Are we wait­ing for an­other scan­dal?

Mcgill Ath­let­ics and sex­ual vi­o­lence af­ter 2013

The McGill Daily - - Fea­tures - Paniz Khos­roshahy

Con­tent warn­ing: sex­ual as­sault

The Hunt­ing Ground, the ground­break­ing movie on cam­pus sex­ual vi­o­lence in the U.S., opens with var­i­ous shots of foot­ball play­ers, look­ing hideous and sin­is­ter un­der­neath their black hel­mets and shoul­der pads as an omi­nous sound­track plays in the back­ground. The nar­ra­tive of the sex­u­ally vi­o­lent stu­den­tath­lete isn’t un­fa­mil­iar to any­one who fol­lows dis­cus­sions of cam­pus sex­ual as­sault. Male stu­dent-ath­letes tend to dom­i­nate the head­lines and con­ver­sa­tions. It’s only log­i­cal to won­der: do ath­letes rape more of­ten?

We don’t even have to look too far for ev­i­dence. From the ter­mi­na­tion of the foot­ball sea­son in 2005 over bru­tal haz­ing in­ci­dents to the sus­pen­sion of mul­ti­ple play­ers charged with sex­ual and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in the past few years, Mcgill stu­den­tath­letes – par­tic­u­larly foot­ball play­ers – have been con­sis­tently in the news due to Ath­let­ics’ poor treat­ment of sex­ual vi­o­lence. This is while stu­dent-ath­letes make up a tiny pro­por­tion of the over­all stu­dent body.

It’s been al­most four years since the storm that took over cam­pus about Mcgill’s treat­ment of the re­ports of a sex­ual as­sault by three R*dmen play­ers, and a few months since the pass­ing of Mcgill’s Pol­icy Against Sex­ual Vi­o­lence. So I had to won­der: how much has changed in Ath­let­ics since?

Why is sex­ual vi­o­lence preva­lent among stu­dent-ath­letes?

Since 1992, nu­mer­ous stud­ies have shown that male stu­dent- ath­letes are in­deed more likely to com­mit sex­ual vi­o­lence. Ac­cord­ing to a re­view of the lit­er­a­ture on col­lege ath­let­ics and sex­ual as­sault by Kristy Mc­cray of Ot­ter­bein Univer­sity, male stu­dent-ath­letes are grossly over­rep­re­sented in of­fi­cial cam­pus rape re­ports and are more likely them­selves to ad­mit po­ten­tial or past sex­u­ally abu­sive be­hav­iour than their nonath­lete peers. More­over, ath­letes are also self-iden­ti­fied as as­sailants by sur­vivors of sex­ual vi­o­lence at dis­pro­por­tion­ate rates.

The re­search Mc­cray re­views at­tributes this vi­o­lence to a va­ri­ety of fac­tors, such as the in­creased like­li­hood for ath­letes to be phys­i­cally and sex­u­ally ag­gres­sive. Im­mersed in a male­dom­i­nated en­vi­ron­ment, they are more likely to feel the need to prove their mas­culin­ity, dis­play misog­y­nis­tic at­ti­tudes, re­ceive and cave into peer pres­sure, have a sense of celebrity en­ti­tle­ment and be­lieve in rape myths — false and widely held at­ti­tudes about rape. Ath­letes’ im­punity is not base­less: of­ten, ath­let­ics de­part­ments and uni­ver­si­ties do their best to pro­tect their star ath­letes from crim­i­nal al­le­ga­tions or charges, as has been the case at Mcgill.

Last year, a study pub­lished in Vi­o­lence Against Women showed that recre­ational ath­letes of­ten dis­play the above at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iours seen in var­sity ath­letes. In fact, the study found no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in rape myth ac­cep­tance, at­ti­tudes to­ward women, and sex­ual co­er­cion be­tween the two types of ath­letes.

All this re­search, how­ever, is al­most ex­clu­sively con­ducted in the U.S., and the sim­i­lar stud­ies in a Cana­dian con­text are scarce. Even the 2016 in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion funded by the Gov­ern­ment of On­tario — con­sid­ered as of­fer­ing some of the most com­pre­hen­sive find­ings in Canada — barely men­tions the unique na­ture of Ath­let­ics and the abu­sive dy­nam­ics that of­ten ex­ist in its cul­ture. Now, un­like the U.S., Cana­dian univer­sity life is not cen­tered around ath­let­ics and R*dmen par­tic­u­larly do not en­joy the same sta­tus and pres­tige of their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts.

