Fighting the stigma
Written by Julia Stumbaugh|
December 2, 2015
In August 2015, Chicago Blackhawks player Patrick Kane was investigated for an alleged incident at his home, including an accusation of sexual assault. In October 2015, he started the hockey season in stadiums full of people wearing his jersey and chanting his name, playing successfully all the way until the case was dropped in early November. Kane was innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law; is there something wrong with the fact that he was able to earn his 6.8 million dollar annual salary uninterrupted while a criminal case was built against him? This question might seem irrelevant to us as college students — Chicago is a long way from Williamsburg, and events within the NHL seem to only matter to sports fans. I would argue that it is not only relevant but imperative that we examine this decision and consider what it indicates about the chances of sexual assault being reported here on campus.
After Kane was arrested in August, EA Sports announced that they would be dropping him from the cover of their NHL 16 video game. Some saw this as a mistake; you cannot take away someone’s livelihood, the argument goes, because of an act that they may or may not have done. This follows the same principle that prevents someone being expelled from the College simply for being accused of cheating.
During an ongoing rape investigation involving such a wild power imbalance, there should be social repercussions where there cannot be legal ones.
EA Sports was in the right here. The tenet of “innocent until proven guilty” is a sacred one in courts of law, yes, but the terms of how we treat people under investigation socially are not quite so black and white. In the Kane investigation, the gray area between “innocent” and “proven guilty” was made even murkier by a significant power imbalance. Because of his resources and support, it was always unlikely that Kane would ever be found guilty in a court of law. As outside observers, we must realize that this does not necessarily mean he is innocent. During an ongoing rape investigation involving such a wild power imbalance, there should be social repercussions where there cannot be legal ones. The benefit of the doubt should be given by outside observers to the accuser when the accused sits in a position of relative power.
There are posters in countless College bathroom stalls that helpfully spell out who to contact in case of sexual assault. These phone numbers are not used as often as they could be, and this hesitation is in part because of a social barrier that is exemplified by the Kane investigation. This isn’t the only recent high-profile rape case to crumble before reaching prosecution; from Columbia to U. Va., every rape accusation that hits the media and then subsequently falls apart under scrutiny makes it harder and harder for accusations to be taken seriously. The Kane case not only reflected the damage these cases have done but worsened it – his playing uninterrupted throughout the investigation implied that observers have begun to automatically assume that a rape accusation must be false. Every high-profile case that is automatically doubted by the media makes it less likely that students will be confident enough to report their own assault.
It is our responsibility as college students – as consumers of media, sports fans, and human beings – to open up a dialogue on affording accusations of sexual assault the gravity they deserve.
Rape is a significant issue on college campuses today; according to a recent study, 18 percent of college students report being sexually assaulted in their freshman year. In light of this, the Blackhawks’ decision to keep Patrick Kane playing for the team during this investigation was a dangerous one. They had to trust that the backlash against Kane would not be enough to have any significant impact on the team; regrettably, they were ultimately right. It is our responsibility as college students – as consumers of media, sports fans and human beings – to open up a dialogue on affording accusations of sexual assault the gravity they deserve. Almost one in five college freshmen experience sexual assault; very few of these cases will be reported, and even fewer prosecuted. If rape accusations are not given the social weight that they deserve, then the chances that victims will actually use the numbers listed on the back of their stall doors will be even smaller. The Kane case reflects all the way from rape accusations holding little weight on ESPN to rape accusations holding little weight on college campuses such as ours.
Email Julia Stumbaugh at [email protected]
Correction: An earlier version of this column stated that Kane had been arrested for sexual assault. While the allegations against Kane were investigated, he was not arrested or charged by the district attorney’s office.