Commentary Sexual Health

Could New Steubenville Indictments Send a Message to Communities About Dealing With Rape?

Martha Kempner

Four more adults were indicted Monday for what they did—or didn’t do—after the rape of a 16-year-old girl last August. It will be interesting to see if going after the adults who facilitate these situations will be the lesson that communities need to start paying attention to our nation's rape problem.

Four more adults in Steubenville, Ohio, were indicted Monday for what they did—or didn’t do—after the rape of a 16-year-old girl in August 2012. The two boys who committed the rape were sentenced in juvenile court in March, but Ohio’s attorney general promised to continue investigating the community’s reaction to the events and what appeared to be attempts by school officials to cover it up.

Stories of high school parties turning into scenes of drunk teens and forced sex are all too common, as are communities that blame the victim and rally around rapists (often valuable members of a school’s sports team). As we watch these indictments play out, it will be interesting to see if going after the adults who facilitate these situations—either before or after they occur—will be the lesson that communities need to learn to break out of this vicious cycle in which young men never learn what rape is and why it’s so wrong.

On the night of August 11, 2012, after the Steubenville High School football team’s second scrimmage of the season, many students from the town and surrounding areas gathered at the home of a volunteer football coach for a party that offered beer, wine, rum, whiskey, and vodka to its adolescent guests. Among the over 50 young people to arrive were two star football players, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, as well as a 16-year-old girl from the neighboring town of Weirton, West Virginia.

Details that have since emerged suggest that the young girl was drunk when she left the party with Mays, Richmond, and two other football players. Witnesses at the second party they went to described her as out of it and even asleep. The three then left the second party and went to yet another. Videos, text messages, and accounts from witnesses suggest that the teen girl was raped multiple times, in more than one location, over the course of several hours. There are reports that she was carried around with one boy holding her ankles and another her wrists, that she was urinated on by party-goers, that Mays took video of himself violating her with his fingers in the back of a car, and that at the third party, he attempted to force his penis into her mouth despite the fact that she appeared to be unconscious or nearly unconscious in a video taken by a friend.

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Though the details of the rape are shocking, what caught national attention was the role of social media. The town, and even the victim herself, learned of the incident through a series of posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. There was a picture of her topless and looking unconscious, a number of tweets that included the words “drunk” and “rape,” and a YouTube video that was tweeted numerous times in which a Steubenville graduate noted that the “song of the night is definitely ‘Rape Me’ by Nirvana,” and that “some people deserve to be peed on.” Mays was one of the many people who shared that last tweet.

The fact that young people who witnessed these incidents seemed proud of what happened was one of the things that made this case stand out. One local crime blogger, who took screen shots of these posts before teens could delete them, blamed the football culture in the community and urged police to take action. After the event she wrote, “What normal person would even consider that posting the brutal rape of a young girl is something that should be shared with their peers? Do they think because they are Big Red players that the rules don’t apply to them?” She added that the case should be a “slam dunk” because the perpetrators and their friends recorded it for the police to see.

Unfortunately, as we all know, that’s not how it played out. The videos and other posts were deleted, and police were, at least initially, unable to find the evidence they needed. Police seized 15 phones and two iPads but could not recover any of the videos or pictures in which the actual rape was documented, though they did find two naked pictures of the teen girl on Mays’ phone. The young woman, who could not remember what had happened to her, waited over a day and showered before she was examined at a hospital. That examination yielded no evidence. More disturbing, however, was that witnesses weren’t talking.

This is where the now-indicted adults come in. They are accused of helping to destroy evidence and failing to report the incident. Among the four people indicted Monday is Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Michael McVey, who faces three felony counts: one of tampering with evidence and two of obstructing justice. He also faces two misdemeanor counts: making a false statement and obstructing official business. Three other adults in the school system were also charged with misdemeanors. Matt Bellardine, the volunteer assistant football coach, who is said to have hosted, or at least allowed his home to be used for, one of the parties that night, was charged with allowing underage drinking, obstructing official business, making a false statement, and contributing to the unruliness or delinquency of a child. Lynnett Gorman, an elementary school principal, and Seth Fluharty, a wrestling coach, were charged with failure to report child abuse.