But I think this is ex­actly why we need to pay more at­ten­tion to ath­letes’ sex­ual vi­o­lence in Canada. It is in the ab­sence of such ath­letic pres­tige that, time and again, R*dmen’s sex­ual vi­o­lence has dom­i­nated head­lines and gal­va­nized the stu­dent body. If, in the ab­sence of em­pir­i­cal data, our own univer­sity

is to be a les­son for oth­ers, it is clear that some­thing is wrong with the cul­ture of Ath­let­ics at Mcgill, and it’s im­por­tant to ac­tively ac­knowl­edge and ad­dress that.

Mcgill R*dmen af­ter 2013

In 2014, Ian Sher­iff was em­ployed at Mcgill’s sports sum­mer camp for 6 to 15 years-old chil­dren while still un­der­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion for the sex­ual as­sault with a weapon of a fe­male Con­cor­dia stu­dent. This was the third sum­mer Sher­iff was work­ing at the sum­mer camp fol­low­ing his ar­rest. His hir­ing would have been cen­sured by the guide­lines of Quebec As­so­ci­a­tion of Cer­ti­fied Camps, but Mcgill wasn’t af­fil­i­ated with that as­so­ci­a­tion at the time.

The CBC re­vealed the news about Sher­iff’s em­ploy­ment on July 23, 2014. Drew Love, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Mcgill Ath­let­ics at the time, was quoted by the CBC as say­ing that all new em­ploy­ees un­dergo back­ground checks. How­ever, he added, “We are bound by the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence, and by an ac­cused’s right to due process.”

The next day, An­thony Masi, who was Provost of Mcgill at the time, chimed in to dis­agree. The hir­ing of Sher­iff was now, ac­cord­ing to Masi, a “lapse in judge­ment.” He also told the CBC about his call for a “thor­ough re­view of the cir­cum­stances that led to this hir­ing at the sports camp and a full and com­plete ex­am­i­na­tion of em­ploy­ment pro­ce­dures at Mcgill Ath­let­ics and Re­cre­ation.”

This re­port, how­ever, was never re­leased to the pub­lic, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion did not re­spond to my re­quest about th­ese in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Those of us who have been around long enough still re­mem­ber the storm that took over cam­pus when it was re­vealed that Sher­iff, along with Bren­den Car­riere and Guil­laume Trem­blay, had been al­lowed to re­main on the R*dmen’s ros­ter and stay at Mcgill af­ter be­ing charged with sex­ual as­sault with a weapon and forcible con­fine­ment in 2011.

At the time, Deputy Provost (Liv­ing and Learn­ing) Ol­livier Dyens told the Mon­treal Gazette, “It didn’t hap­pen on the Mcgill cam­pus and she wasn’t a Mcgill stu­dent […].” He claimed to have been un­aware of the charges. How­ever, the Gazette claimed to have con­tacted Mcgill af­ter the at­tack in 2011, and the then foot­ball head coach Clint Ut­t­ley was in­formed of the ar­rests in 2012. The pub­lic­ity cri­sis re­sult­ing from Dyens’ com­ments, Ut­t­ley’s knowl­edge of the charges and the over­all lack of trans­parency about the sit­u­a­tion led to the ath­letes’ sus­pen­sion.

In 2014, star ath­lete Luis Gui­mont-mota was charged with do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. This wasn’t Gui­mont-mota’s first crim­i­nal charge: he had pre­vi­ously been sen­tenced to ninety days in jail – served on Sundays to avoid in­ter­fer­ence with his ath­letic ca­reer – and 240 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice af­ter plead­ing guilty to as­sault­ing a man in 2010.

This time, the ad­min­is­tra­tion seemed to have learnt its les­son. “In line with the Univer­sity’s var­sity ath­let­ics guide­lines,” read a state­ment re­leased by Dyens, “ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately, this player is sus­pended from the foot­ball team pend­ing res­o­lu­tion of his case by the Court.”

To be clear, ac­cord­ing to my cor­re­spon­dence with Dyens about the Gui­mont-mota case, there is no such clause in the “Univer­sity’s var­sity ath­let­ics guide­lines.” This claim is likely an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of sec­tion 21 of the Stu­dent Code of Con­duct: stu­dents can be ex­cluded from univer­sity premises if there ex­ists “rea­son­able grounds to be­lieve that the stu­dent’s con­tin­ued pres­ence is detri­men­tal to good or­der, or con­sti­tutes a threat to the well-be­ing of oth­ers.”

