We have previously written that too many colleges and universities in America fail to appropriately handle allegations of sexual assault. In some cases, when victims come forward, school administrators try to handle the allegations quietly so that they don’t receive unwanted media attention. Other times, school counselors and others who are supposed to be victim advocates end up blaming the victims instead of helping them.
As we learned with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, some schools are so invested in their cash-cow athletics programs that they are willing to turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of coaches and players. Too often, those misdeeds include sexual assault. Schools that offer a free pass to athletes and coaches can sometimes be held liable in a sex abuse lawsuit.
Recently, a former student from Oregon State University filed a lawsuit against the school and a man named Mike Riley, who was the school’s head football coach in the late 1990s. She alleges that in the fall of her freshman year in 1999, she was drugged and raped at an off-campus apartment complex where some OSU football players resided. She says she remembers regaining consciousness in a room that had team photos and OSU football jerseys covering the walls.
The plaintiff decided to come forward after reading about another woman’s allegations, made public 10 months earlier. The first victim had reportedly been gang-raped by four men in 1998, three of whom were college football players. As head coach at the time, Mike Riley suspended two of the alleged perpetrators for a single game. He also described their horrendous crime as “a bad choice.”
There are some stark and disturbing connections between these two sexual assault stories. The two women were raped in the same apartment complex. The alleged rapist in the second case was a cousin of one of the OSU football players involved in the first rape.
There was more than enough evidence in the first case for prosecutors to secure rape and sexual assault convictions. Unfortunately, like many victims, the young woman could not bring herself to press charges.
After so many years, it can be difficult for sex abuse victims to get the help and credibility they need to pursue justice. But that should not dissuade them from trying. Moreover, if even one act of rape was condoned or facilitated by a school’s entitlement culture for athletes, the school, coaches and any other parties involved should face legal consequences.