These indictments come a month after two others were handed down. In October, William Rhinaman, who serves as the director of technology for Steubenville City Schools, was indicted on felony charges of tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, obstructing official business, and perjury. His 20-year-old daughter, Hannah Rhinaman, who also worked for the school district, was indicted on two counts of receiving stolen property and one count of grand theft auto.

The details on what each of these adults did to earn these indictments are not yet clear, but taken together it seems there was an attempt by some in the school system to cover up the events of August 11and protect the students who committed the crime.

In his press conference Monday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said it was time to make adults responsible as well. “This began as the rape of a 16-year-old girl, a horrible crime of violence. But it also represents blurred, stretched, and distorted boundaries of right and wrong,” he said. “While this started out being about the kids, it is also just as much about the parents, about the grown-ups, about the adults. How do you hold kids accountable if you don’t hold the adults accountable?”

This is a good start. As I wrote recently in an article inspired by the case of yet another high school girl who was raped by a star athlete and then spurned by her entire community, we have a rape problem in this country. Somehow, we have raised a whole lot of young people who do not know what consent is, cannot recognize that someone who is passed out is incapable of giving consent, and seem bizarrely proud of actions that should be instantly identifiable as both illegal and immoral.

One of the ways we have created this environment is through our reactions—as adults and as a society—to rape and its victims. We instantly question what she was doing wrong and how she got herself into this situation in the first place. We instantly question whether a woman is lying to cover up her own bad decisions. Nate Hubbard, a former Steubenville football player and one of the school’s 19 coaches, expressed this common sentiment to the New York Times in January: “The rape was just an excuse, I think. What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”

Even members of the media seemed to side with the young men in this case. Reporting on the guilty verdict, CNN reporter Poppy Harlow showed a great deal of sympathy for the perpetrators on the day they were found guilty of rape. “These two young men who had such promising futures—star football players, very good students—literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart,” she said. Her statement makes it seem as if they were passive participants in these events, and not young adults who made a number of very bad decisions. Notably, she did not express similar sympathy for the victim in this case, whose life also fell apart.

Of course, if the actions that led to their indictments are true, the school officials may have done more than anyone else to perpetuate this culture of rape and the idea that “boys will be boys” and sex without consent is just a minor teenage indiscretion. Hopefully, the charges against these school employees will send a message to any other adults in a family or community who find themselves dealing with rape, and they will think twice before declaring it no big deal, assuming it was her fault, or attempting to sweep it under the rug.

I also hope that the next message in the form of criminal investigations (and possibly indictments) goes to the students who watched, cheered, and posted about it on the Internet. Via the hacker group Anonymous, a 12-minute video of the incident has surfaced, and the details are just awful. Fellow partygoers can be heard in the background calling the victim deader than JFK, OJ’s wife, Caylee Anthony, and Trayvon Martin, amongst others. One teen, identified as a recent graduate and former baseball player, is heard on the video saying, “She is so raped.” One of his friends says, “That’s not cool, bro. That’s like rape. It is rape. They raped her.” Then the first teen says, “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson” and “They raped her more than the Duke lacrosse team.”

William McCafferty, the Steubenville police chief, said this of the event to the New York Times: “The thing I found most disturbing about this is that there were other people around when this was going on. … Nobody had the morals to say, ‘Hey, stop it, that isn’t right.’ If you could charge people for not being decent human beings, a lot of people could have been charged that night.”

I couldn’t agree more. We can’t charge people for being awful, but we have to teach them to recognize awful and behave better. In our fight against bullying, we are aiming not just at the bullies but at those who witness such interactions. Programs teach young people about bystanders, address why bystanders often mistakenly feel that they shouldn’t or can’t intervene, and then tell kids that they can step in directly to discourage bullies or go get help. It looks like we have to start doing the same type of intervention around rapes at parties or social events. If one—just one—of the athletes at the party had decided “This is wrong” and pulled his buddies off the girl, she might have been spared. And we know that everyone at that party had a cellphone; if, instead of taking pictures, they had just dialed 9-1-1, things might have been very different.

