“Culture of sexual entitlement.”
These are the chilling words in the newly released details of the Boston University report on the incidents of sexual assaults by two team members. On the heels of this comes the announcement that three Sault St. Marie players (Nick Cousins, Andrew Fritsch, and Mark Petacchio) have been allowed to rejoin the team after a ten day “behavioral wellness program.”
We perceive sexual assault in the hockey world to be a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, the most recent cases at Boston University and Sault St. Marie are just the latest.
- In 1989, Brian Sakic and Wade Smith were charged with sexual assault. The case was stayed, and the girl was charged with mischief. She was acquitted, but the judge found that an assault did occur. Despite this, the two were never brought to trial. During the girl’s trial, during her trial, the investigating RCMP officer testified, “I didn’t believe her . . . I felt it would be impossible for a male person to hold a woman down, take off her clothes, and put on a condom.” The details of the case are disturbing and described here.
- In 1990, three Caps players (Dino Ciccarelli, Neil Sheehy and Geoff Courtnall) were accused of raping a 17 yr old girl in a limo. A grand jury refused to indict, saying the evidence was insufficient. All three players were traded a short time later.
- In 1990, prep school player Joshua Singlewald was charged with first-degree sexual assault while visiting Brown University on a recruiting trip.
- In 1993, two Anchorage High School players were charged with assaulting a girl who had passed out drunk.
- In 1994, five Umass-Dartmouth players were charged with sexual assault.
- In 1995, former St. Sault Marie Greyhounds player Jarret Reid pled guilty to several charges, among them sexual assault. He was sentenced to 9 months in jail and two years’ probation.
- In 1995, Ed Jovanovski and two OHL teammates were charged with sexual assault. The charges were dropped for lack of evidence and there were indications the woman may have lied. “Coming up to the next level, I’m going to have to beware and use good judgment,” Jovanovski said.
- In 1996, two Dallas Stars players (Todd Harvey and Grant Marshall) were charged with sexual assault.
- In 1996, former Michigan State player Brian Wiseman went on trial for assaulting a girl in 1991.
- In 1996, Pens player Peter Nedved was accused of sexual assault. Charges were dropped after it was discovered the women was simply seeking money.
- In 1999, St. Francis Xavier University player Andrew Power was convicted of sexual assault. He appealed the case on the grounds that the victim’s prior sexual history should have been admitted as evidence, but the judge ruled the conviction stands.
- In 2000, barrie Colts players Nicholas Robinson, Michael D’Alessandro, and Aaron Power were charged with sexual assault. Charges were subsequently dropped.
- In 2000, Ottawa 67s player Lance Galbraith was charged with sexual assault after a six month investigation. “He’s innocent until proven guilty, and hopefully this will only be a minor distraction,” said team president Jeff Hunt. The year before, two players had been arrested for physical assault of a taxi driver.
- In 2001, a University of Minnesota-Duluth player pleaded guilty to fourth- degree criminal sexual conduct
- In 2002, former NHL player Garth Butcher was charged with sexual assault and administering a noxious substance.
- In 2006, University of Minnesota-Duluth player Blair Lefebvre pleaded guilty to sexual assault. He got 2 years’ probation.
- In 2006, Victoria Salmon Kings players were accused of rape. Charges were delayed, because the witnesses are all members of the hockey team and created an obstacle to accurately and fully investigating the case.
- In 2007, University of Maine player Tanner House was charged with unlawful sexual touching. The charges were dropped in exchange for House performing 30 hours of community service. “If he performs a set amount of community service work we will dismiss the charge basically based upon the wishes of the victim and our understanding that a conviction could cause substantial immigration problems for him,” said Assistant District Attorney Michael Roberts.
- In 2009, an Albany River Rats player was charged with committing a first-degree criminal sex act.
- In 2009, Sound Tigers player Robert Hughes was indicted on two counts of sexual assault. According to his attorney, Hughes had not given the incident a “second thought until the marshals showed up at his locker to arrest him.”
- In 2011, two Mercyhurst College players were charged with sexual assault and were acquitted.
These are just a handful of cases revealed in a cursory search. Imagine what an in-depth search would look like.
These athletes have a sense of entitlement. They’ve been told at an early age that they’re special, they’re better than others. They play on popular and/or successful teams and are local celebrities. Their perception of the world is warped at a fairly early age. When they act out, it’s written off as “boys will be boys” or “that’s just how hockey players are.”
In 1996, The Fifth Estate (a CBC investigative show) examined junior hockey and six sexual assault cases against junior players. According to the program’s interview with a “puck bunny,” group sex was the norm, as was passing girls from one player to another. Women and girls have become objects to be had at will, described by their sexual performance or physical attributes. Players often feel they are entitled to sex, and often believe in myths such as “no means maybe” and that you don’t need permission when alcohol is involved. Many of the cases have a common feature: a group of three to five players are alleged to have fondled a woman, then one asks the rest to leave, and proceeds to assault her. Almost every case involved alcohol.
Many hockey teams handle problems internally, thus insulating the players further. Consequently, players learn that getting caught usually means a minor punishment, and should anything more serious arise, they know the coach, boosters, etc. will try to take care of it for them. In their world, there are few, if any, serious consequences for their actions.
