Author: Colleges, coaches must take on sexual assault culture

It's not clear if the University of Minnesota football players who've been suspended for their sexual conduct understand what sexual consent is.

That's the conclusion Jessica Luther, author of a book on rape and college football, drew after reading the police investigative report as well as the findings of a separate university investigation into the alleged sexual assault on Sept. 2.

While Hennepin County authorities declined to prosecute the men, the university suspended the players for violating the school's code of conduct.

The woman told police she had consensual sex with two males that night, but that she did not consent to sexual contact with other men who were present, including players.

That's a narrative common in these cases, Luther, an Austin, Texas-based freelance journalist and author of the book "Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape," told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer in a Monday interview.

"That feeling of, 'I'll just go along with this and it will be over, and then I'll get to leave,'" Luther said. "It's not just that you are able to say, 'Yes, I want to do this.' You have to be able to feel like you can say no."

Schools, athletic departments have a vital role to play in teaching players the difference between what's acceptable and what's not, added Luther.

"I really think universities and athletic departments — particularly in stories like this — can really step in and do the kind of preventative education that will stop this before it starts," she said.

After calling for a playing and practicing boycott to support the suspended players, team leaders walked back on their boycott after meeting with university leaders and reading the reports. The team's agreed to play in the Holiday Bowl next week.

Luther cautioned that the sexual violence concerns go beyond big time college athletics.

"I do think that there's a system built around these players that lets them know they might not be held accountable for their actions ... but all kinds of people commit this kind of violence," she said. "We have to acknowledge how ubiquitous this violence is."

While universities are trying, "it's hard to reach all the students they need to reach in an effective way," she added. "This particular case shows how important that could be."

Click on the audio player above to hear their conversation.

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