We have a lot of work to do to break out of our rape culture: We need to teach young people about consent, we need to help them understand that young women (or men) who are on the verge of unconsciousness cannot consent, and we need to do a better job explaining that rape is always wrong. Clearly, we need to teach these exact same issues to adults. While I always prefer education before the fact to punishment after, maybe a few more indictments of the adults and young people surrounding a rape is where we need to start. Maybe it’s what communities need in order to start paying attention.

Commentary Violence

‘Asking for It’: Why We Need to Get Angry About Rape Culture

Katie Klabusich

Feminist author Kate Harding wields metaphor with unrivaled mastery in her new book to root out the causes and effects of the way an internalized set of myths about sexual assault allow an epidemic to continue.

“[F]alse rape reports are zebras.” Zebras on a highway, to be exact.

Feminist author Kate Harding wields metaphors like these with unrivaled mastery in her new book, Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Cultureand What We Can Do About Itdue out August 25. In doing so, she roots out the causes and effects of the way an internalized set of myths about sexual assault leaves victims suffering largely in silence and without justice, lest they risk being blamed and persecuted themselves by reporting their attackers.

Accented by snark, punctuated by profanity, and sprinkled with pop culture and literary references, Harding’s writing is accessible in addition to being weighty and informative. My heart leapt with nerdy joy at her inclusion of Kurt Vonnegut’s “grandfalloon”—“a proud and meaningless association of human beings”—to describe the self-professed trolls of GamerGate who tried to spin relentless harassment of female gamers into “ethics in journalism.” Others will find themselves cheering while Harding takes down the celebrity they most love to hate. Daniel Tosh, Tyler Perry, CeeLo Green, Ben Roethlisberger, and Roman Polanski all get the treatment—with plenty of side-eye left over for Woody Allen.

As she tells stories of famous victims and assailants (both admitted and repeatedly accused) as well as her own story, Harding doesn’t shy away from graphic imagery of assault. She explains in the introduction that this choice was made for a very specific reason: to move away from what we ask of those adjacent to victims and potential victims when we implore them to imagine what their “wife, mother, daughter, or sister is hypothetically feeling.” 

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Our culture is in dire shape and more direct and personal visualization is needed. You don’t have to be highly engaged with the news cycle, a sports fan, or a pop culture consumer to have heard about the high-profile cases in recent years. Rape culture has become so unavoidable, that the phrase itself—once tossed around only by feminist and academic circles—is now part of everyday discourse. Of course, there is a sizeable contingent who use it sarcastically in a fact-free attempt to discredit the silly women being all emotional and overreacting to a tiny problem not worth anyone’s time.

People, albeit some subconsciously, widely feel that there is some truth to victim-blaming myths. Harding starts the first chapter, “The Power of Myth,” with this common thought pattern: “If the only thing that happens … is that someone decides to use your body without your consent, well—it’s not like he hurt you. It was basically just bad sex, wasn’t it?” Nearly 2 percent of men are raped in their lifetimes and a full 20 percent report having been victims of other sexual violence, making them, as Harding puts it, “far more likely to be victims of sexual assault than of lying, vindictive [false reporting] women.” But the “bad sex” trope is so pervasive that Harding lets readers know up front in the introduction that she’s going to challenge them beyond the typical exercise of considering how they’d feel if someone they knew was violated:

With this book, I’m asking you to do better than that. I’m asking you to imagine it’s you who was raped. And I’m asking you to get angry about it.

And if you aren’t yet angry five pages in, Harding will guide you step by step.

