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The Hartford Courant Jeff Jacobs column

By Jeff Jacobs, The Hartford Courant
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 08--He received a master's degree from Michigan in social work in 1993 and an MBA from Michigan'sRoss School of Business in 2005. He has been involved in athletics management at the highest collegiate level for many years.

One could make an argument that Warde Manuel is the perfect man to discuss the scourge of sexual and domestic violence on campus and the monetary damages a school can sustain for failing to properly address those issues. Manuel is also the athletic director at UConn. He cannot directly address the substantive details that resulted in five women receiving $1.28 million to settle a federal lawsuit that asserted UConn responded to sexual assault complaints with indifference. None of the accused, it should be pointed out, faced criminal charges.

As part of the July settlement, the school admitted no wrongdoing. Four of the plaintiffs who had been part of a seven-person complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education withdrew from that Title IX complaint and agreed to make no disparaging remarks about the school.

Did the school buy an end to a long, humiliating public battle that involved a number of UConn athletes? Did a celebrity lawyer get her clients awards ranging from $25,000 to $900,000 in return for their silence? I'd argue there is some truth in both assertions.

Neither, of course, address where we go from here.

We have a Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State who was accused of rape and escaped prosecution through some dubious police work in Tallahassee. Granted this involves the NFL, but we have a national furor over Commissioner Roger Goodell's ridiculously weak two-game suspension of former Rutgers running back Ray Rice for knocking out his girlfriend (now wife) in a hotel elevator. It was followed by Stephen A. Smith, one of ESPN's most famous commentators, getting suspended for a week after he advised women not to provoke men.

As another season of collegiate sports is about to begin, good Lord, can we do our best not to make it open season on college women, too?

More than that, I'd love to see some public demonstration by our Connecticut schools at sporting events in the coming season reminding everyone about this scourge. Seeing that Silvana Moccia alleged that she was raped as a freshman by another UConn hockey player and got $900,000 of the total $1.28 million settlement, I'd especially love to see something at the UConn's Hockey East debut with Boston College at the XL Center. Raise your sticks against violence against women, boys. Make a statement when everybody is watching.

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"This is a bigger issue than student athletes," Manuel said. "While some of the statistics say there is an unbalanced situation with athletes, I think what we need to do is continue to educate and make sure these young men understand the expectations we have for them and what is the right thing to do. This is not rocket science. It's getting young men to understand the value of being a good person, a good citizen, a good boyfriend and that violence is not the answer."

Chew on these numbers gathered from a variety of sources:

--The Justice Department recently said 20 percent of women entering college this summer will become victims of sexual assault. One in five! Yet we still send our daughters.

--Male athletes make up 3.3 percent of the student population, according to The National Coalition Against Violent Athletes in 1994, yet account for 19 percent of sexual assaults and 35 percent of domestic-violence incidents.

--A whopping 22 percent of universities nationwide give their athletic departments oversight over sexual violence cases involving athletes, according to a July report by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. The pressure from wild-eyed alumni and potential for conflict of interest is enormous.

--From 2006-2010, United Educators, an insurance company owned by more than 1,000 colleges, received 262 claims of student-perpetrated sexual assault: 96 percent involved acquaintances; 92 percent of the accusers were under the influence of alcohol, 60 percent so intoxicated they had no clear memory of the assault; and 63 percent were first-year students. According to United Educators, athletes formed 25 percent of the study's alleged perpetrators. Re-read the numbers, imagine a college party, you get the picture.

--According to The Associated Press in July, 67 schools in 32 states are under federal investigation for complaints of mishandling a reported sexual assault on campus.

Three of the alleged rapes were by people affiliated with UConn's athletic programs. In the Title IX suit against UConn, another involved the school's handling of a report of domestic violence involving former UConn running back Lyle McCombs. Make no mistake. UConn sports played a significant role in the narrative. And with the UConn Foundation having a record-breaking year for fundraising and with a $1.5 billion Next Generation Connecticut plan to develop the school into a preeminent research and innovation hub, the ambitious vision of, yes, UConn getting into the megapower Big Ten is there.

With big expectations come big responsibilities.

Manuel said experts have been brought in to discuss relationships with athletes. He said coaches continue to talk to the athletes about expectations of their behavior with women and making sure aberrant behavior is not tolerated.

"And as things continue to evolve at UConn, we're going to be a full participant in it," Manuel said. "It's a societal problem that we have to address with education and understanding expectations and then dealing with it if it happens in a way that says this is a serious issue and we're not going to tolerate it. It's a multifaceted approach to the problem."

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Ultimately, it is a two-layered solution. Look, I could make a lot of noise slamming the universities and police and the arrogance of big-time athletics. And don't get me wrong, there is plenty of blame to go around. But the blame starts with the sexual assault and don't ever forget it.

The good news? Changes are being made and more are being pushed. Among a number of steps, UConn established an assistant dean of students for victim support services; centralized the school's response to sexual violence; established a special victims unit in the UConn Police Department; and enhanced its educational program for all first-year students, to include an increased emphasis on risk reduction and bystander intervention training.

This month, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal was one of eight senators to co-sponsor a bipartisan bill, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. The wide-ranging legislation requires advisers for sexual assault victims, formal agreements with police to share information and includes financial penalties for schools that fail to release data provided by extensive student survey on sexual violence. Athletic departments would not be allowed to oversee their athletes. The bill looks good on paper, although The New York Times criticized it for a lack of funding to hire more investigators for the Office of Civil Rights. We need real teeth, not talk.

The fight must and will undoubtedly continue on that front. Public opinion is running hot. Yet I worry that too many people have a defeatist attitude about the behavior of young people, the second layer. Parties. Alcohol. Boys. Girls. Big Man on Campus feels entitled. No means no, but then a young woman goes off alone with a potential predator. Not a good choice. The blame game ensues. He said. She said. Sound familiar?

No, the problem will never totally end. Yet there is growing evidence of success for programs like bystander intervention. Years of putting the onus on women's choices didn't change male behavior. Something as easy as a guy learning to step in and deftly guiding his buddy away from a bad situation is an educational tool worth learning. Hey, stats show designated drivers saved lives. Behavior modification of the entitled big-time jock when he has been drinking at a party obviously isn't easy, but knowing that when he wakes up he could lose his scholarship and his dream will help sober him up. The solution is two-layered. We've got to get to that solution for our daughters.


(c)2014 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



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