Hockey Canada and sexual violence: Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) responds

Hockey Canada continues to face critical reaction to its management of sexual violence. The sports organization – which is responsible for establishing rules and standards, promoting the sport, and international play – has seen numerous allegations of sexual assaults committed by Canadian hockey players. In recent months, Hockey Canada revealed that the organization has paid over $8 million in settlements to different sexual assault complainants since 1989, using a slush fund of membership fees[1].

As sexual violence survivor advocates, we at Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) are shocked and dismayed by Hockey Canada’s response to sexual violence within its membership.

Hockey Canada’s response and its impacts

Multiple allegations of sexual assaults by Canadian hockey players have come to light. In 2022, a Globe and Mail report detailed how Hockey Canada used player registration fees to build a fund with which to settle sexual assault claims out of court, avoid insurance investigations[2], and evade public scrutiny.

OCRCC denounces this irresponsible strategy. Progress in violence prevention can be made as a result of commitment, a culture that repudiates violence, training and education, and strong leadership to support this. This leadership has not been present at Hockey Canada. Instead, their response to sexual violence has created many harmful impacts, such as:

Increased harms to sexual violence survivors   

Stigma, isolation and silence often surround experiences of sexual violence. Silence and secrecy creates opportunities for sexual violence to occur, and for those who harm to remain unaccountable. Many survivors wish to acknowledge their experiences and seek support, but fear the reactions of others[3]. Hockey Canada’s processes for managing sexual violence has both reinforced silence and minimized the impacts of violence.  

Increased harm to some individuals in our communities  

Some people are more vulnerable to being targeted for acts of sexual violence. Women, girls and gender diverse people are more likely to experience sexual violence[4], for example. Young women from marginalized racial, sexual and socioeconomic groups are more vulnerable to being targeted for sexual violence as well[5]; in Canada today, Indigenous women are three times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be violently or sexually assaulted[6]. In minimizing sexual violence allegations against players, Hockey Canada increased risk to these individuals.

Reproducing old, outdated misconceptions about sexual violence

Silence about sexual violence contributes to misconceptions, such as the idea that sexual violence doesn’t happen often, isn’t a big deal, or should not be talked about. These misconceptions shape “how sexual violence is understood by those who have experienced it”, as well as how offenders and bystanders understand it[7]. Hockey Canada’s response has reenforced these misconceptions. At OCRCC, we believe that pushing back against these myths supports survivors of violence and can prevent sexual violence in the future.

Lost trust in systems and institutions

Statistics Canada notes that sexual assault had the lowest rate of reporting to police amongst all violent crimes, with only 6% of incidents in 2019 having come to the attention of police[8],[9]. Too few survivors of sexual violence report already. When large national institutions like Hockey Canada are complicit in allowing sexual violence to happen, Canadians lose trust in all systems and institutions. This can affect survivors’ ability to disclose their experiences or report.

We are deeply disappointed in Hockey Canada’s response to sexual violence. In particular, the fund to settle sexual assault claims “points to the deeply disturbing assumption by Hockey Canada that sexual violence is inevitable”[10], cannot be prevented, or is simply a risk management problem. On the contrary, studies show that most people, including men and boys, don’t believe in using violence and wish to be part of the solution in ending gender-based violence[11]. In Ontario alone, many organizations including Ontario sexual assault centres are working in local communities to break the silence around sexual violence, prevent it through education, and support sexual violence survivors.

The public’s reaction to Hockey Canada

The response from the Canadian public, elected officials, advocates and sponsors has been very clear.

Sexual abuse survivor advocate and retired NHL player Sheldon Kennedy called for Hockey Canada’s leadership to resign. In July 2022 Hockey Canada issued an apology and some commitments to change; nonetheless, the organization lost multiple important sponsors. Federal funding for the organization has also been frozen. Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge called on Hockey Canada to tackle the sport’s “systemic problem” of sexual violence. As a result of all this, on October 11, 2022, Hockey Canada announced the departure of chief executive officer Scott Smith and the current Board of directors[12].

We believe it takes a community to end sexual violence. Addressing sexual violence can take many forms. It can mean:

  • Talking with young people about sexual violence, and about their rights
  • Listening to survivors of sexual violence
  • Standing up for survivors
  • Pushing back against offensive sexualized, gendered or racist jokes
  • Withdrawing support for organizations, institutions or initiatives that are not accountable for preventing sexual violence

OCRCC commends the many advocates, leaders and sponsors – Esso, Telus, Imperial Oil, Tim Hortons and Scotiabank – for demanding a better sexual violence response. Together, you made a difference.

Now’s the time to invest in sexual violence survivors and prevention

Awareness of sexual violence is increasing —a significant and positive achievement. More and more, survivors of violence are reaching out for support. More and more, our communities are seeking ways to help survivors, and to prevent sexual violence before it happens. The public response to Hockey Canada is an example of this.

