***Content Warning: The following article contains examples and references to sexual assault.***
Watching Kyle Beach yesterday on national television explain in detail how Brad Aldrich’s actions, and then the subsequent non-actions of the Chicago Blackhawks, ruined his life for the past 11 years was powerful and gut wrenching. It was also a small glimpse into the reality of victims and survivors of rape, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. Unfortunately, many victims never tell their stories, because the courts, and the court of public opinion, rarely believe them.
The reaction online yesterday and today for Beach has been amazingly positive. People believe him. There is so much power in believing victims and survivors of sexual abuse. It might sound simple, but don’t underestimate the power your belief has.
Many listened and there was no outcry from people questioning or doubting his story.
However, that isn’t the reality for most survivors of sexual assault. Yesterday, the terms “toxic hockey culture” and “boys club” were thrown around.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ decision to remain quiet, and not report Beach’s story to the police, keep Brad Aldrich employed with the team, allow him to celebrate hosting the Cup and then allegedly give him a positive review for his next job is beyond disgusting. It is horrific. Stan Bowman and Al MacIssac lost their jobs. The Blackhawks were fined $2m and they will pay much more to Beach and the Michigan boy (and possibly others who come forward) who was a future victim of Aldrich. Their punishment is deserved. And others might face a similar fate in the coming days.
But covering up this story isn’t just toxic hockey culture. It is naïve to believe that, because the toxicity is not just reserved for hockey.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Larry Nassar. He was the team doctor and physician for the US Olympic gymnastic team for 18 years. He preyed on hundreds of young gymnasts for almost two decades. And when these girls complained, as far back as 1998, no one listened. Many men and women in positions of power did nothing. They enabled Nassar and allowed him to continue abusing girls and young women at the University of Michigan and with USA Gymnastics. But it wasn’t just gymnasts who Nasser preyed on.
Kyle Stephens was six years old when Nasser started abusing her. Nasser was friends with her parents. Nassar abused women for decades, and it was Kyle’s call to police that finally led to his arrest.
You can read the details about her abuse here. This quote from the article sums up how deplorable Nassar was.
Nassar first abused her when she was six, “When I still had not lost all my baby teeth,” said Stephens.
It began with him exposing himself. Later, he would masturbate before her. Then, he physically abused her — all while both their families were in the same house.
When Kyle, aged 12, told her parents that Nassar would rub his erect penis on her bare feet, he denied it. Back then, her parents did not believe her, and urged her to apologize to him.”
Sadly, Stephens story isn’t unique. Not being believed by loved ones, or people in power, is why predators are allowed to prey on children and adults for years without recourse.
Glori Meldrum is the founder of Little Warriors/ Be Brave Ranch a Child Sexual Abuse Treatment Centre. At Be Brave Ranch they specialize in treating children who were victims of rape and sexual assault. It was the first facility, and still the only one in Canada, focused solely on helping sexually abused children. Meldrum knows the horror too well. In her book, Warrior, she outlined the abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-grandfather for years.
“It happened whenever Wib found me alone — in the house, in the car, in the bathtub and on the beach. His abuse involved objects, forced touching, penetration and forced fellatio.
It was horrible.
I endured the violence dozens of times over two years, living in fear of my abuser.
The trauma brought me within an inch of slicing my wrists. Suicide seemed like a preferred option to end the pain.
There are many phases of survival for victims of sexual abuse. The first is to survive the abuse itself.”
She eventually charged him, and two other women came forward that he fondled them when they younger. He eventually was convicted, but he only got two years of community service. Our current system doesn’t protect the courageous victims who do come forward. Currently the Be Brave Ranch receives no government funding. It is all private donors who allow these young children to try and rebuild their lives after suffering horrific abuse. Write a letter to your MLA asking why the government isn’t involved. The fact they aren’t accurately depicts how society in general views sexual abuse. We want to keep in the background, just like the Blackhawks did.
