Cases involving players spanning decades have come to light. Worse still, victims are shamed and accountability is lacking.
In July, former Vancouver Canucks ice hockey player Jake Virtanen was tried for sexual assault. The trial in Vancouver ended with a jury verdict of not guilty. Although the jury did not give reasons for its verdict, we know that the defense attorney representing Virtanen presented a litany of gender stereotypes about women who report rape, their motivations for doing so, and their behavior during and after a rape. sexual assault.
The complainant did clear and powerful statements. “I thought saying no, I don’t want to do this and physically pushing him away was enough,” she said. “What else did I have to say?” »
Yet, during cross-examination, she was repeatedly pressed to explain her actions: Why did she go to her hotel room in the first place and why didn’t she leave after the rape? If she really hadn’t wanted the sex; why didn’t she fabricate an excuse such as having a yeast infection or that she was on her period, she was asked. Although the defense attorney later apologized for this last line of questioning, the jury was exposed to suggestions that women are responsible for anticipating and preventing rape.
Feminists have worked tirelessly for decades to change public understanding of rape myths used to discredit women in various spheres. Although there is now a broad consensus on the need to end rape culture and its systemic roots, this recognition has yet to bear fruit when it comes to holding men accountable to the system. of criminal justice.
The women who call us to stand up to the violence they have experienced and decide to file a complaint with the police, do so knowing that the odds are stacked against them. They hold out a glimmer of hope that the justice system will finally protect women.
The Virtanen case unfolded against the backdrop of an ongoing scandal involving Hockey Canada, the sport’s governing body in the country, and reports that elite Canadian male hockey players allegedly committed two acts of gang rape.
Earlier this year, a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight intoxicated players, including members of the National Junior Team after a London event hosted by Hockey Canada in June 2018. She filed a statement asking $3.55 million in damages to Hockey Canada. , which then settled the lawsuit out of court for an undisclosed amount in May 2022. This financial settlement has subjected Hockey Canada to intense scrutiny from government, corporate sponsors and the public.
Then, on July 22, details emerged of an attack that took place in 2003 in Halifax during the World Junior Tournament involving Canadian players. The attack was filmed. According to reports, a player spoke on camera and told viewers that they were about to see “a damn roast lamb.” The video shows several male players taking turns raping an unresponsive woman lying face up on a pool table.
These brutal attacks illustrate the utter disregard for the humanity of women inherent in sexual violence. With cases spanning decades, it became clear that the existing structures governing men’s hockey in Canada protected perpetrators from meaningful liability and did not prevent sexual violence from occurring. Fittingly, demands for a change in management emerged, leading to the resignation of the chairman of the board on August 6.
Of course, this atmosphere of men’s sexual rights over women’s bodies isn’t limited to hockey — or even sports. It actually mirrors what we hear every day on our crisis line. As a fact-finding mission and investigation into Hockey Canada continues, we know that until there are tangible consequences for those who commit and enable rape, it is women who suffer from the inaction.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.