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Hockey makes you rape people, and other tales



We're deep into the playoffs now. The home team has been eliminated, leaving the real gladiators of the National Hockey League to battle it out for the Stanley Cup.

We have Chicago, the bullish team that's equal parts finesse and grit; we have San Jose, by all accounts a mediocre post-season team with everything to prove; we have Montreal, the Cinderella story of this year's playoffs, a team no one expected would make it beyond the first round; and finally Philadelphia, the on-ice equivalent of a street gang.

Did you know that they're all a bunch of rapists?

Probably not. But then you probably also haven't paid much attention to the writings of Laura Robinson, a freelance journalist who claims she's been studying the link between hockey and sexual assault for 18 years. Her views were aired in the May 13 issue of the Georgia Straight .

In a story titled "Link between hockey and rape studied," Robinson says she would never let a boy she cares about play hockey. Through her studies she has discovered a subculture of "rape and violence" that starts at the junior level. In almost two decades she has seen nothing change.

"It's because we live in a rape culture," she says. "And within the subculture of male professional sport, it's about defining who a man is through his sexual scoring."

The article, by reporter Shadi Elien, goes on to validate every one of her concerns. She writes that Robinson, while covering the Olympics in Vancouver, got three e-mails "concerning sexual assaults by male hockey players."

The reporter then goes on to say that sexual offenses increased by 70 per cent - from 16 to 27 - during the Games, according to statistics from the Vancouver Police Department. As the Straight story tells it, they weren't owing to more people simply being in the city during the Games.

It quotes a spokesperson from Women Against Violence Against Women, who says workers accompanied five victims to the hospital on the night of the gold medal hockey game.

It quotes Ontario physician Shafiq Qaadri saying that a "tsunami of testosterone" washed through the streets after Canada won its final gold medal. It quotes a sociology professor at Mount Royal University who says that hockey culture sets people up to emulate and reinforce "extreme masculinity." Junior hockey players may thus be at a higher risk of perpetrating acts of sexual assault.

There isn't a single emissary from hockey quoted here, not a player, coach or trainer. Since it must be said, rape is a vicious and horrifying crime, and not just for its physical impacts. Worse yet is the psychological trauma it inflicts on victims. Some go years before mustering the strength to confront their abusers. Others decades.

Still others never find the strength to get over the pain, worried that they may not have enough evidence, or else feel dirty and guilty, and don't want to hold their predators accountable. They have all my sympathy.

Less serious, but still very concerning, is the ease that some people have accusing others of sexual assault. In this case, the source and the reporter have worked together to defame an entire profession without really providing the data that proves it. Robinson doesn't say that every hockey player is a rapist, but she certainly doesn't dismiss the possibility.

The story vaguely recalls the case of Rachel Marsden and Liam Donnelly, she a student at Simon Fraser University, he a swimming coach, yet another tale that illustrates the harm that a sweeping accusation can do. They lodged complaints against each other with the university, both of them charging sexual harassment against the other.

Donnelly was fired despite the university's finding that Marsden's claims were "insignificant and innocuous." They weighed an accusation heavier than the evidence that was there to support it.

Here, Robinson isn't forcing the firing of a hockey coach or player for sexual harassment. But by terming the entire profession a "rape culture" she's leaving its practitioners in an impossible position. They live the culture, therefore they could be rapists.

She says nothing has changed in hockey despite stringent rules that leagues have introduced to protect players from coaches. Don Cherry himself has rightfully shamed the hypermasculine hazing rituals that have dominated junior leagues.

We should all play a role in ensuring that people are protected from sexual assault and, should it happen, that victims have resources to help them. What we don't need is broad, sweeping language that makes rapists out of innocents who haven't offended.