Asking for It comprises three parts that build on each other. Part I, “Slut Shaming, Victim Blaming, and Rape Myths,” details the tropes embedded in our attitudes and actions that perpetuate disbelief of victims; Part II, ”Law and Order,” outlines the epidemic of mishandled cases and victimization perpetrated by our supposed criminal justice system; and Part III, “The Culture of Rape,” is a much-needed indictment of us all for our participation in a society that perpetuates and even amplifies the myths that allow a rape to occur every seven minutes in this country.

The myths and themes overlap, flowing seamlessly between stories and sections. The seven basic rape myths identified by researchers whose work is cited in the book are:

  1. She asked for it.
  2. It wasn’t really rape.
  3. He didn’t mean to.
  4. She wanted it.
  5. She lied.
  6. Rape is a trivial event.
  7. Rape is a deviant event.

Harding puts together an LOLsob moment with a “Someone has reported a rape” flowchart that demonstrates the power of these rape myths. No matter your choose-your-own-adventure style path, the flowchart inevitably leads to “Everything’s fine! No need to be upset!” It’s an illustration that makes clear that we are all susceptible to at least one of them, making us prone to disbelief and/or self-blame.

The overwhelming and destructive need of human beings to not be uncomfortable, to not have to consider that (unlike in every other crime) the violation has been committed by someone—a rapist—is so powerful that we as human beings bend over backwards to maneuver through whatever series of moves gets us to a place where we don’t have to worry.

“If you’re the person who was raped, you might find you’re still upset after all that,” Harding writes. “But the rest of us can breathe easy, knowing that it never happened, you wanted it, he didn’t mean it, and it was no big deal anyway.” 

Harding touches on the white supremacy of our “justice” system, doesn’t avoid the glossed-over or ignored truth that sending a rapist to prison oftens creates another victim, and wades into the murkiness that is our entertainment industry’s effect on how we think and what we believe. In exploring intersections like those that can derail discussion about rape culture through conflation and hard to unpack contributing factors, Harding somehow emerges with new clarity and effective talking points for dismantling victim blaming—both the sort done by those in the victim’s life and by the victim themselves.

One of her most poignant analogies (it struck me especially hard, being one of my lingering self-blame issues) comes in the chapter titled “Virgins, Vamps, and the View From Nowhere.” Harding is taking on the “personal responsibility” trope that leads even the well-meaning to pile up a can’t-do/must-do list for every woman and individual belonging to an at-risk community, such as transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. Specifically, she goes after the idea that someone who is intoxicated has some measure of blame for their assault.

“[T]here is no Bad Personal Choices threshold past which someone deserves to be raped,” Harding writes.

After excoriating the cast of Fox News’ Outnumbered on this point, she employs a comparison that should make the irrelevance of a victim’s blood alcohol content to their worthiness of justice and care clear for everyone:

It is everyone’s responsibility to remain on the side of not committing crimes while drinking. Women and men are held to exactly the same standard, in that respect. But no, victims are not typically held to the same standard as criminals. Our legal system does not (technically) require victims to make only impeccable life decisions or else forfeit their right to protection under the law. If a frat boy gets plastered, wanders into the street, and gets hit by a drunk driver, the driver is the criminal.

Clearly. The driver committed the crime, the assault, the violation—of both the law and of the Golden Rule that says we treat each other with care. It is practically impossible in that situation to envision reporters, police, and school officials immediately drilling the victim on their clothing choices, number of beverages consumed, or what in hell they were thinking wandering out near the road by themselves so late at night!

The same courtesy should be shown to any victim no matter their condition, no matter their past, no matter the choices they made right up until the moment they did not give or withdrew consent. It is, in fact, incumbent upon us to not perpetrate a crime while drinking rather than to avoid being victimized while drinking. Harding’s emphasis shift in the “drunk victim” scenario, which personal responsibility advocates and victim blamers like the Fox News crew use continually, was one of the many moments of clarity I had while reading her book.

In the final chapter, “Reasons for Hope,” Harding makes good on the promise of her subtitle, using her own campus rape story as a vehicle for describing what has changed since she was a college freshman in 1992.

