their victim statements, and be cheered on by the public, but given how uncomfortable we are with the subject matter, even if they did, would we welcome it the same way we did during the trial of Larry Nasser? If not, what does that say about us?