Sexual Harassment in Athletic Settings
In light of the heightened awareness of sexual harassment in society
today, it becomes imperative for those in athletic settings to become
knowledgeable about what types of behavior constitute sexual harassment and
to be educated about healthy and positive ways for coaches, athletic
directors, and athletes to interact. The recent Supreme Court Decision
Gebser et al. v.
Lago Vista Independent School District (96-1866, June 1998) established the liability of a school district official who has knowledge of sexual harassment yet fails to respond or is indifferent to the misconduct.
Sexual harassment and sexual relationships with athletes violate ethical boundaries. Harassing behavior, if ignored or not reported, is likely to continue and become worse. The impact of sexual harassment on an athlete's well-being may be significant and can impede an athlete's progress toward athletic, academic, and personal goals (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Sexual Harassment: It's Not Academic, 1997).
Sexual harassment is a form of prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX). Accordingly, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance (62 Federal Register 12038). Two types of conduct constitute sexual harassment:
- Quid Pro Quo Harassment-Occurs when a school employee causes a student to believe that he or she must submit to unwelcome sexual conduct (sexual advances; requests for sexual favors; or other verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct that is sexual in nature) in order to participate in a school program or activity, regardless of whether the student submits to the demands.
- Hostile Environment Harassment-Occurs when the unwelcome sexual conduct is so severe, persistent, or pervasive, that it affects a student's ability to participate in the educational program or activity (62 Federal Register 12038).
Sexual and/or romantic relationships should not be tolerated between coaches and athletes. Such relationships are unprofessional and represent an abuse of professional status and power (Prevention of Sexual Harassment in Athletic Settings, Women's Sports Foundation). Coaches cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility of avoiding intimate sexual relationships with athletes simply because the intimacy may be initiated by the athlete. Because of the superiorsubordinate relationship, the coach must realize that the subordinate is not in a position of taking responsibility for eliminating the sexual harassment, especially if the athlete is a minor. The nature of the coach/athlete relationship requires that the coach is always responsible for maintaining the professional relationship. Intimacy initiated by the subordinate must be anticipated, discouraged, and avoided by the coach.
Sexual harassment can occur at any level of relationship. In addition to the coach/athlete relationship, other examples may include:
- Athletic directors and athletes
- Coaches and assistant coaches
- Athletic directors and coaches
- Athlete and athlete
Sexual harassment includes:
- Peer harassment (student on student/non-employee)
- Sexual advances
- Touching of a sexual nature
- Graffiti of a sexual nature
- Displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, and written materials
- Sexual gestures
- Sexual or dirty jokes
- Pressure for sexual favors
- Touching oneself sexually or talking about one's sexual activity in front of others
- Spreading rumors about or rating students regarding sexual activity or performance
(U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Sexual Harassment: It's Not Academic, 1997)
Examples of sexual harassment in athletic settings include the following scenarios:
- A coach tells an athlete that they will not play in the next game unless they hug the coach.
- An athletic director makes sexual comments about an assistant coach's body.
- An athlete taunts another athlete with sexual jokes or gestures.
Coaches and athletic directors should educate their athletes and staff about sexual harassment. Education can help prevent incidents and prepare individuals to act appropriately. Coaches and athletic directors should know who the appropriate, designated Title IX person is in their school.
Under federal law, schools are required to have grievance procedures for students to report sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. Schools are also encouraged to implement policy for the prevention of sexual harassment (62 Federal Register 12038). Schools with accessible, effective, and fair policies against sex discrimination and sexual harassment send a message of non-tolerance and encourage students to report harassment (62 Federal Register 12040). Coaches and athletic directors should make it their business to find out who the appropriate, designated Title IX person is in their school, and identify this person to all student/athletes.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
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