This week women have had some newsworthy victories. On Monday, it was announced that Florida State University (FSU) would pay Erica Kinsman $950,000 and commit itself to sexual assault awareness, prevention and training programs in exchange for Kinsman dismissing her Title IX lawsuit against the school. Yesterday, Amber Rose got a win for every woman who has been shamed because of her sexuality when she quite effortlessly dismissed her ranting ex, Kanye West, and his childish antics. While these ladies, one a co-ed from a small town in Florida and the other one of the most recognizable models in the world, may seem eons apart, they and their victories really are quite closely related. You see, Kinsman sued FSU for its mishandling of her claim that she was raped by former FSU quarterback, Jameis Winston. In a legal sense, she sued FSU for sexual discrimination. And Rose, well I’ll get back to Rose in a minute. For now, let’s focus on Kinsman, FSU and Title IX.
“Title IX” refers to a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits federally funded schools from discriminating based on sex. It states:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 38 U.S.C. § 1681 (a)
While Title IX is often spoken of in terms of giving girls and women equal access to sports, it also extends the same rights to boys and men and protects everyone from sexual misconduct. Under Title IX, sexual misconduct includes: sexual assault (e.g. rape, molestation), sexual harassment (e.g. unwelcomed sexual touching and comments), intimate partner and dating violence, stalking, voyeurism and exhibitionism. To ensure protection from sexual misconduct, Title IX requires that:
- Every school have a publicly known and accessible Title IX Coordinator to manage complaints;
- When a person makes a claim of sexual misconduct to any school official, the school, regardless of any independent law enforcement investigations, conduct a prompt, thorough investigation and issue any necessary disciplinary action;
- Schools take immediate action to ensure an alleged victim can continue their education free of ongoing sexual misconduct (by doing things like issuing no contact directives to the accused and making reasonable changes to housing) and disallowing mediation as a means of handling complaints of sexual violence; and
- Schools refrain from retaliating against alleged victims and prevent others from doing the same.
We know who Erica Kinsman is because she claimed that FSU violated Title IX when it failed to afford her the proper protection from sexual misconduct when its employees failed to adequately report, investigate and respond to her claim that Winston raped her. In doing so, she also claimed that FSU allowed her to be subjected to further harassment and retaliation, so much so that she had to transfer schools.
That Kinsman’s settlement is the largest lump sum payment of its kind is no indication that the nature of her claim is an anomaly. In fact, for years across this country there have been many claims that male student-athletes have engaged in sexual misconduct against women and that their respective schools have failed to provide adequate, lawful responses. You may recall that in 2004 Katie Hnida, former kicker for the University of Colorado and first woman to score in a Division-I football game, went public with her story that in 2000 she reported to her coach and athletic director that a teammate raped her. Her complaint fell on deaf ears. In 2013, a student alleged that University of Alabama at Huntsville hockey player, Lasse Uusivirta, raped her. After admitting to the rape, Uusivirta was allowed to keep his scholarship and continue playing on the team. He fled back to his native Finland after his accuser pressed criminal charges. And the Department of Education (responsible for enforcing Title IX) is currently investigating the University of Oregon after it allowed three male basketball players (who were later convicted) to continue their full season of basketball after a student accused them of gang raping her.
How can it be that so many institutions turn blind eyes to women’s claims that student-athletes (who are funded by the institution) have committed sexual misconduct? The answer is found in one word, culture. This country has perpetuated a culture that allows and glorifies abusing and degrading women, using violence and obtaining power; the perfect storm for developing sexual abusers. The abuse of women is everywhere. Only 10% of individuals accused of rape are arrested and only 4% of that meager number are convicted, a sign that sexual abuse is not always taken seriously and at times to difficult to prove. Children grow up seeing their fathers beat their mothers with no repercussions, and songs glorify demeaning and objectifying women. Violence is in top-selling video games and movies, and soaks the records of peace police officers in every jurisdiction. The thirst for power causes our politicians to spew hateful speech in hopes of occupying the most powerful seat in the world and has (for centuries) allowed discrimination based on one’s race, sex, gender and orientation to exist
The world of college athletics is a mere microcosm of the rest of the culture. Unfortunately and very often, male student-athletes come from backgrounds where violence (and violence towards women) is normal; and their sports and training often encourage displays of aggression and masculinity. Many athletic programs are built on winning and asserting power over others in their conferences and divisions. The win-at-all-cost mentality, combined with the high stakes nature of college athletics unfortunately encourages coaches and administrators to bend moral standards to create and maintain the winningest teams, even to the point of filling squads with cheaters and rapists.
So our culture has led us to a place where so many schools ignore the cries of abused women and is the reason Erica Kinsman and Amber Rose are connected. Their stories are both products of a culture that ignores the pleas of and accepts the public condemnation of women in efforts to win and maintain the status quo (that of male domination). FSU chose to ignore that a woman may have been violated in the most intimate of ways for risk that they might lose one of the best talents college football had to offer. Kanye West, at the mere inclination that another man could have questioned his position, his power; chose to publicly involve Amber Rose and her past as a sex worker in his pissing contest with himself. Well this time, in a society where women often lose, are often silenced and are too often made to feel subhuman for their sexuality; women won. FSU is paying Kinsman a substantial amount of money and she has changed the practices of one of the country’s most well-known institutions. Rose stood up for herself and delivered the clap back of the century with tweets that rang so loud that they forced Kanye to shut up and ushered in a collective “Daaaaayum,” from the entire country. That’s winning if I’ve ever seen it.
But while these wins are lovely, women, sports and this country still have so far to go. To get to a culture where schools and their athletic departments value women more than championships, where it’s not ok for a man to call a woman a slut and where women feel comfortable reporting when they become victims of sexual misconduct; we’re going to need more than women who are willing to pursue Title IX lawsuits. We’re going to need for the justice system to take women’s claims seriously. We’re going to need more men (and women) to admonish people who use their words to degrade women. And we’re going to need to stop blaming the victims. No, a woman getting intoxicated is not an excuse for her getting raped; no matter how short her skirt was.
While my utopian society, a place and time where all women are treated with equality and dignity, might be far off; weeks like this one give me faith. Every time a woman stands up for herself, whether it be in the courtroom or on Twitter, collectively women stand a little bit taller and men second guess whether asserting their positions is really worth it. And that is a win.
 Jameis Winston was never criminally charged with Kinsman’s rape.
 These examples are a mere fraction of the instances of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses each year. Fewer than 5%of campus sexual assaults are reported to the police, and (as of July 22, 2015) the Department of Education has 124 colleges under investigation for the handling of sexual misconduct investigations.
 To be clear, the vast majority of men, student-athletes included, will never perpetrate sexual assault. Some statistics; however, do suggest that male student-athletes commit sexual assaults a rate more than 5 times the general male student population.
 Before you naysayers futilely cry out, “But so many women falsely accuse men of rape,” only an estimated 2-10% of claims of rape are deliberately false. That means 90-98% of the time, when a woman claims she was raped she either was or believes she was.