If we want real change then many of us need to ask for it.
A quick google search will show you can find sexual abuse scandals in hockey, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, football and almost every sport. Hockey is not unique in its “toxic culture.” Sexual assault happens in schools, places of worship, the military, hospitals, neighbourhoods and sadly in the homes of many people reading right now. It is everywhere. Some kids, women and men are going home to a sexually abusive situation tonight.
HOW WE REACT…
It was interesting to see the outpouring of support for Beach. It was great. No one questioned him. Very few would believe he made this up. Now compare that reaction to how people reacted when Kobe Bryant was accused of felony sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in 2003.
You can read the full affidavit here.
It includes Bryant’s original interview with police. He initially denied having sex with the woman, but changed his story when the police told them they had evidence, which came from a medical report in the affidavit that said the woman suffered lacerations and tears which appeared to be “consistent with penetrating genital trauma.”
The woman eventually dropped the charges due to threats to her safety along with public scorn. Her name was mistakenly released to the media three times — three times. And they claim it was a mistake. Then there was a civil lawsuit. You can read the civil lawsuit here.
The reactions from the sporting world, and world in general, to her story and to Beach’s has been vastly different. She was vilified. Beach, as he should be, has been applauded. But why are we selective in which survivor we want to believe?
Meldrum’s own grandmother didn’t believe her. In fact, she was forced to sit on Wib’s (her abuser) lap at future family functions.
It isn’t just in sports where we prefer not to believe a human being would commit such vile actions on another human, let alone children. We don’t want to believe it. Maybe we can’t process it.
And sometimes, even when the facts are undeniable, the perpetrator gets a light sentence.
Look at the Brock Turner case of 2016. He was convicted of intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person.
Here is a small sample of the 12-page letter the victim read aloud in court describing her sexual assault forensic exam.
“I had multiple swabs inserted into my vagina and anus, needles for shots, pills, had a Nikon pointed right into my spread legs. I had long, pointed beaks inside me and had my vagina smeared with cold, blue paint to check for abrasions.
“After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”
Turner, despite being convicted, was sentenced to only six months in jail. Six.
This despite the fact that two men, who were riding on bicycles and saw Turner on top of the woman, and heroically ran over and stopped him, also testified. There was no doubt what happened, but the judge gave Turner six months. Six months for ruining a woman’s life. Does that seem fair? What if that was your daughter or sister or friend? Would you feel justice was served?
What message are we sending to victims? Why would they want to speak up, and have to re-live the horror of their experience, only to see the perpetrator get a light sentence, or in many cases get nothing?
GLAD FOR BEACH…
I am beyond happy that Beach was able to tell his story, in his own words, to a massive audience and people believed him. But remember how long it took for this to happen and how much help he needed to make this happen. If former Blackhawks skills coach, Paul Vincent, hadn’t spoken up, again, and shared his story with Rick Westhead (who did an unreal job of reporting this story) this summer, would we have ever known? Would Beach have received his justice? I doubt it. This is so awesome for him, and I’m truly happy. Yet, I wonder how many victims who watched are wondering why no one believed them.
If watching Beach’s interview with Westhead on TSN made you angry, sad, upset and frustrated then take a moment and do something about it. If you haven’t watched it yet, I recommend you click the link in this paragraph. Then write a letter to your MLA or other member of parliament and demand change. Ask them why Be Brave Ranch gets no government funding, or why our current system seems slanted to protect the accused over the accuser?
Sadly, the “toxic hockey culture” many have mentioned in the past few days, is simply a mirror of the much bigger toxic culture in our society when it comes to sexual abuse. That doesn’t mean hockey can’t keep improving, far from it. It must. But we need to realize this is a much bigger issue in society.
I hope Beach’s interview can be a starting point for society to demand change.
Kyle, you are very brave. And so are all the other survivors. I hope more survivors will get an opportunity to be heard, and supported, like Beach has.