OCRCC recommends:

  • Immediate provincial investment in community-based sexual violence supports. Most existing Ontario sexual assault centres have been operating in Ontario since the 1990s (a few since the 1970s). During this time, the number of survivors accessing crisis counselling and long term counselling programs has multiplied—in some regions by up to 4 times[13]; yet funding for these services has simply not kept pace. We call on government to increase funding to these vital services: in the last year and a half, the Town of Bracebridge, Region of Waterloo, The City of Kingston, Town of Whitchurch-Stoufville, Town of Aurora, Town of Georgina (York region) and the Chatham-Kent Municipal Council have each endorsed a resolution recognizing this need, and asking the province to provide increased and sustainable funding for sexual assault services.
  • A call to sponsors to invest in community-based sexual violence supports. So many corporate sponsors made their beliefs clear by withdrawing their sponsorship support from Hockey Canada! We commend you for this. Sponsorship resources should be invested now to support survivors of sexual violence. Community-based sexual assault centres, for example, are a best practice service model[14] and provide support to survivors through crisis intervention, counselling, advocacy and prevention education.
  • Federal investment in community-based sexual violence supports. With government funding frozen for Hockey Canada, we believe this funding should be re-invested in existing, effective solutions. We are doing this work, but we need to significantly grow our capacity to work with local athletes and organizations. We propose a partnership between federal ministries and community-based Sexual Assault centres to:
    • work with athletes and sports organizations to address sexual violence in sports culture;
    • support the development and growth of Male Allies Programs within community-based Sexual Assault Support Centres;
    • and to support those who have been harmed.

 

 

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC)is a network of 30+ community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, go to https://sexualassaultsupport.ca/support/.

If you wish to support Ontario sexual assault centres or learn more, contact us:

Contact:

Nicole Pietsch,

Writer and Advocate

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC)
Tel: 905-299-4428
Email: ocrccadvocacy@gmail.com

Web: www.sexualassaultsupport.ca

Campaign: www.draw-the-line.ca


[1] Benchetrit, B. for CBC News. October 8, 2022. What is Hockey Canada and why does it matter? Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/what-is-hockey-canada-explainer-1.6611373

[2] Robertson, G. for The Globe and Mail. July 19, 2022. How Hockey Canada used registration fees to build a fund to cover sexual-assault claims. Online: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-hockey-canada-fund-sexual-assault-allegations/

[3] Violence against Women Learning Network, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children, Western University. May 2012. Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document: 19.

[4] In Canada, the rate of sexual assault victimization was more than five times higher among women (50 per 1,000) than men (9 per 1,000): see Statistics Canada. Released: 2021-08-25. Criminal victimization in Canada, 2019. Online: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210825/dq210825a-eng.htm). TransPulse found that trans people are the targets of specifically directed violence; 20% had been physically or sexually assaulted for being trans: see Bauer, Greta & Scheim, Ayden. (2015). Transgender People in Ontario, Canada: Statistics from the Trans PULSE Project to Inform Human Rights Policy: 4. 

[5] Wolfe and Chioda, as quoted in Safe Schools Action Team Report on Gender-based Violence, Homophobia, Sexual Harassment & Inappropriate Sexual Behavior in Schools.  2008.  Shaping a Culture of respect in our Schools: Promoting Safe and Healthy Relationships: 3.

[6] Native Women’s Association of Canada. 2021. NWAC ’s Action Plan to End the A tack Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and Gender-Diverse People . Online: https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NWAC-action-plan-FULL-ALL-EDITS.pdf. 5. 

[7] The Learning Network. Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document. May 2012: 4.

[8] Statistics Canada. Released: 2021-08-25. Criminal victimization in Canada, 2019. Online: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210825/dq210825a-eng.htm

[9] Cotter, A., for Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. Release date: August 25, 2021. Criminal victimization in Canada, 2019. Online: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2021001/article/00014-eng.htm

[10] Ending Violence Association of Canada (EVA Canada). July 22, 2022. Statement Regarding Hockey Canada’s Handing of Sexual Assault. Online: https://endingviolencecanada.org/statement-regarding-hockey-canadas-handing-of-sexual-assault/

[11] Flood, M. (2010) Where Men Stand: Men’s roles in ending violence against women. Sydney: White Ribbon Prevention Research Series, No. 2. Online: http://www.ncdsv.org/images/WR_WhereMenStandMen’sRolesInEndingVAW_Long_2010.pdf

[12] Hockey Canada. October 11, 2022. Hockey Canada Overhauls Leadership Team: Chief executive officer departs effective immediately; Board of Directors steps down. Online: https://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/news/hockey-canada-makes-leadership-changes-2022-news

[13] Provided by Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services in December 2021.  

[14] Community-based sexual violence support competencies include believing survivors as a foundational approach to support; trauma-informed services; applied anti-racist, anti-oppressive, intersectional approaches; and a continuum of support options. See: Ontario Ministry of the Status of Women and Shore Consulting. November 14, 2017. FINAL REPORT: Review of Sexual Violence and Harassment Counselling Services and Helplines.

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