As the trial of two Ohio high school football players accused of rape begins this week, there are fresh calls for requiring school officials to be trained in preventing and addressing cases of sexual violence.
Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond of Steubenville, Ohio, face a judge and jury this week over charges that they raped a 16-year-old woman from West Virginia while she was too drunk to resist at a party just before the start of the 2012-13 school year. The night of partying began at the home of one of the Steubenville High School football coaches. The two were not allowed on the team this year, but other players who witnessed the events were.
Now, people are calling for rape prevention education for all high school coaches. Already, more than 27,000 people have signed a petition on change.org asking the National Federation of High School Associations, which accredits coaches, to work on creating a course on sexual violence prevention for high school coaches.
“Empowering coaches, who are mentors to young men, to begin difficult and complex conversations about sexual violence could create long-lasting change in communities across the nation and lead to curbing, and even ending, sexual violence,” write those behind the petition. It was started by Connor Clancy, a football player at Colby College, in Maine, and Carmen Rios, a former campus sexual violence educator and member of the SPARK Movement. SPARK is “a girl-fueled activist movement to demand an end to the sexualization of women and girls in media” according to its website.
It’s been almost two years since the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance to schools and universities about school violence. That guidance was meant to shape schools’ reactions, even in cases of sexual assault that happened off campus.
“A single incidence of rape is sufficient to create a hostile environment...for the entire school community. That is a huge point of clarification universities and schools have often struggled with,” said Russlynn H. Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Education at the time.
The Steubenville case affected many in the small town, with at least one judge and the county prosecutor, among others, forced to recuse themselves because of their connections with the football team, as noted in this article. The school district added unarmed guards to all of its schools earlier this year after threats of harm were made against those involved in the case who had not been charged.
In their petition, Clancy and Rios write, “We are sick of the sports communities surrounding them blindly supporting the boys and men, seemingly terrified of disrupting their athlete-hero culture that celebrates the local ‘golden boys’ whose behavior has no consequences and ignores the voices and experiences of the girls and women they hurt. We need to change this culture that tolerates violence. We need solutions.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.