It seems like an annual Canadian hockey headline. An unacceptable headline which, if part of any ancient ice hockey tradition, ought to be brought out in the back yard and shot.
In this case, it ran across the cover of the local Sault Ste. Marie newspaper one chilly late August morning in 2012 as the local junior hockey team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds was starting training camp:
3 Hounds Accused of Sexual Assault.
The local paper bared what few details were then available:
"Three Soo Greyhounds' players are accused of sexually assaulting a female. The alleged incident happened Friday at a central-area residence, said Sgt. Terry Biocchi of Sault Ste. Marie Police Service. Each player is accused of having sexual intercourse with an adult female. She reported the incident to police. Nick Cousins, 19, of Belleville, Ont., Andrew Fritsch, 19, of Brantford, and Mark Petaccio, 18, of Sicklerville, New jersey, were charged with sexual assault."
The essential detail not clear in the paper's summary is that each player is accused of raping the same woman against her will.
Cousins is a star in the league, drafted 68th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2011 National Hockey League draft and remains a top prospect. As of the end of January, 2013, he is second in OHL league scoring with 19 goals, 54 assists in 48 games.
After their release on bond, Cousins and his two teammates were held away from the team for two weeks.
The players were held away to go through a "wellness program" described by team officials as a tool to help the players deal with the stress of the charges. No word as to whether the team financed a similar program for the alleged victim.
They are all closed-mouthed about the charges, Fritsch deferring questions to his lawyer, Andrew Furgiuere of Toronto, as did Cousins, with local lawyer Bruce Wilson and Petaccio ("veteran local lawyer" Don Orazietti).
The pre-trial has adjourned repeatedly. Petaccio was traded to Ottawa 67s on Jaunary 8, 2013.
At the Essar Centre, where the Greyhounds play, press booth whisperings are not wrong: these young men are innocent until proven guilty. Nor should one judge an entire league by the action of a few, even if they ultimately are found guilty.
But there are few if any lawyers on junior hockey press booths. Prosecutors almost never presses charges unless they feel that they have the facts in hand to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
Consider that for the young victim, the presumption is reversed - it never happened as far as legal consequence go until, unless she can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
In addition, she has already invited community ostracization upon herself by offering to stand and to convince judge and jury against local hockey gods - a lose-lose proposition only a serious case of criminal Attention Deficit Disorder would ever even contemplate.
Or a saintly amount of courage.
These three young hockey players now enter a morass of bias and prejudice as to the sexual conduct of junior hockey players, much of it deserved not against them individually but against their junior hockey culture.
Any junior hockey game seems to have its share of adoring screaming young women fans, some even holding signs that read "I LOVE #17" when, in fact, the lady doesn't even know the player. They linger after the games, too, in quiet packs and in awe of these players of whom their parents read of every day in the local paper, players who, if they go to the local school, carry themselves at the top of the food chain. They yearn for attention from the local hockey gods - a glance, a smile, a word - a Facebook befriending. That is a social phenomena as perplexing as the incidence of reported sexual assault cases brought against junior hockey players.
One sign that ought to be printed on the boards of the hockey arena is:
Admiration is not consent.
The problem of teenage sexual misconduct, it seems, it now new. William Shakespeare wrote, in 1611 (The Winter's Tale, Act III, Scene iii):
"I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting."
These young women go to parties or other social functions with some 16-20 year old hockey players with huge egos, teasing each other on, playing the young girls like a game, with testosterone hardly contained, and somehow no - if not drunken silence - is taken to mean yes. For some of the young women, it's no party. It's a lion's den.
The law books are, regrettably sprinkled with cases of junior hockey players charged with rape. In her post at TheScore.com, journalist Jennifer Conway presents a scary list of the recently reported cases of rape involving hockey players. One can only imagine the true number - including those female victims who choose not to report the abuse and the women, now in their elderly years, with unforgettable memories of their personal and deeply hidden hockey team trauma.
In his 2010 book, The Law of Hockey, John Barnes wrote:
"When the elite athlete is separated from the rest of the community, a different set of values and social relations is likely to prevail...Moral development is particularly weak among male athletes practising power sports at higher levels of performance where the mind is set to ... never take "no" for an answer.
"Aggressive masculinity is reinforced in the closed culture of sports such as junior hockey.... This ... reinforces misogyny as women are viewed as mere groupies, puck bunnies or goal diggers willingly participating in the party atmosphere of the team."
In a report dated August 28, of 2012 by Boston University (Report of the Men’s Ice Hockey Task Force):
"A culture of sexual entitlement exists among some players on the men’s ice hockey team, stemming in part from their elevated social status on campus."
The investigation and report was commissioned after two BU hockey players were charged with sexual assault in the space of three months.
In their 1998 study, Davis and Parker reflect that:
"... an athlete's slightly greater propensity to engage in sexual violence. Aggression on the playing field, sexist language and attitudes in the locker room, and an inordinate need to prove one's maleness can combine in complex ways to predispose some male athletes towards off-the-field hostility."
Details will eventually emerge about what happened on that August 26th evening in Sault Ste. Marie - whether there was sexual contact and whether there was consent.
But allegation of facts, like the witnesses that present them, are funny creatures, often unpredictable at trial and always putty in the hands of a good lawyer. The law courts will listen to this victim and is she can prove the case, the players will be punished.
Hopefully, the truth will out soon and the community of Sault St. Marie, the victim, or victims if these young men are not guilty, can put this very real Shakespearean tragedy behind them.
Any verdict will likely sidestep the elephant in the room: the misogyny and unacceptable incidence of sexual abuse by young male hockey players.
Though the real culprit is always the rapist, the ownership group of North American junior hockey also seem to show a lack of assertive leadership in not openly accepting and taking responsibility for breaking the misogynous culture embedded in many of their players; in educating these young men against the perspective so deadly to their young female fans that many of them bring to training camp, not to mention the attraction of healthy and respectful sexual relationships.
Update: "Sexual assault charges against two Soo Greyhound players and a former teammate were dropped Thursday when the three young men appeared in a Sault Ste. Marie courtroom. Citing “no reasonable prospect of conviction,” the Crown asked Ontario Court Justice Melanie Dunn to withdraw the charges against Nick Cousins, Andrew Fritsch, and Mark Petaccio, the latter now with the Ottawa 67's [Source: "Charges withdrawn against Cousins, Fritsch, Petaccio" by Linda Richardson, The Sault Star, April 4, 2013].
- Barnes, John, The Law of Hockey (Toronto: LexisNexis, 2010), pages 179-184.
- Davis, Timothy; Parker, Tonya, Student-Athlete Sexual Violence against Women: Defining the Limits of Institutional Responsibility, 55 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 55 (1998). As she wrote, and we adopt the caveat: "Although this Article's focus is on acts of sexual violence committed by college athletes, the problem permeates all levels of competitive athletics, including high school and professional."
- Matisz, John, Dark Cloud Over Cousins, The Hockey News (Toronto, Ontario), January 28, 2013, page 78.
- Robinson, Laura, Sex Assaults Remain Hockey's Little Secret, The Winnipeg Free Press, November 9, 2012 [retrieved 25-JAN-2013 from http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/westview/sex-assaults-remain-hockeys-little-secret-169280446.html]
- The Sault Star at www.saultstar.com