Hockey Chief Offers Apology, but Experts Say the Conversation on Sexual Violence Needs to Shift

LONDON, Ont.—The London Police Service held a news conference on Monday to update the public on their ongoing investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving five members of the 2018 Canadian world junior hockey team. The headlines, however, were not only centered around the investigation but also the surprising apology given by Police Chief Thai Truong to the alleged victim.

In a somewhat unexpected turn, about 30 minutes into the news conference, Truong took a pause from answering questions from reporters to deliver a personal statement addressing the root cause of sexual violence. Truong highlighted the prevalence of violence against women globally and pointed to the sexualization of young women and girls in society as a contributing factor. He specifically mentioned how the media portrays and writes about young women, emphasizing how these depictions can normalize sexual violence.

While Truong acknowledged societal issues that may contribute to a culture of sexual violence, he made it clear that his police force’s role was solely focused on investigating the alleged assault and not evaluating matters related to the hockey world. This statement came shortly after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman voiced his disagreement with the idea that hockey has deep-rooted systemic and cultural issues. Bettman stated that the inappropriate behavior exhibited by a few players should not be used to condemn the entire sport.

However, experts in the field of gender-based violence have long argued that hockey has invisible barriers that shield and enable players’ problematic behavior. These concerns are not new, as Canadian journalist Laura Robinson wrote a book in 1998 titled “Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada’s National Sport,” exposing the prevalence of assault and abuse within junior hockey culture. Recent investigations have also brought to light separate instances of sexual assault allegations involving members of hockey teams from past years.

Many experts believe that Truong missed an opportunity to hold sport cultures and institutions accountable for addressing sexual violence against women. Katreena Scott, a professor at Western University, argued that it was crucial for Truong to emphasize the importance of reporting mechanisms and accountability in addressing sexual assault. She added that the broader conversation should focus on how sports socialize young men and the need for culture change within sports institutions.

Critics, like women’s rights advocate Julie Lalonde, expressed disappointment with Truong’s comments, claiming that he used outdated talking points and failed to take a more progressive stance on the issue. Kaitlynn Mendes, a sociology professor, believes that leaders in the hockey world need to be held accountable for issues of sexual violence and that interventions should target the specific cultures and spaces where such behavior is accepted, such as hockey and fraternities.

These recent events have sparked a debate about the responsibility of sports institutions in tackling sexual violence against women and the need for a broader cultural shift. The conversation surrounding this issue continues, with experts urging for meaningful change to prevent further occurrences and protect the safety and well-being of women within the hockey community.