Dyens also told CBC news, “[Gui­mont-mota] should not have come to Mcgill Univer­sity. We take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for this.” Sim­i­lar to Masi in the 2013 case, Dyens is re­ported to have called for an in­quiry, this time into Gui­mon­tMota’s re­cruit­ment. He said, “We want to know who knew what, when and how.” Ac­cord­ing to Gui­mon­tMota and Ut­t­ley, the ad­min­is­tra­tion was aware of the charges at the time.

I re­quested an in­ter­view with Ath­let­ics’ el­i­gi­bil­ity of­fi­cer, Car­o­line James, cur­rent foot­ball head coach, Ron­ald Hi­laire, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Marc Géli­nas as well as Dyens re­gard­ing this in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions for fu­ture re­cruit­ment and back­ground screen­ing.

James and Hi­laire never got back to me, Géli­nas told me to talk to Dyens. And then Dyens told me that he couldn’t dis­cuss the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Let me re­it­er­ate: in re­sponse to pub­lic­ity crises, the Univer­sity’s se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion re­ported the launch of in­ves­ti­ga­tions about the Univer­sity’s most high-pro­file sex­ual as­sault cases. Now that ev­ery­thing has blown over, the Univer­sity re­fuses to pub­lish th­ese find­ings, and puts a gag or­der on any­one else that may dare to speak of the in­ci­dents.

I be­lieve that is im­por­tant to be trans­par­ent about Sher­iff’s em­ploy­ment at or Gui­mont-mota’s re­cruit­ment to Mcgill. Even if the Univer­sity doesn’t want to “com­ment on any in­di­vid­ual case,” as Dyens told me, it ought to make the gen­eral con­clu­sions and ram­i­fi­ca­tions of th­ese in­ves­ti­ga­tions pub­lic. This is not only be­cause the Univer­sity made a prom­ise, but be­cause, as stu­dents, we de­serve to know.

Gui­mont-mota, need­less to say, was re­in­stated in early 2015 once the charges against him were dropped. This is while Dyens had said his re­cruit­ment had been a mis­take in the first place. Gui­mont-mota went on to play for R*dmen for the next sea­son, as well.

Mcgill’s re­sponse to sex­ual vi­o­lence in Ath­let­ics

In the Se­nate meet­ing of Septem­ber 17, 2014, Dyens said that he won’t be in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing con­sent train­ing for ath­letes; he was “not go­ing to tar­get one group of stu­dents.”

In some ways, Dyens has changed his mind. He told me in an email that, since 2014, the Univer­sity has of­fered con­sent and by­stander pre­ven­tion work­shops to coaches. Ath­letes them­selves, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Con­sent Mcgill, have pro­duced a con­sent video and other “ed­u­ca­tional in­for­ma­tion.” But that’s it.

That’s all that Mcgill’s ac­count­abil­ity with re­gards the sex­ual vi­o­lence com­mit­ted by male ath­letes has con­sisted of: work­shops for coaches, and mak­ing videos. In an ar­ti­cle ti­tled “#Thi­sis­nothelp­ing” pub­lished in The Daily last year, I out­lined the short­com­ings of con­sent ed­u­ca­tion in depth, par­tic­u­larly when used as the sole mea­sure to com­bat sex­ual vi­o­lence, and it seems to be the case at Ath­let­ics as well.

How­ever, my skep­ti­cism of con­sent ed­u­ca­tion’s ef­fec­tive­ness does not hin­der me from be­liev­ing that such train­ing can in­deed do some good in the case of Mcgill Ath­let­ics. Ut­t­ley, af­ter all, was fully aware of Gui­mont-mota’s con­vic­tion and the charges against Sher­iff, Car­riere and Trem­blay. He just didn’t think it was im­por­tant to do some­thing about it. Per­haps if he had re­ceived some con­sent train­ing - em­pir­i­cally shown to change at­ti­tudes about the grav­ity of sex­ual vi­o­lence – he would have thought oth­er­wise. But what if coaches are abu­sive them­selves?

Let’s talk about the coach

There has been a lot of con­ver­sa­tions on our cam­pus about pro­fes­sors’ abuse of power to groom and sex­u­ally ha­rass or abuse their stu­dents. Per­haps due to the dis­con­nect be­tween Ath­let­ics and the wider cam­pus com­mu­nity, not much dis­cus­sion has re­volved around sim­i­lar abu­sive dy­nam­ics be­tween ath­letes and coaches.

The fo­cus on chang­ing coaches’ at­ti­tudes about sex­ual vi­o­lence, as seem to be Mcgill’s fo­cus, may pre­vent Ut­t­ley-like coverups in the fu­ture. How­ever, at­ti­tude change can only take you so far, par­tic­u­larly when men are set on abus­ing their au­thor­ity. No study has, to my knowl­edge, shown that con­sent ed­u­ca­tion leads to long term be­havioural change. Un­der­stand­ing this has se­ri­ous ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the role of coaches in sports and ath­letic en­vi­ron­ments.

