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Why Is Ottawa's Hockey Team So Apathetic Towards Sexual Assault?

09/19/2014 01:19 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:00 EDT
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A little over a week ago, a former hockey player from the University of Ottawa voiced his anger in the media about the injustice he felt regarding the decision to cancel the 2014-2015 hockey season. He explained, among other things, that he had his reputation damaged and had to sell his condo. Since the beginning of the investigation in February last year, a few other players have spoken publicly about their feeling of injustice, of having been let down and treated unfairly by the university; some of them even mentioned their "suffering".

While it is legitimate for the players who weren't in Thunder Bay that night or weren't aware that an assault took place to feel a deep sense of injustice, I would like to shed a light on an obvious fact that has been quite irritating since the beginning of the investigation. None of the players in the team have spoken up and publicly condemned what has happened: not one. How can we make sense of this apathy? How can we explain that no one on the team took a stand against the violence of their peers and instead chose to turn their anger towards the University?

Sociologist Michael Kimmel, who has been studying masculinity for decades, has argued that three cultural dynamics act together when young men commit such violence: the culture of entitlement, the culture of silence and the culture of fear.

Culture of entitlement

The culture of entitlement takes place when young men feel a deep sense of injustice when a privilege has been taken away from them and perceive themselves as the victims of an unfair situation. Assuming that the world is centered on their needs, they get angry when "their right" to play hockey has been "unfairly" taken away from them. Playing hockey is, in fact, a privilege, not a right. On the other hand, physical and sexual integrity is a basic fundamental right. In other words, their loss of a condo, of a field placement and of their hockey season reflects a sense of entitlement about what they are owed, regardless of the sexual assault that was perpetrated by their peers. Hiring a lawyer to potentially sue the University is an example of this culture of entitlement.

Culture of silence

The culture of silence finds its roots in the patriarchal "code of silence", which stops men from intervening when they witness sexual harassment, sexist remarks, an assault, etc. They can be afraid to talk or feel that they might be ostracized or rejected by their friends as a consequence of being the whistleblower. Although we may never know how many players on the team were aware of the sexual assault, I argue that some knew and made the conscious decision to keep quiet. Considering that the coach was well aware and decided to cover up the assault, we can assume that there has been some talk going around the team about it. Until the victim came forward, none of the players, nor the coach told the authorities, called the police or notified the University. They all remained silent.

Culture of protection

The culture of protection relates to the famous saying "Bros before Hoes". This occurs when young men protect each other, even from the most brutal form of violence they commit. Arguing that the victim was willing, that her testimony constitutes a false allegation and refusing to cooperate with the police during the investigations are prime examples of this dynamic. This culture of protection has also played in favour of other perpetrators in similar cases in the past, for example by protecting the assailant of Rehtaeh Parsons.

Concluding remark

If the University of Ottawa has addressed the matter in a very serious way, can we also expect men to take a stand against the perpetrators of sexual violence against women in the future? If some of them decide to break this culture of entitlement, of silence and of protection, it would send a strong and important message to young boys and men across Canada regarding the seriousness of the issue and the potential consequences on the perpetrators, but more importantly, the devastating consequences on the victim herself.

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