The politics of rape: Journalist Jessica Luther encourages Tech students to speak about a controversial topic

February 10, 2017

Author and freelance journalist Jessica Luther speaks to Tech students about how sexual assault is addressed in college sports. – Photo by Ashley Kober


Amber Harrington
News Editor | anh038@latech.edu


This week, Louisiana Tech and the Waggoner Center welcomed a speaker who aimed to shed light on what some consider a rather controversial topic: rape.


On Feb. 2, author and freelance journalist Jessica Luther spoke to students about her new book titled “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape,” which explores the role sexual assault plays in college football teams and the futile institutional reactions regarding it. While the book also highlights the need for a drastic modification in the way sports media responded and covered rape stories, Luther said it is not an advocation for protest against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or the media. Instead, it serves as a tool to increase consciousness and clarity about an ongoing issue in society today.


“My biggest reason behind writing the book was probably raising awareness,” Luther said. “I don’t think of the book as activism, but more talking about the patterns and focusing on individual and non-contextualized stories of this one particular issue.”


While she considers the book a success, Luther said she was hesitant at first to publish it because she feared readers would respond negatively to her seemingly unpopular opinion.


“Just in general, the issue of sexual assault is a very heated issue — people have lots of feelings about it because people love college football,” she said. “We care very deeply about what happens to our teams, so yeah, when you’re critiquing them, you never know how people will respond to it.”


Luther said writing the book was more difficult than she had imagined because she found the topic itself to be an extremely sensitive and triggering one. She said it was not only grueling to read and write about this type of violence, but also to see the indifference many institutions had to it.


“It’s particularly breathtaking and horrible when you realize, for instance, that when a head coach of an NFL team was a head coach of a college football team, he had multiple players accused of rape and literally nothing happened to them,” she said. “That kind of stuff I find very difficult to process, I ended up taking huge breaks.”


In order to spark a structural change in the way college and sports teams deal with sexual assault, Luther said colleges must focus more on prevention and less on punishment.


“We’ve tried punishment for a long time and that doesn’t seem to do much; obviously we’re not very good at it and nothing has changed so let’s try the other side,” she said. “But, that’s hard work; you have to be proactive. You have to care about your players enough and be willing to spend extra money.”


Her plan for this, she said, would be to encourage athletes to be leaders on this issue.


“We should be teaching consent and healthy relationships from kindergarten up and certainly, coaches should be trained in it,” she said. “Because when athletes want to be advocates, they really can be, they, more than anyone, can make an impact.”


Luther encourages other journalists interested in writing on such a controversial issue to not let fear hinder them and to be willing to take on the challenge because in the end, it is rewarding.


“You just have to do it,” she said.“Even now, every single time I publish a piece on this topic I get scared, I get scared while I’m writing it and then right before we do it. I don’t know what’s about to happen, it could be bad. But I know that it’s never not worth it, because the work always matters.”


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