May 11, 2011

Cheer Her Rapist? Let’s Make Noise Over This

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Wendy Murphy

(WOMENSENEWS)–On May 2 the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a Texas high school cheerleader who was kicked off her squad for refusing to cheer for a basketball player accused of raping her weeks earlier.

About a dozen of us former NFL cheerleaders, standing on the sidelines, were stunned. Then we decided to do what we can to speak up for Hillaire, who wants her real first name to be used.

“There’s always been this idea that if you’re a cheerleader, you’re just there to decorate the sidelines for the benefit of male players and fans,” said Cheryl Duddy Schoenfeld, who cheered for the NFL for two years in the 1970s. “Well we’ve got news for anyone who believes in such nonsense. We are rallying behind this girl and her family and we are committed to doing what we can to make sure this never happens again–to any girl. If the school officials and courts won’t support her, we will. We are calling on all cheerleaders–NFL, college and high school, past and present–to step up and join us in this effort.”

The victim’s family has been ordered to pay $45,000 in costs to reimburse the school for having to defend against the lawsuit.

“Making the victim’s parents pay tens of thousands of dollars because they tried to protect their child is like sending a message to all cheerleaders that they had better stay quiet about things like sexual assault and dating violence,” said Bonnie Gardner-Drumm, an NFL cheerleader for five years in the early 1980s.

She calls the incident an outrage. “How hard would it have been for school officials to just let her stay silent? Ideally they should have forbidden the guy to play sports, but insisting that a young woman literally cheer for a man who abused her is its own form of abuse.”

Support ‘Really Good’

The victim’s lawyer, Larry Watts, said he was disappointed with the court’s response, but that it felt “really good” to learn that a group of NFL cheerleaders had stepped forward to support the victim.

“I’ve been frustrated and shocked that no women’s or victims’ groups or even cheerleaders’ organizations have spoken out in support of Hillaire. I just don’t get it,” he said. “This is a brave young woman. It’s great that professional cheerleaders are now supporting her. They don’t even know Hillaire but they know what she’s going through and what it took for her to do what she did.”

Hillaire and her parents filed the lawsuit against the high school after school officials in Silsbee, Texas, told Hillaire she had no choice but to cheer for the man who attacked her.

She was willing to cheer for the team, but when her assailant was at the free-throw line, and the squad was cheering for him in particular, she stepped back from the others and crossed her arms in defiance.

Watts described the cheer they wanted her to say. He said, “It went something like this: ‘Two, four, six-eight-10, come on [player] put it in.’ Think about that. How does a school official make a rape victim say something like that to a man who did something so horrible?”

The accused was charged with rape and pleaded guilty to assault in 2010, but while the matter was still being resolved he continued to play sports.

In February 2009, when the victim refused to cheer for him, she was sent home by school officials and later dismissed from the squad for the remainder of her high school career. The accused student continued to enjoy the cheers and adulation of other students, parents and school officials.

“People dismiss the value of cheerleaders as unimportant compared to the guys,” said Schoenfeld. “It took a lot of guts for this young woman to take a stand the way she did. She didn’t deserve to be punished for that. It’s unbelievable in this day and age that school officials could be so backward thinking about an issue as important as violence against women and girls.”

Examining Cheerleaders’ Rights

In their lawsuit against the school district, Hillaire and her family argued that a victim has a constitutionally-protected First Amendment right to express herself by refusing to cheer for a student accused of rape.

The federal court disagreed and ruled the teen had no free speech rights because cheerleaders act as agents of the school–“mouthpieces” is the word the court used–not as an individual students.

The NFL cheerleaders, offended by the court’s characterization of them as mere “mouthpieces,” are putting their megaphones to their mouths to speak out.

I did, when I wrote that Hillaire should have sued under Title IX, instead of the First Amendment, on the grounds that requiring a cheerleader to cheer for her rapist is a form of sexual harassment and thus an act of gender discrimination.

Another former NFL cheerleader, Jeanne Ball, is upset to hear that there has been so little public support for Hillaire.

“Fortunately, she seems to have strong family support,” Ball said.

Attorney Watts says Hillaire regrets nothing and is proud of herself for refusing to cheer and for bringing the lawsuit.

“It was the least she could do to show everyone how she felt not only about being raped, but also about being so disrespected by school officials,” he said.

Former cheerleader Schoenfeld could not agree more.

“We don’t want cheerleaders–or any women–to stay quiet about such things,” she said. “Many of us have daughters now–and sons–and we want them to have healthy relationships. There’s nothing healthy about rape and there’s certainly nothing healthy about making a young woman cheer for her abuser.”

The school’s lawyer did not return a call seeking comments.

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Wendy J. Murphy, a former NFL cheerleader and contributing editor to Women’s eNews, is a law professor at New England Law/Boston and an expert in Title IX.

  • Always Alert

    Has a fund been set up to pay the family’s legal expenses? How could a person donate to such a fund, if it exists?

    • rbg@CRCC

      This is what we found out, in terms of donating to a fund, which has been established by Hillaire’s lawyer.

      “Thank you for your message .I have activated a State Bar IOLTA Trust Account at Bank of Texas to receive donations to Hillaire (pronounced Hillary) and her parents for court assessed costs, her legal fees and expenses. Contributions should be sent to Watts Associates IOLTA Routing Number 111014325, Account No. 2902216304. Please pass the information along to any who may be interested in helping out. ”

      Hope this helps!

