My ‘Think Tank’ Thinker is Fried

Further proof I am fried. This crappy photo is the best I could muster. Sorry, dear readers. My heart was in the right place…

I am sitting here, digging through the language of the Clery Act as well as the often referenced Office of Civil Rights “Dear Colleague Letter” to better understand if recommendations created by me and a room full of people way smarter than me at last week’s NCAA Think Tank on Interpersonal Violence have a prayer of becoming NCAA law.

The meeting was the most intellectually challenging 24 hours I have spent in a very long time and it came on the heels of my being both deeply entrenched in college football season and my training to become a rape crisis counselor. The truth is, I am holding on for dear life to make it through the middle of the month without getting sick or becoming malnourished. A gal can only take so many flights and eat so many yogurt parfaits from McDonald’s.

I entered the meeting with the promise to myself that I’d ‘stay in my lane’ and speak up only when I could contribute an original thought rather than merely to echo sentiments of others. I felt that was my best strategy to be found credible while sitting at a table with, you know, Harvard Law’s lead professor on sexual assault/Title IX and with the Department of Justice’s senior grant specialist.

After NCAA President Mark Emmert addressed us, encouraging us to be bold and outside-the-box on how to address this pervasive problem, we realized what an enormous task we actually had before us. Interpersonal violence comprises rape, sexual assault, hazing, bullying, assault, stalking, harassment and other forms of violence. And there we were trying to figure out recommendations for the Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct to take action on for the membership.

Remarkably, the collection of experts led to an open dialogue and exchange of ideas with nothing but the utmost respect for each person’s contributions. Pretty refreshing. Many times our conversations drifted to administrators and anticipated resistance from them on enacting yet another NCAA mandate on a topic no school wants to highlight. Ultimately, I found myself constantly refocusing my thoughts and the thoughts of our working teams when possible on what actions will serve the most victims.

If college sports is guilty of anything, it’s the disproportionate amount of attention a handful of schools and teams receive against the backdrop of 430,000 student-athletes overall. Our Think Tank had to think big picture because we owed it to the entirety of the membership. But it was difficult.

Just as perpetrators of sexual assault and other violence receive hyper focus in the media, so too did they in our discussions until we realized the ‘bigger get’ would be in establishing baselines for schools that if honored, would assist all victims. Divisions and scholarship money do not in any way alter the rate of victimization; there are scores more victims than perpetrators within the student-athlete population.

Aside from my working knowledge of NCAA structure and my recollection of how best to approach creation of policy, if there was one contribution I could make, one topic on which to leave an impression, victim assistance was it. I made it clear I wanted us, to at all times be thinking of how best to serve the needs of victims. I told the group, “I am thinking of the victim. After she is assaulted, who can she turn to, how can she get help, whom can she trust, who will help her with medical, legal and emotional support?”

I advocated for athletics departments staff to be trained on a basic level of how to deal with victims who disclose. And then, I advocated to have one male and one female victims advocate – who are trained much as I am being trained now – available to student-athlete victims. This would be in addition to the Title IX coordinator position already present on college campuses as sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment which violates Title IX statutes. I believe in this because student-athletes should have a place to go that is familiar to them if they are assaulted and to a person who understands how an athlete might be struggling differently than non-athletes. At Syracuse, I spent almost all of my free time within the walls of the athletics department. It would have been my instinct to turn there.

As I told the group, the entire time I was being attacked  by Marco, I couldn’t help but think “I can’t believe this is happening to me. I can’t believe he isn’t backing down” no matter how hard I hit him. It panicked me as that unavoidable reality was settling into my brain. So much of my confidence had been wrapped up in my strength and belief that I was different from most girls. If Marco had raped me, I think I would have fallen farther than girls who didn’t see themselves as physically gifted and thereby immune from men taking them on.

I have lots more on this topic for my next post. I am tackling the mandatory reporter status of athletics department staff under the Clery Act vs. victim advocates who are only held to that status by the age of the victim (minor vs. adult). As I understand it now, it would seem student-athletes might be better served to disclose to victim advocates as athletics department personnel cannot guarantee confidentiality no matter the age of the victim. This would seem prohibitive to me and a burden on student-athletes who are victimized.

Also, I have some semi-good news regarding overseas prosecution. I explained my case to the Harvard law professor who is brilliant and beautiful, by the way, and told her my blog and efforts in this space began as an attempt to create a stake in the ground on the subject. She wants me to visit and take it to her students so we can figure how to come at this. It is really important to me to create information on best practices for victims who have to deal with foreign jurisdictions on everything from reporting the crime overseas to victims compensation and navigating legal systems.

The past few days, I haven’t been able to shake the belief that the Think Tank represented for me the full circle that has been my experience as a victim and a survivor. As I excitedly recounted my learnings from the meeting to a dear coworker of mine today, she looked at me with unshed tears and whispered, “I am so proud of you. I remember when you were so low you could not see up.” I feel proud. I never stopped swinging, never ever, even when I felt broken. I had faith I’d come out the other side. And now I am here. It is a bittersweet feeling, but it is such a good one.

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