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Violated Seeks to Expose the Truth of the Baylor Sexual Assault Crisis

Violated Seeks to Expose the Truth of the Baylor Sexual Assault Crisis
Photo by Alan Levine/Flickr
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Jasmin Hernandez was raped by Tevin Elliott. Both were Baylor students — Jasmin was on an academic scholarship while Elliott was a football player. After he raped her, she struggled in school, struggled to receieve academic support, struggled to get access to counseling. Jasmin and her rapist both left Baylor —  she went to California, while Elliott went to prison.

Violated: Exposing Rape at Baylor University Amid College Football’s Sexual Assault Crisis, a new book by ESPN reporters Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach, begins with the story of Hernandez, one of the multiple victims of the sexual assault scandal that cost several people jobs, sent some to jail, and ruined the lives of many others. The story of Jasmine Hernandez is not the only case of the book, but she was one of the few victims willing to go public and use her real name in telling her story, so perhaps that is why hers seems to be so interwoven through the book.

Violated is a quick read. It can be emotional, and it can induce fear as the writers recreate some of the experiences of the victims. The book leaves readers as frustrated as the women, who struggled to find sympathetic ears at Baylor, as they, their parents and Baylor outsiders felt helpless in the situation.

Yet the book disappoints. Lavigne and Schlabach have worked on this story for several years. They have broken multiple Baylor stories for ESPN’s Outside the Lines. But while their stories have been hard-hitting, and helped to expose the depth of the knowledge that Baylor’s former head coach Art Briles had over what was happening, the book surprisingly lacks much of that information and detail.

Instead of fleshing out reports involving texts from Briles where he seemed to blame victims, and reporting the stories of the football program trying to cover up the assaults, the book focuses on other aspects of life at Baylor. And while they condemn Briles, athletic director Ian McCaw and president Ken Starr, those unfamiliar with the details of what happened are likely somewhat surprised at the vitriol the three — who have all left Baylor — must now deal with on a daily basis.

The writers choose to report on life at Baylor and about how Baylor officials' stubborn refusal to realize that sex, drugs and alcohol were part of the lives of even their students, helped to not only make the football team’s sexual assault happen, but helped to further victimize the women who were subjected to the assault. The book reveals a campus where administration officials blamed the victims, stating the assaults would likely never happen women aren’t drinking or scantily dressed or leading men on, or weren’t already engaging in premarital sex.

The story does move away from the victims as it also details the efforts of Patty Crawford and her investigators to move the school’s Title IX department into the 21st century while also attempting to get to the bottom of what was happening with the football team. A local-area Waco nurse and a criminal prosecutor in Waco are also noted as heroines to the story in contrast to the Baylor’s police department and the Baptist university's spiritual advisors.

But few readers are likely to purchase to book to read about these characters. Instead, they'll likely want to know what happened in the athletics department. How could this keep happening? Why was nothing done to stop it? Unfortunately there’s just nothing there. There is a lot of condemnation and broad generalities about the actions of Briles. But there’s just no specificity, and that is surprising given extensive reporting ESPN, Deadspin, and other media outlets have done, not to mention myriad lawsuits which have been filed against Baylor, Briles and the rest.

Briles refused to speak to Lavigne and Schlabach though they did exchange emails with his attorney. Starr and McCaw wouldn’t talk. Lots of people at Baylor wouldn't talk on the record. The football players wouldn’t talk. Many of the victims and witnesses used pseudonyms. That’s probably wise due to the large number of ongoing lawsuits. But this, and the lack of focus on just what the football team was doing in response makes the book seem lacking and hollow.

While not part of the book (though undoubtedly to be part of the paperback) Hernandez settled her Title IX lawsuit against Baylor this week, and her attorneys requested that Briles and McCaw be dropped from the lawsuit. Hernandez and her attorneys wouldn't discuss details of the settlement — which is pretty common — but her attorney makes it sound like she received enough money to move on her with life and to hopefully put this horrific experience behind her.

Baylor’s still in hot water, however, as the school has been ordered by a judge in another Title IX lawsuit against the school, to release all evidence compiled by law firm Pepper Hamilton in the investigation that caused the ouster of Briles, McCaw and Starr. And while Violated might have been light on details from that end, there should be quite a lot of to add in later editions if these documents ever see the light of day.

Violated: Exposing Rape at Baylor University Amid College Football’s Sexual Assault Crisis arrives in book stores next week.

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