Thousands of athletes join colleges across the country every year, hoping to make it to the top of their sport. Athletes dedicate themselves to their sport, striving to reach the peak of their fitness to advance within their sport. Sadly, many college athletes have found themselves tangled in cycles of abuse through no fault of their own, often at the hands of those who promise to help these athletes achieve their dreams.
College Athletes Assaulted on Campus
A recent study found that more than 25% of college athletes reported being sexually harassed or assaulted by someone in a position of power on campus. College athletes were 2.5 times more likely to have encountered sexual abuse than the general student population. Of those, coaches were reported as the most identified as the source of the abuse. More than 38% of respondents reported being threatened by their harasser or abuser. These threats were not reported because respondents felt they would be punished through their grades, team status, or careers if they spoke out about an authority figure. Nearly 30% of respondents shared that they feared losing their scholarship.
Other results from the Lauren’s Kids study, a nonprofit group that raises awareness and educates parents and kids about sexual violence, are just as alarming. More than 82% of those who responded knew of another student who had experienced abuse or harassment from a campus authority figure. Experts continue to raise the alarm that those in positions of authority on college campuses are responsible for this abuse, while others in positions of power turn a blind eye.
Recent College Sex Abuse Settlements
More college athletes have stood up and spoken out about sex abuse and harassment they experienced on campus in recent years. College athletes who found themselves abused and harassed by Dr. Robert Anderson at the University of Michigan have spoken out, stood up, and demanded action. A settlement valued at over $490 million was reached between the University of Michigan and more than 1,000 former students allegedly assaulted by Dr. Anderson, a sports doctor employed by the university for decades.
After decades of abuse, survivors of sex abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar, who worked at Michigan State University and for USA Gymnastics, successfully sued both institutions. A settlement of $380 million was reached with USA Gymnastics and a $500 million settlement with Michigan State University.
Nassar abuse victims didn’t stop there. After an evaluation of the FBI investigation of Nassar was released, survivors turned their sights on the FBI. They allege that the FBI failed to protect these elite athletes during the investigation. Some argue that the FBI’s investigation put additional athletes at risk of sex abuse by Nassar. Thirteen Nassar victims are seeking $10 million each from the FBI through the Federal Tort Claims Act. Time will tell how the FBI responds and if they reach a settlement with the Nassar survivors.
The University of Southern California recently announced a settlement with 80 former students targeted by Dennis Kelly, a former campus doctor. After Kelly left USC in 2018, six male graduates came forward with abuse allegations, claiming that Kelly engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct, such as rectal examinations, during appointments. Overall, 80 former students filed complaints that Kelly targeted them based on their gender. Additionally, the former students allege that the university received their complaints about Kelly and failed to act. The settlement figure has not been disclosed.
This is not the first sex abuse settlement at USC. Over the last few years, USC has agreed to pay more than $1 billion in three separate settlements to victims of campus gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall. In 2018, USC reached a class action settlement worth $215 million with 18,000 women who accused Tyndall of sexual harassment and abuse. Tyndall is accused of groping women, making inappropriate comments, and photographing them during medical examinations. Another group claiming abuse by Tyndall settled with the school, but the amount was not made public. And most recently, in 2021, USC agreed to pay more than $850 million to settle civil lawsuits over Tyndall’s abuse filed by over 700 hundred women. This settlement is the largest sex abuse payout in post-secondary education history.
In addition to settling lawsuits, as more sexual harassment and sex abuse cases come to light from college athletes, more emphasis is being placed on strengthening protections and investigations should accusations arise. Through the bravery of victimized college athletes, campus culture across the country is changing towards a culture where survivors are believed, and firm action is taken.