“These guys are part of a larger culture that condones violence against women. There’s a power structure that rallies around the accused because there’s a team, a coach, athletic director and others who are stakeholders in the outcome,” says Jonathan Katz, president of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Strategies.
In several of the cases above, the players were allowed to continue playing, at least for a while. In one Mercyhurst case, rather than implement training on sexual assault or drinking, the college merely raised its fine for excessive drinking from $25 to $100, and moved to make dorms alcohol-free.
Details in the BU case are troubling. “This year the team co-sponsored a statewide campaign to prevent assaults on women…The BU student newspaper regularly reports on apparent episodes of heavy drinking and bad behavior among hockey players, and Trivino and another team member recently made a profane YouTube video about women.”
Some of the BU campus newspaper reports included descriptions like this: “Some of the players were often disruptive, made lewd comments, and knocked on girls’ doors to ask for condoms or see if the girls would let the barely dressed players into their rooms,” the newspaper reported. In October, the resident assistant sent an e-mail stating that the floor was not a zoo and begged them to “stop behaving like animals.” So far, there isn’t much evidence that demonstrates players were disciplined for this behavior, despite campus code of life violations. In fact, one university official admitted that Trivino had been involved in multiple alcohol infractions prior to this arrest.
Where was the coach during all of this? The athletic director? Why did it take “multiple” infractions before he was finally kicked off the team?
This sort of atmosphere implies that the sport, and its athletes are more important than victims. Players are allowed to act like animals and get away with it. What could a victim expect if she does come forward?
“[E]ven if the claim is legitimate there is enormous pressure on the victim not to press charges, that you’re ruining his career,” says Linda Fairstein, former head of the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan district attorney’s office in New York and a board member of the National Center for Victims of Crime. While she’s referring to cases in other sports, it holds true for hockey as well.
Sometimes the entire community will turn against a victim. In a few of the cases, team staff have called the victims repeatedly to pressure them. They are subjected to harassment from peers, derision at the assumption they are puck bunnies, trying to cover for their own misdeeds or just simply being called a liar. One girl was “chased out of town,” according to the investigating officer. Others were subjected to constant harassment on campus.
When cases are investigated, they tend to become a “he said, she said” because rape is a crime that rarely occurs with witnesses. If the accusation is gang rape, the team will close ranks and make gathering evidence or accurate statements nearly impossible. There are also biases on the part of the investigating officer, which usually involve conceived notions of how sexual assaults do or do not happen. (see some of the cases listed above.)
The reason why so many cases resulted in acquittals or charges dropped for lack of evidence? “It’s not unusual for a victim to be in a state of denial, which delays and prevents the collection of usable evidence. “What you go through is self-blaming and self-guilt, because you know this person. It takes awhile for the mind to process that it wasn’t your fault. That can take 12 hours, 24 hours or 48 hours before it sinks in. In the meantime a victim will make lots of statements, and you may lose physical evidence. Until they talk to somebody else, they don’t figure out it’s rape, and then the defense uses that against you,” says Mary Keenan, a Colorado district attorney.
In the meantime, the alleged perpetrators are allowed to go on with their normal routine, at least in the juniors. They may be suspended, but it’s usually brief. In the case of the Sault St. Marie players, their suspension lasted less than a month. In other cases, it’s been two weeks. In college cases, the players are usually expelled from the team automatically, pending the outcome of the case.
Teams at all levels need to make the disciplinary process more transparent when infractions and crimes occur. “We’re handling this internally” should not be an acceptable response. It needs to be clear that the team is helping the athlete with counseling, etc., punishing them appropriately, and demonstrating consideration and respect for the community as a whole.
While a ten day “behavioral wellness program” for the Sault St. Marie players is a start, it’s nowhere near enough. They need to follow the example of other teams who have already taken proactive steps that encompass the whole team, including coaches. The Ottawa 67s have invited a police officer to speak to the team every year regarding substance and sexual abuse. Since 1992, the University of Minnesota has held a once a year meeting for student athletes on sexual assault, myths about assault, and sexism.
Even once a year meetings aren’t enough. Teams need to actively engage players on these issues, or use an independent, specialized group such as The Mentors in Violence Prevention program, which visits campuses and delivers training to student-athletes, coaches and athletic department staff on how to confront abuse, gender violence and inappropriate behaviors involving teammates, peers and co-workers.
Teams also need to take responsibility at the administrative level. For example, a bar near BU had been allowing hockey players to drink for free. While the university asked the bar to stop this practice, they also acknowledged they had no control over what the bar chose to do. What they neglect to mention is that they do have control over student-athlete compliance with rules. The athletic department could, if they choose, implement rules regarding excessive drinking. They could also provide comprehensive education on the negative effects of excessive drinking, especially on an athlete’s body and performance. Finally, they could file a complaint against the bar for failing to comply with ID checks.
While homophobia in the dressing room is being addressed, there is little push to address the anti-female aspect. There is little backlash when a player is called feminine as an insult. There is also little backlash when a newspaper or commentator refers to a player using a feminine name, such as “the Sedin sisters” or “Cindy Crosby.”
It is socially acceptable to denigrate women, and that must stop.
Or else the parade of victims will continue.
Jennifer Conway goes by @NHLHistoryGirl on Twitter, and is a must-follow for observation and facts about the NHL’s past and present.