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A look into SDSU athletes' sexual violence prevention training

When San Diego State University's athletics department asked Brenda Tracy to give a talk about sexual assault last fall, she didn't know the extent of the allegations against three then-members of the school's football team.

Tracy was brought in shortly after the program learned that a teenage girl had reported being raped by multiple players. Tracy said it's usual for schools to bring her in after an incident and thought nothing of it.

It wasn't until a lawsuit filed last week against three players that she got all the details. It struck her as it was similar to her own rape more than two decades earlier.

According to the civil complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court, the then 17-year-old teenager, identified only as Jane Doe, was taken into the back room of a house on Rockford Drive and repeatedly assaulted by three men. The suit identified them as Matt Araiza, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko.

Araiza was drafted by the Buffalo Bills last April but was released by the team two days after the suit was filed. Ewaliko left the Aztecs at the end of the last school year, and Leonard was cut by the Aztecs last weekend. None have been charged with a crime. The District Attorney is still reviewing the case.

In 1998, Tracy was gang raped by Oregon State University football team members.

"Looking back on it, the more I think about it, and as details come out, the more I think about the similarities of the story," she said. "I just ... I don't get it because I speak very specifically about the people who do nothing."

Since 2016, she's been giving talks on college campuses about sexual violence and how athletes can put a stop to it.

"You know, I can only do so much. I'm one person," Tracy said. "And when I leave a campus, I obviously give people a call to action, and I tell them how I was affected with my own story. And then what they do with that information, and how they then do their own work is their choice and their decision."

Resources at SDSU for sexual assault victims

SDSU Counseling & Psychological Services: (619) 594-5220 (non-emergency)

Counseling Access & Crisis Line: (888) 724-7240, www.sa.sdsu.edu/cps/

Student Health Services, Calpulli Center: (619) 594-5281, shs.sdsu.edu/index.asp

SDSU Police Department: (619) 594-1991

Center for Community Solutions: (888) 385-4657 (bilingual rape crisis hotline), ccssd.org

SDSU Athletics Director John Wicker said Tracy was brought in as part of the student athletes' enhanced training. All male members of the football team were required to attend Tracy's talk.

"We've got all the programming around prevention of sexual assault, upstanding, training, party etiquette," he said. "We also do leadership training, we do financial planning, all of those types of things."

All student-athletes at San Diego State go through sexual violence training during the fall semester. For the past five years, the Center for Community Solutions (CCS) — San Diego’s only rape crisis center — provides the training.

"We have a curriculum that we go through and it's, 'what is consent?' and some role-playing, some discussions — breaking out in smaller groups so hopefully the athletes have the opportunity to really take a deep dive to really self-reflect on the past situations," said Verna Griffin-Tabor, chief executive officer at CCS.

She said the training includes breaking down the power dynamics as well as bystander intervention so that when things go wrong, athletes have the necessary tools to speak up.

"If you can't intervene safely, how to go access help and not put yourself at risk, and the other part is, if you learn about something later where somebody's been harmed or needs help, then, what do you do,” she said.

The training with the CCS was brought to SDSU by baseball coach Mark Martinez. He was first exposed to the training when CCS did a session with his son’s Little League team.

"It was eye-opening for obviously the parents and then it was very eye-opening for our young guys," he said. "They're not exposed to that stuff at that age. And so that's when I thought, well, we need to do something, we need to find a way to start educating our guys that are currently on campus about domestic violence and date rape and those kinds of things."

CCS agreed to do the training on one condition. "We went in and talked with him and said we won't train the team unless we can train you," Griffin-Tabor said. "And he said absolutely we’ll do that."

She said it was important for the coaches to be a part of the conversation so they can be a part of the solution. After the training, Martinez said he noticed a difference in his players. They have more empathy and are more compassionate.

"And it's not just about relationships outside of the baseball stadium," he said. "It's also within the clubhouse and understanding how to communicate to people the right way."

Martinez said it's been a win for the baseball program and "locker-room talks" have been snuffed by players who've been through the training.

"Whether it's a defamatory comment or saying, those things are snuffed out pretty quick in our locker room because they've had this training," he said. "They understand that some of those buzzwords that might trigger someone."

Because coaches aren't around players all time, he hopes the training gives his players the tools needed to solve the problem right now.

Still, despite the training, three former San Diego State football players stand accused of raping a teenage girl. Wicker got emotional when asked about it at the news conference on Monday.

"Again, one of our pillars is to create great human beings," he said before taking a long pause to fight back emotion. "And it's hard when the training you provide may not have been enough."

For her part, Tracy said all she can do is tell them how her sexual assault affected her.

“But then they also have to live with the consequences sometimes of those decisions as well,” she said.

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