Per­haps the most high-pro­file case of coach mis­con­duct in re­cent mem­ory is that of Penn State: in 2011, Jerry San­dusky, for­mer coach for the school’s foot­ball team, was con­victed of 52 counts of sex­ual abuse and sen­tenced to 442 years in prison. In the nearby City of Wes­mount, it was only last month that a class ac­tion suit against against the city rep­re­sent­ing the child abuse vic­tims of the city’s for­mer hockey coach, John Gar­land, was set­tled.

In a study pub­lished in Cana­dian Woman Stud­ies, one in five ath­letes among the 1,200 Cana­dian na­tional team ath­letes sur­veyed (ninety per cent of whom are fe­male) re­ported hav­ing had sex­ual re­la­tions with peo­ple who held po­si­tions of power over them. More­over, in the sur­vey, the fe­male re­spon­dents wrote four times as many ac­counts of ha­rass­ment and abuse in­volv­ing coaches (48, to be pre­cise) than oth­ers.

What this all means that, coaches are likely to abuse the re­spon­si­bil­ity and power they are en­trusted with. They are not al­ways po­ten­tial “ac­tive by­standers,” but po­ten­tial abusers. And as oth­ers in po­si­tion of au­thor­ity over stu­dents, they ought to be sub­ject to reg­u­lar re­views and sub­ject to an ac­count­abil­ity process that pri­or­i­tizes stu­dents’ safety over the Univer­sity’s rep­u­ta­tion.

On sec­ond chances

I’d like to end this piece with a note on sec­ond chances. Ut­t­ley re­signed over Dyens’s state­ment that Gui­mont-mota should have never been re­cruited. Ut­t­ley de­fended his choice of re­cruit­ment by say­ing that the Univer­sity was aware of Gui­mont-mota’s charges. He also said, “I be­lieve in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.”

I’m also of the un­pop­u­lar be­lief that peo­ple do de­serve sec­ond chances. How­ever, rein­tro­duc­ing or keep­ing an abuser in the com­mu­nity poses sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to com­mu­nity lead­ers. Wrong­do­ings re­quire metic­u­lous in­ves­ti­ga­tion, mon­i­tor­ing and coun­sel­ing. This form of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion also re­quires full trans­parency about the sit­u­a­tion with the wider com­mu­nity — in this case, the foot­ball team, other var­sity teams, Mcgill’s stu­dent body — and al­ways keep­ing the safety of the vic­tims and the com­mu­nity as a pri­or­ity.

This is not what Ut­t­ley did. Mcgill, as well, has kept the re­sults of its in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­fi­den­tial and ne­glected to in­tro­duce any mean­ing­ful mea­sures to change Ath­let­ics cul­ture or hold abu­sive stu­dents and coaches ac­count­able.

When I asked Dyens about the mea­sures in place to in­crease trans­parency about male stu­dent-ath­letes’ crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity and hold­ing them ac­count­able, his first in­stinct was to re­mind of the ex­is­tence of the Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Pol­icy. The pol­icy, ac­cord­ing to Dyens, demon­strates “Mcgill’s firm and on­go­ing com­mit­ment to in­creas­ing aware­ness of, and re­spond­ing to, sex­ual vi­o­lence across all parts of our cam­puses.” But does it re­ally?

A pol­icy, par­tic­u­larly one that doesn’t seek trans­parency about past and present neg­li­gences or ad­dresses the spe­cial dy­nam­ics at work in Ath­let­ics, isn’t enough. You’d think that with such a trou­bled his­tory, Mcgill Ath­let­ics may have learnt its les­son. Per­haps we need an­other scan­dal to get Mcgill to spring into ac­tion.

The study found no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in rape myth ac­cep­tance, at­ti­tudes to­ward women, and sex­ual co­er­cion be­tween the [var­sity and recre­ational] ath­letes. A pol­icy [...] that doesn’t seek trans­parency about past and present neg­li­gences, or ad­dresses the spe­cial dy­nam­ics at work in Ath­let­ics, isn’t enough. Even if the Univer­sity doesn’t want to “com­ment on any in­di­vid­ual case,” [...] it ought to make the gen­eral con­clu­sions and ram­i­fi­ca­tions of th­ese in­ves­ti­ga­tions pub­lic. At­ti­tude change can only take you so far, par­tic­u­larly when men are set on abus­ing their au­thor­ity.

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