It’s unfortunate that in 2013, sexual harassment is so commonplace it can be excused away by personality traits and a culture that protects offenders while further victimizing those who suffer. The Lantern broke a story Friday about Ohio State cheerleading coaches who were fired in May after a sexual harassment investigation discovered inappropriate behavior including, but not limited to: sexual text messages sent from a coach to a student, physical touching, coach nudity in front of athletes and suggestive, derogatory nicknames.
The assistant coaches in question, Eddie Hollins and Dana Bumbrey, were released from their positions, but that doesn’t make the problem disappear. There is still the head coach, who didn’t report the information through the appropriate channels when she was first made aware of this kind of inappropriate conduct. There are also students who never spoke up. Those who saw what was going on, perhaps even experienced it themselves, and for whatever reason, didn’t report it.
Sexual harassment is an issue that can affect anyone interacting with people anywhere, including at school, work or while participating in athletics. It doesn’t matter if you’re a male or a female, either. In fact, it’s important to note that in regards to the OSU investigation, both men and women reported being harassed when interviewed. It can be easy to write off sexual harassment as a female problem — or something that could never happen to you. Something that only happens when individuals “lead on” their harassers. Something that can be avoided by dressing a certain way or acting a certain way. But the truth is, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is sexual harassment doesn’t discriminate.
Power structures make you vulnerable to sexual harassment, and while incidents can occur between equals, that wasn’t the case with the OSU cheerleading team and often isn’t the case. The assistant coaches, who have not returned The Lantern’s requests for comment, took advantage of their positions of power over student-athletes in a grave breach of trust. They abused their power at the expense of student-athletes who had accepted that harassment was just part of the way things were.
Shame on head coach Lenee Buchman for not reporting this behavior initially and protecting her athletes from physical, emotional and mental abuses that come with sexual misconduct. OSU not only didn’t let go of Buchman, they gave her a pay raise. A university is intended to be a temple for knowledge and a safe place to grow and learn — not a place where students can easily fall prey to misguided and abusive leadership.
If OSU wants to remain a safe haven for young adults in a transitional phase, it (and subsequently its programs) should do nothing to protect offenders and everything to assist students in need.
A structure that protects offenders makes everyone a victim.