“[I]t just so happens that one of the worst things that ever happened to me is a good way to introduce all of the recent changes that give me hope for our culture,” she writes. That hope centers around three things: the rise of student activists revolutionizing the way Title IX law is exercised in this country (i.e., forcing the federal government to actually exercise it), the recent wave of “yes means yes”—aka “affirmative consent” laws, and the way young people utilize a tool she didn’t have 20 years ago: the Internet.

Not only are survivors’ stories being told every day online, but the telling and retelling has awakened would-be activists, joining together to demand comprehensive sex education, recognition from authorities, and form groups like Know Your IX, which puts the “how-to” of filing Title IX complaints in students’ hands.

When dozens of ED Act Now organizers descended on the capitol in July 2013 with more than 100,000 signatures, they didn’t just speak on the steps—they dropped the petition at the doorstep of the Department of Education and prompted the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault. Almost overnight, federal officials went from investigating zero colleges and universities for Title IX sexual assault violations to 85 open cases.

As Harding puts it: “Survivors did that. Students did that. The young people who are going to be running everything before we know it did that. That gives me hope.” 

That you can complete her 200-some pages on one of the most common and most violent crimes in our culture feeling optimistic is quite a feat. That I could do it as a rape and abuse survivor makes her book not just informative, but extraordinary.

Asking for It is a must-read for advocates and activists who have to break down rape culture for new, often resistant, audiences, as well as for journalists who desperately need to understand the role they play in perpetuating myths under the guise of impartiality. I also recommend it for survivors—those who can safely read the purposely direct descriptions, particularly those who have been unable to confide in anyone and may feel they’re alone or partially to blame. Harding will likely disabuse you of both feelings and leave you, like me, not just better informed, but hopeful about the direction the cultural discourse is taking at long last: “It feels as if maybe, finally, this conversation won’t taper off until sexual violence does.” 

Commentary Violence

Patrick Kane and the Culture of Disbelief About Rape

Katie Klabusich

Right now I have to consider that this season I may be a rape survivor cheering for a team led by an accused rapist.

Practically everyone in Chicago has a Patrick Kane story.

As a former bartender who was slinging drinks in the Windy City when hockey reappeared like magic on our televisions in 2007 turning a lost generation of Chicagoans into fans of the young, exciting team featuring first-year phenom Kane and his captain, Jonathan Toews, I certainly have mine. And though I’ve always been more of a Patrick Sharp girl (I’m almost done crying about the trade), I’ve appreciated Kane’s work on the ice—delivering three championships in six seasons. I’ve also sort of appreciated him in a bizzaro feminist way for having managed his party rep without his name being automatically associated amongst service staff with misconduct allegations à la Steelers champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Until now.

Blackhawks fans who had planned to spend the summer celebrating the return of Lord Stanley’s Cup must instead come to terms with the news that their star 26-year-old forward is an accused rapist. As criminal defense attorney turned sports reporter and rape survivor Julie DiCaro has covered so adeptly for the Chicago Tribune, some are handling it better than others.

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“When it comes to the Kane investigation, Internet stupidity abounds,” writes DiCaro, below a list of representative examples. “And while it’s tempting to laugh off some of the comments as written by misguided juveniles with a serious case of hero worship, the problem is actually much bigger. Tweets, comments, rumors and news reports like those above are reflective of the way our society treats those who report rape.”

While local radio hosts and writers are largely handling the situation with grace and consideration for all involved, DiCaro’s words aren’t hitting home for a significant portion of the Blackhawks fan base. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a call screener for a local sports station right now.


Kane spent Saturday, August 2 at SkyBar, a popular nightclub in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, reportedly leaving around 3 a.m. with two women to continue partying at his house in nearby suburban Hamburg. Around 4 a.m., one of the women—whose name is being withheld (police say they are abiding by a gag order)—went into another room by herself; Kane reportedly followed and raped her.

