Program educates athletes about sexual assault

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Pittsburgh Action Against Rape is trying to mobilize high school and college coaches and athletes to combat sexual violence.

That means getting them to ask uncomfortable questions.

What does consent mean?

What are ways pressure and threats can be used to make someone do something they don’‍t want to do?

Those questions can be awkward for coaches to ask, as well as for players to hear. But getting men to think and talk about these issues is the way to teach about healthy relationships and sexual violence, PAAR representatives said.

PAAR is one of five organizations in the Pittsburgh area that implemented Coaching Boys Into Men, a national program developed by non-profit organization Futures Without Violence. Center for Victims, Crisis Center North, 3E Now and Women’‍s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh also use the curriculum.

Sometimes players are reluctant to participate. Jerry McMeekin, PAAR’‍s Coaching Boys Into Men educator, said he uses his experience as a college athlete to relate to players. Mr. McMeekin, 34, met July 8 with the Robert Morris men’‍s basketball team.

“It took almost the entire presentation that I had prepared to get them to open up. It wasn’‍t 100 percent comfortable,” Mr. McMeekin said. “And that’‍s going to depend on the audience.”

Many athletes are receptive, once the discussion starts, said Brian O’‍Connor, director of public education campaigns and programs at Futures Without Violence.

“We hear from athletes all the time that go, ‘‍Nobody talks to us about this stuff. We’‍re just expected to know,’‍” he said. “At the same time, they do acknowledge that at the beginning of the season, it was a little awkward.”

The program includes a book for coaches with tips on talking to their athletes, a resource packet and 15 cards to stimulate discussion on topics ranging from understanding consent to bragging about sexual reputation.

“We knew that it was an audience that was important in the prevention of sexual violence, given that athletes are leaders in their school communities,” said Alison Hall, executive director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.

Coaching Boys Into Men engages a proactive approach to preventing sexual violence, Mr. McMeekin said.

“The essence of the program is just getting ahead of the game — not waiting for the problem to occur, but stopping it before it exists,” he said.

Futures Without Violence launched Coaching Boys Into Men in 2001 to engage men in stopping violence against women, said Elizabeth Miller, chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children‘‍s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

In 2009, Dr. Miller was part of a team that researched the program’‍s effectiveness. The researchers gave CBIM training to athletes at eight high schools and withheld it from athletes at eight other high schools.

For both groups, the researchers surveyed self-reported abuse perpetration before and after administering the program. They found that athletes who did not receive CBIM training reported a 6 percent rise in abuse perpetration over the course of a year, whereas athletes who received CBIM training reported the same frequency of abuse both times.

“You’‍re preventing the rise that would have happened [without Coaching Boys Into Men],” Dr. Miller said.

The program was originally developed for high school athletes, and Pittsburgh Action Against Rape adapted it for college athletes. Since January, PAAR has worked with Robert Morris University, Point Park University, Bethel Park High School and Propel Andrew Street High School. It plans to administer the program at Shaler Area High School and Wilkinsburg High School this fall.

Coaches and athletes are not always immediately receptive to Coaching Boys Into Men, Mr. McMeekin said. Some are hesitant to commit to a new responsibility, and many are uncomfortable with the program’‍s material.

Mr. McMeekin, who is the boys varsity assistant basketball coach at Shaler Area High School, said he connects with other coaches over their common ground.

“Some prevention and outreach director from any random victims’‍ advocating agency, they’‍re not part of the circle. I’‍m in that circle,” he said. “I have their ear because I’‍m also a coach in the community.”

If a coach is hesitant, Mr. McMeekin appeals to the coach’‍s athletic director, superintendent or another administrator. Once the coach enrolls in CBIM, Mr. McMeekin tries to make the issue of sexual violence relatable by discussing recent headlines or putting the problem in the context of the coaches’‍ own children.

Coaching Boys Into Men educators also talk about the impact that coaches can have on their athletes, said Mr. O’‍Connor.

“Even just calling out that they can go one of two ways — they can either take this on and be a coach that cares about more than Xs and Os, or not,” he said.

Futures Without Violence aims to harness the influence that coaches have over their players to capture athletes’‍ attention and interest.

“The coach has subscribed and signed on, and [athletes] listen to their coach,” Mr. O‘‍Connor said. “That’‍s the reason why we’‍re leveraging the coaches in the first place.”

Marisa Iati:, 412-263-1891 or on Twitter @marisa_iati

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