  • Beth Butler New Orleans

    write to
    Men are in charge of all of the institutions that have been against this high school girl.
    Please send an email or this message to the newspaper:

    • Beth Butler New Orleans

      From: Gerry Dickert
      Date: Thu, May 12, 2011 at 11:58 AM
      Subject: Re: Egregious injustice
      Facts of the case … if you’re interested …
      Two of the three boys accused had all charges against them dismissed, the third boy pled out to simple assault, with the blessings of the cheerleader’s family.
      When the cheerleader was “forced” to cheer for her “attacker” all three boys had been no-billed by a grand jury. There wasn’t enough evidence to take the case to trial. The boy was on the basketball court because he had been cleared of charges at that point and had every right to be back in school and back on the basketball team.
      Thought you’d like to know all the facts before establishing your opinion.
      Gerry Dickert
      Note addendum from Beth Butler:
      so standard, to assume that justice prevailed therefore, what is the problem?
      it is a 1950’s narrative. the patriarchy against the female victim.

      He actually wrote “family blessed”? did the D.A. make them plead to lesser counts or drop the case? would they agree to the term blessed? that seems to be a real indicator of bias on the part of the writer.
      again, boys club.

      also, another indicator of negativity running through his brain, the notion that he aggrandizes to declare that he is giving you ALL of the facts, is also self-evidence of lack of reality. he didn’t even address all of the points in the article, much less, real life.

      3 sports players for the local team were involved, therefore, their dismissal could lose the season, and reframe life as it exists in small town Silsbee.
      he certainly has no feeling or states nothing about the charges against her family for bringing the case forward, that seems to be a first amendment issue that newspapers usually are very sensitive about.

      you wonder what the local male reaction would have been had she been raped by a drifter instead of someone synonymous with their local team?

      sounds like Egypt to me, and I don’t mean Egypt, Texas.

  • katytold

    I am wondering how far our culture and individuals will have to be degraded before steps are taken to protect basic rights. The simplest things our government, our courts, and “those in charge” are meant to do, they do not do. Instead, time and money are spent on ridiculous efforts the majority do not care about. Violence against women is an epidemic that will no longer be silent, as almost everyone i know is finally realizing their very own loved ones are being hurt. Shame. ‘The mills of God grind exceedingly slow, but they grind exceedingly fine.’

  • wmurphy

    I’m working with the family and her attorney to figure out a good way to get rid of the fine – stay tuned – I will post more when I know more. Thank you.

    Wendy Murphy

  • Researcher8

    Cheerleaders and students and adults at this Texas high school game cheered a rapist? And the school authorities required the rapist’s victim to cheer him too? Had I been there, I hope I would have have the good sense to stay silent during the cheer, and to make noise over this after the game.

  • judgefred

    I am a Texas father and grandfather. I am hoping that you will continuelly keep us informed on this story. I am so proud of the NFL Cheerleaders for standing with this young woman. I am hoping that their courage will inspire many many more women and girls…and organization to take a stand with this brave girl. I for one will look for a way to add my voice for her…and if possible physically stand with women who want to seek justice for her…and for all women attacked by men and boys. Thank you

  • judithjudith

    I am so grateful that we are standing up over this. I was shocked when I read the story as it happened. Women all over the world are molested and raped, and scorned or worse if they speak out. We at least have legal recourse, but clearly that needs better oversight. The Supreme Court is derelict in its responsibilities. ! Thank you!

  • Esobella

    I am absolutely disgusted by this. I can’t believe in the year 2011 rape victims still have to endure this crap. I am a rape survivor and I am stunned that women in this day and age still face and endure a stigma such as they have forced upon this young woman. I hope that every woman in this country stands up and makes noise over this.
    You couldn’t pay me enough money to move to Texas if this is how young girls and women are treated in that state. The school should loose federal funding, I bet they would sing a different tune then.

  • endingviolence

    Are there any attorneys who are experts on Title IX who are offering to file suit on the young woman’s behalf? Has some statute of limitations run? It’s no wonder the original suit failed. I doubt that her concern was that she was not allowed freedom of speech. What does that have to do with rape and retraumatization?

    Alternatively or additionally, is there an action that could be brought (other than under Title IX), related to the school’s endangering one of its students by demanding that she relive the trauma? This is much bigger than denying her equal access to athletic participation.

    Scott Hampton, Psy.D.
    Ending The Violence
    Dover, NH

  • Janet

    I am shocked that the entire cheerleading world has not simply gone on strike until this young woman has received an appropriate amount of justice from this experience. Why are cheerleading coaches not stopping their own work in this field by going on strike for this young woman? She and her family have been hung out to dry, with no large groups supporting them to let the world of high school sports know that rape is unacceptable, is not what is expected of a high school athlete!

  • katytold

    Here are some facts: most county attorneys offices will not take most rape cases. they are hard to prosecute and those men who are guilty (after first denying everything [a lie], then admitting to only a kiss [a lie], then when DNA surfaces, as in a Blue Dress, finally admitting there was sex but that the woman practically forced herself on him) expect everyone to believe their fourth version of things. Rapists continue to rape to feel a little power and to feel better about their insecure selves. They pervade our culture. Most women do not get a chance to see justice. I think we need to move from criminal courts to civil courts. And I’d like to see one National Day of Reporting. Taking a plea is ususally a crust one eats because there is no other food.