The alleged victim then did what rape culture deniers demand of all sexual assault survivors: she found her friend, left, and called a family member on her way to the hospital, where she submitted to an exam and reported the attack to law enforcement. To their credit, Hamburg police appear to be taking her accusations seriously; they have searched Kane’s home and the case has been assigned to Roseanne John, head of the Special Victims Unit in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Research outlined in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence estimates that almost half of rape survivors who report experience “secondary victimization” by law enforcement. Being believed by enough personnel (most rape victims must tell their stories repeatedly) to prompt the search of a local celebrity’s home and the hiring of an expert SVU prosecutor before potential charges are filed shows a level of engagement and willingness to believe the victim we can’t, unfortunately, take for granted.

According to details obtained by the Buffalo News, the alleged victim even bears the marks rape apologists and perpetrators of the “stranger rape myth” expect of anyone truly not consenting to the encounter: bite marks on her shoulders and a scratch on her leg. She has behaved as a supposedly model victim, fighting back physically and then legally, risking the public ridicule that descends upon anyone who dare sully the name of a beloved athlete.

Obviously, I don’t know exactly what happened that night; I’m not privy to the ongoing police investigation or hospital reports and I haven’t had interview time with Kane’s accuser. What I do know is that statistically, I can’t expect relief for the knot in my stomach that formed when I first saw headlines of the incident. Research tells us that more than 92 percent of rape reports are credible. Considering we hardly have a contingent of rape survivors who were granted fame and fortune as a reward for accusing a well-known man of assault, I’m inclined to eschew society’s unfortunate convention and simply believe her until I see evidence she put herself through this ordeal without cause.

I’m not on a jury, so save the “innocent until proven guilty” nonsense. That’s a legal term, not a cultural requirement.

And, listen. I’ll be uncomfortably honest: like any fan of any sport (or anything, really), my heart sank when I heard that an integral member of a team I have rooted for—whose jersey hangs in my closet—was being investigated for something heinous. Also like any fan, my first impulse was to close my eyes and utter the sentence, “Please don’t let it be true.”

For anyone who’s more than just a casual sports consumer, it’s understandable to hope your team isn’t tarnished or is about to lose a player so good, a mere seven years in he’s already past the 100-point mark in his playoff career. With a contract extension through 2022-2023, Kane is poised to become the most celebrated player in team history. Permanently breaking up the Kane-Toews line would likely usher in another championship drought.

So, of course I had the thought. As hard as it is to admit, that was my first impulse. I’m human, which means my brain automatically considers how unexpected news will affect me before processing what it means for other people. Because I am a justice-oriented survivor who’s educated on the effects of rape culture and understand what it takes for someone to report, I processed all of that in pretty rapid succession—but I have to admit to myself that even I started from a self-serving mental moment of disbelief.

What I haven’t done and won’t do is participate in the toxic pastime of victim-bashing as a show of support for my bro, Kaner. Almost as though he knew it was on the way, Chicago sportswriter Tim Baffoe published an outstanding critique of “He’s my guy!” style fandom the day before a rape apology-laden hashtag caught fire. Ostensibly designed to prop up #88, the #iSupport88 thread is a predictable haven for crass name-calling, rape “jokes,” and non sequitur love for Bill Cosby and other celebrities accused of sexual assault.

In his piece, Baffoe holds nothing back, saying, “Patrick Kane is not your friend. You are not his dawg, and he is not your bro … And you need to stop with the garbage default setting of rushing to defend him. Even under the guise of “innocent until proven guilty.’”

In a tight-knit sports town like Chicago that thrives on the perception of personal connection, those are fighting words. Baffoe was just getting started:

The reflex of “Leave Kaner alone—you’re ruining his reputation!” or anything remotely putting the onus on the woman involved shows you’ve let sports fandom strip you of your humanity. Your ethics have grown so out of whack while drunk on being a fangirl or fanboy that you’ve drowned your soul. You value sports over violation of the human body, and you then become no different than, say, a defender of [child-abuse enabler] Joe Paterno.

Well done, sir.

