After an Instagram post this summer sparked conversation around a perceived culture of predatory behavior among the USF men’s soccer team, the University hired independent investigators to look into this allegation. On Jan. 11, Hulst & Handler LLP, the University-hired investigation firm, completed their report on the sexual misconduct allegations leveled against the men’s soccer team. The report’s most prominent finding was that there was no evidence of predatory culture among the team. In the few weeks since the Hulst & Handler LLP report was released, the investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and administrative negligence has provoked more questions and outrage from most USF students.
As a result of the report’s failure to conclude that there was a significant problem with sexual assault among the men’s soccer team, students and alumni spoke out about their disappointment in the findings of the report, which concluded, “it more likely than not that sexual misconduct, and disrespectful behavior toward women and members of the LGBTQIA community, has not been pervasive among members of the men’s soccer team at USF over the past decade. Rather, a limited number of USF men’s soccer players engaged in such conduct over the past decade.”
But, where there is smoke, there is usually fire. The report officially found 11 accusations of sexual assault against men’s soccer team members over the past decade, three of which were reported to the University, involving six players. An average of one case per year is already too much; not to mention that the report found cases against other USF athletes, as well as non-athlete reports, but did not have enough information to make strict conclusions about these instances.
The investigators said they spoke to 90 students for the report — many of whom likely had to recount traumatizing and uncomfortable experiences. After all of the interviews, Hulst & Handler wrote, “facts do not reveal that this behavior is reflective of a team or coach mindset condoning sexual misconduct or disrespectful treatment of women and others.” We ask, how is this validating of the experiences of those who did feel disrespected — or worse, were sexually assaulted themselves?
Perhaps even more importantly, how does this conclusion ensure that there will not be more incidents in the future? We, on the Foghorn staff, can’t help but wonder: when a number like 11 is deemed not “pervasive” enough to require further action, what number is needed for this issue to be considered severe?
The University must recognize what’s at stake with their incoming response: the trust of its community members. Considering that sexual assault is a crime that puts people’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being at risk, the University would be wise to respond as strongly as possible when they do release their eventual next steps on the issue. President Paul Fitzgerald, in his Jan. 25 email to the University community, said he has already instructed the head of student life, Julie Orio, and head of the athletics department, Joan McDermott, to “develop an action plan” based on the report’s findings.
It would be in the University’s best interest to ensure this action plan treats the reports’ findings as a worst-case scenario; meaning they should consider 11 cases in 10 years as indicative of a culture, despite Hulst & Handler LLP’s findings. The community’s faith in our university’s ability to do something about this problem has already been shaken by the report, announcing next steps that are seen as inadequate or counterproductive (as many feel the report was) could be detrimental to the University’s long-term relationship with the student body, not to mention its reputation for prospective future students.
The Hulst & Handler LLP report admits that they “consistently heard from witnesses that female students were frequently advised to stay away from soccer players and to avoid parties at the soccer house.” The report continued to explain that it believes social media, anonymity, and a lack of formal Title IX reports all contributed to a “perception” that there were more assaults than in reality. While the establishment of facts and truth are vital to investigations like this, the rationalization of under-reporting dangerously overlooks the effects such perceptions have on students.
The University’s future efforts against sexual misconduct of any form should be severe and preventative. They should consider the bystander effect — that “cultures” are not only defined by perpetrators of misconduct, but also by the people who knew about these instances and did nothing, or not nearly enough, to help the survivors affected.
The University should not prioritize its bottom line in addressing this issue. The report stated that there are several educational programs already in place to prevent sexual assault, but clearly, a harder conversation needs to be had, and more effective tools need to be developed to use against sexual misconduct on campus.
Until then, it will be difficult to cheer on a team, and a school, which seems to be comfortable placing the responsibility on victims to point fingers at perpetrators, rather than treat this issue as a reflection of the pervasive issue in society that it is. An issue that no institution, and certainly not USF, should ignore any longer.
You can access the full report here.