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AUSTIN – Katie Hnida, the first woman to score a point in an NCAA Division I-A college football game, says she was treated with the utmost respect as a student-athlete at the University of New Mexico.
But she’s more remembered for her time at the University of Colorado, which was a different, much darker experience.
“When I was at CU, I felt like I was more of an object, that I was not actually a person,” she said during a panel at South By Southwest last month,. “That the violence that was perpetrated against me and just the way these guys looked at me, like I was a joke, I wasn’t even a real human being.”
She continued: “The second that you turn somebody into an object rather than a human being it’s so much easier to do all sorts of terrible things to them.”
In February 2004, Hnida opened up to Sports Illustrated about being raped by a Colorado teammate in 2000, as well as other instances of sexual harassment by members of the football program. Soon after, other women came forward with rape allegations involving Colorado football.
With more and more sexual assault cases coming to light in the sports world, Hnida is now rightly regarded as something of a pioneer. At 33, she’s a longtime speaker and leading activist on the public speaking circuit, helping to raise awareness about sexual assault.
Shortly after SXSW, Hnida spoke with “America Tonight” about going public as a sexual assault survivor, what victims in cases involving athletes go through and what she’d say to NFL teams that are thinking about picking Jameis Winston in this month's NFL Draft. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
Big picture: How has the national conversation about sexual assault in sports evolved in the last 10 years?
So much has changed. It’s really amazing to see.
When I came forward, I didn’t know any other rape victims. There weren’t a lot of us out there by name at first. Now, we have so many young women coming forward, brave survivors speaking out and making a change.
We’ve highlighted the lack of NCAA policy or oversight concerning athletes who’ve been accused or charged with sexual assault. Should the NCAA do more or is it better to leave those decisions in the hands of the member institutions?
The NCAA has remained basically silent on this topic. By not taking any kind of action on it, there’s this clear, gaping hole.
That being said, if the NCAA puts a policy in place, they have to do it the right way. They have to make sure they’re consulting with survivors, coaches and athletes, and making sure we’re putting together something effective for everybody. It has to be addressed and addressed at the top level.
This is happening and it’s a major, major problem in college sports. The NCAA is supposed to be king of college sports, so they should be held accountable.
Sexual assault accusers in cases involving athletes often face a very public backlash from fans that are deeply attached to these athletes. What was your experience?
It’s very interesting what we saw at Florida State. It was a classic example of how the Tallahassee Police Department just failed in their job to do a proper rape investigation. I don’t doubt that part of it was due to the fact that the perpetrator was a football player.
I think what you face as a victim when you accuse – I hate that word so much – when you come forward with rape allegations [against] someone in the public eye, the backlash is so much worse. Thankfully, the media attention is better now than it was when I came forward. The media stuff was out of control. No one seemed to know how to handle these stories. There wasn’t a lot of awareness about survivors and how it affects us. That has gotten more coverage and I’m pleased about that. In the end, once it leaves the news, you still have a victim who’s dealing with this for the rest of her life, one way or another.