Right now I have to consider that this season I may be a rape survivor cheering for a team led by an accused rapist. And so, for the remainder of the off-season, I’m rooting for law enforcement, the Blackhawks organization, and the National Hockey League to break from rape culture and handle the case in a way that recognizes the needs of the alleged victim as more important than the reputation of the accused.

I’m not entirely sure what the appropriate action for the Blackhawks and the NHL to take would look like. How do they balance the uncertainty of an ongoing investigation with the rapidly approaching start of training camp? As writer Allan Muir succinctly paraphrased Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh yesterday, “Kane’s uncertain legal status puts the Hawks in an impossible position. With training camp less than six weeks away and the justice system moving at its own deliberate pace, the team may be forced to suspend the star winger.”

Do the Blackhawks wait? Do they hope the league steps in to suspend him, letting them off the hook? Would the team or the league be on solid ground legally to suspend a player before there are charges and/or a conviction, as Haugh calls for?

“In the post-Ray Rice era of professional sports, a first-class franchise such as the Hawks cannot allow a player facing serious allegations to represent it until more clarity about the case exists,” Haugh wrote. “The thing about setting a standard of excellence as high as the Hawks have is living up to it; no single player, not even a living legend, can compromise that commitment to integrity.”

I’m inclined to agree that the risk of sending Kane out on the ice despite the statistical probability that the accusations are true is more risky than suspending him and being forced to apologize later, should his accuser recant or turn out to be in the false reporting minority. And I certainly applaud the decision by EA Sports yesterday to pull Kane from their NHL 16 cover and promotional roll-out:

For people who couldn’t care less about sports, why does the handling of a rape accusation by a professional sports team or league matter? I get this question on the regular every time another high-profile athlete is accused of assault or National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell does something detestable. The answer is simple: We are a nation of sports fans and human beings do not compartmentalize our experiences. It’s not just that athletes are disproportionately revered in our society; for better or worse, they’re recognizable public figures even outside their fan bases. According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll last year, over 100 million people had watched the Super Bowl despite 25 percent of respondents saying football “has the most jerks” out of any professional league.

People are disinclined to believe someone they know is capable of a crime like rape. Seeing someone’s face and hearing their name as often as is typical of stars and champions leads people to feel, as Baffoe pushed back on, like we know them. Even if we don’t like a player very much, it’s quite a step to go from dislike to believing someone is the evil outlier our culture tells us commits rape.

Because of this culture of disbelief, the language that’s used as the investigation continues is extremely important—as evidenced by the somewhat predictable vitriol of the #ISupport88 crowd. Those close to Kane and the team have been tight-lipped, but the statements that have been made manage to walk the line of avoiding the kind of enthusiastic support that erases or gaslights victims while not openly condemning someone who hasn’t yet been charged with a crime.

Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz briefly weighed in with firmer language than sports fans are used to hearing at an allegation stage of a potential public relations nightmare, saying, “We’re disappointed but hopeful,” Wirtz said. “Beyond that, it would not be appropriate to expound upon.”

If the team makes the move to suspend Kane preemptively, it’ll be sending a strong signal not just to players, but to fans—specifically female fans. The Blackhawks boast a 45 percent female fan base that’s well above the league average of 37 percent and is partly responsible for their ability to re-sign Kane and Toews for a combined $168 million. You can’t afford that price tag without both routinely selling every ticket in your stadium and bringing in massive merchandise sales numbers. The Blackhawks wouldn’t have as much of their team intact without us.

Simply continuing to refrain from hinting at motives on the behalf of the alleged victim or from promising to stand by the accused no matter what would be a bright spot in the very dark intersection of sports and rape culture. But Wirtz and the league owe more to both their female fans and to a city that welcomed them back with open arms after years of inaccessibility. If league rules allow for a suspension, the Blackhawks should take that action. If they don’t, it’s time for the league to revisit how it handles the misconduct of its players.

I’m rooting for the NHL and the Blackhawks to do the right thing so I can buy a new jersey this fall and cheer without hesitation for a team I love.


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