Police arrested University of Kansas wide receiver Mark A. Thomas over the weekend in connection with a sexual assault, the latest arrest in a string of sexual and domestic assault cases involving both college and professional football players in recent weeks. According to the victim, Thomas “forcibly fondled her” while she was passed out.
Kansas suspended Thomas indefinitely.
The Thomas arrest comes just a week after a grand jury indicted Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice on one count of aggravated assault against his fiancee. Former NFL star Darren Sharper, meanwhile, is facing charges that he drugged and raped women in at least five states.
Thomas’ arrest is only the latest incident involving college athletes. A University of Wisconsin recruit has been charged with raping a student during a campus visit. Students at the University of Michigan protested the school’s approach to a sexual assault investigation of the team’s kicker. There was also the high-profile case involving Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, who was accused of sexual assault by a fellow student but never faced charges.
These incidents are not aberrations, as Jessica Luther has shown with her exhaustive list of college football sexual assault cases since the 1970s, including 13 combined in 2012 and 2013.
Luther’s already-jarring list comes with a disclaimer that 90 percent of rapes on college campuses go unreported.
The epidemic is abetted by cultural stigma against victims and excuse-making for perpetrators and their support systems. But for athletes, that support system is usually especially extensive, including legions of fans and teams or athletic departments. Meanwhile, alleged victims are greeted with death threats, threats of further sexual violence, or relentless questioning of their character.
These problems are especially true when it comes to athletes, but they are hardly limited to such cases. Statistics from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network show that sexual assault crimes at all age levels go unreported 60 percent of the time and only 10 percent lead to an arrest — this despite the fact that potentially fewer than 2–8 percent of rape accusations are false.
Colleges and universities are failing women across the campus spectrum. Women at colleges around the country, including Harvard, Dartmouth, and Swarthmore, have filed Title IX complaints alleging that their schools failed to protect them from sexual assault or respond to allegations properly. Sometimes this involves athletes — seven women filed a Title IX complaint against the University of Connecticut, and one was allegedly assaulted by an athlete.
And sometimes female athletes are the victims. ESPN’s Outside The Lines recently reported on the case of a University of Missouri swimmer who committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted, and the case has drawn allegations that her coaches and the school overlooked the crime.
With problems this prevalent on campuses (and, as Steubenville and Maryville and other cases have shown, before men get there), it’s no wonder that athletes and other men go onto commit even more heinous crimes, like Sharper’s or Rice’s. Until there’s more accountability in all parts of our culture, the horrifying trend will only continue.