The Situationist

The Situation of Sexual Assault at Boston University

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 10, 2012

A  report, commissioned by Boston University President after two hockey players were charged with sexual assault, found a “culture of sexual entitlement” in the hockey program and a lack of reporting and discipline against star players.  In effect, the report concluded that the situation contributed significantly to the behavior which put many BU students at risk.  Here are some excerpts:

On March 7, 2012, Boston University President Robert A. Brown established and charged the Men’s Ice Hockey Task Force with the responsibility to review the culture and climate of the Boston University men’s hockey program and to provide a thoughtful and impartial assessment. The task force was initiated in response to criminal charges, which included sexual assault being brought against two members of the men’s ice hockey team within a three-month period. These charges raised serious questions about whether the culture and climate of the ice hockey program contributed in some way to the alleged actions of the two individuals. The University chose to investigate these questions with the understanding that if evidence of systemic problems emerged, then appropriate changes would be made to ensure that our men’s ice hockey program is held to the same high standards to which we hold all members of our university community.

Of primary concern was the question of whether inherent aspects of the program’s culture and climate could have helped to foster the actions that led to the criminal charges. For those unfamiliar with Boston University athletic programs, the men’s hockey team, which has won a total of five national championships, has garnered substantial national recognition and is often among the top university ice hockey programs in the nation. Its visibility both on and off campus exceeds that of any other BU athletic program.

It is essential to note that the task force was not asked to conduct an assessment of the guilt or innocence of the two individuals who were charged with sexual assault. Neither was the task force asked to evaluate the judgments that were rendered in these two cases by Boston University’s Judicial Affairs, which has the responsibility for adjudicating alleged violations of the Student Code of Responsibilities. Those processes are the purview of the State of Massachusetts and the Boston University Dean of Students, respectively. In fact, prosecutors have since dropped the criminal charges that were filed against one of the individuals, while the other individual has pleaded guilty to reduced charges of assault and battery.

* * *

Our assessment of the information and data we gathered and reviewed concerning the Boston University men’s ice hockey program can be considered in two broad categories. The first includes the full range of university structures, processes, and procedures that govern all aspects of the men’s ice hockey program in particular, and competitive athletics at Boston University in general. Our conclusion is that there are a number of important structures and processes that are failing to achieve the full level and quality of oversight of the men’s ice hockey program that is expected and appropriate at a major university. These failings include issues of institutional control and governance structure at the highest levels, as well as shortcomings in leadership at the team level. Further, the absence of a few routine, transparent, and systematic processes that would establish clear expectations for players’ behavior has created a culture in which important aspects of oversight for our student-athletes’ behavior—beyond performance as a team member—has fallen inappropriately to the coaching staff.

The second broad category of findings relates to issues surrounding the social and sexual interactions of the men’s ice hockey players with the broader student community. Our assessment has shown that a culture of sexual entitlement exists among some players on the men’s ice hockey team, stemming in part from their elevated social status on campus. This culture of sexual entitlement, as evidenced by frequent sexual encounters with women absent an emotional relationship or on-going commitment, can also involve unprotected sex. This culture is actively supported by a small subset of BU’s undergraduate population. The absence of systematic processes for sexual assault prevention training for members of the men’s ice hockey team, and for BU students more broadly, contributes to behaviors that place many University students at risk. Substance abuse, including heavy alcohol use in particular, can be an important part of students’ social and sexual culture. Institutional practices and educational efforts relating to sexual health and substance abuse—for the men’s ice hockey players in particular, and for the undergraduate student body in general—do not provide sufficient information or guidance to our students.

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Read the entire report, including fourteen recommendations here.

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