As numerous current and former USF students came forward last month to recount incidents of sexual violence on campus, Rebecka Wilson targeted her story of rape to an audience of one.
Athletic director Michael Kelly.
Within a few days, the former USF cross country/track athlete got the response she was hoping for: a meeting with one of the most powerful figures on campus to discuss specific changes the athletic department can consider as the entire university reviews its processes on sexual violence.
“I felt like I was heard for probably the first time throughout this whole process,” Wilson told the Tampa Bay Times this week.
In an open letter addressed to Kelly, Wilson, 22, wrote that she was raped by another USF athlete in the fall of 2018. She did not name the athlete or his sport. The Times generally does not name complainants of sexual violence, but Wilson signed her letter on social media and agreed for her name to be used.
Wilson said she reported the incident to USF’s Title IX office about a week after it happened and that it took a year before the investigator’s report was completed without any finding of wrongdoing. She didn’t resurface her story last week to try to change that outcome; she did so to create change on campus and within the athletic department.
“I know with absolute certainty that your own athletes have sexually violated their own teammates and peers,” Wilson wrote to Kelly. “Your athletes have felt inferior to their abusers and you’ve allowed it to happen.
“The pedestal with which you put my rapist and all your other athletes is what gave him the idea that his short-term sexual pleasure was far more important than my life-long psychological well-being. It is the culture, attitude, and mentality that you foster under the roof of athletics that enables your athletes to commit heinous crimes and allows them to get away with it free of penalty.”
Wilson told the Times that she doesn’t think sexual violence is a bigger issue in USF sports than it is elsewhere on campus. But because she ran cross country for two seasons and track for one, athletics was a bubble she understood and felt comfortable addressing.
“I just remember being in that locker room and people not wanting to speak out because they didn’t think that they’d be heard,” Wilson said. “And when people did speak out, they weren’t heard, and they were laughed at by the other side.”
Wilson posted her letter last Monday. Kelly reached out to her soon afterward to set up a meeting.
Kelly said they had a “meaningful and productive conversation on Friday in which she provided valuable insights and suggestions for our consideration.” He declined to comment further “out of respect for her and the private nature of the conversation.”
Wilson, who is set to graduate next month with a degree in biomedical sciences, said Kelly seemed receptive to her idea of a victim advocate solely for athletics. That position would allow athletes and staff to have a designated person they could talk to about sexual violence or any other trauma and have confidential conversations about their possible next steps.
Wilson suggested more bystander and consent training in athletics and across campus. She also wants USF to consider an online petition to add a diversity requirement to curriculums so students are exposed to more issues involving gender, race or sexuality.
“It’s hard as an athletic director to see everything,” Wilson said. “And if people don’t present issues to you, then you might not know that they’re there. I think that’s what that was for him —making him aware that this is how we feel, how a former athlete feels, or this is the kind of things you might see in the locker room that you’ll never hear about. That point was made.”
And Wilson is hopeful that Kelly and the rest of USF’s administration act on it.