Let’s Talk about Sex…ual abuse and harassment

In case you missed the news, Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” is a dedicated to all the women whom have come forward with sexual abuse and harassment allegations in their workplace.

I haven’t explicitly discussed sexual abuse and harassment on this blog before. I’ve discussed disparities that exist for women in sport; such as pay and opportunities. I’ve discussed the sexualization of women and their representation in the media but have never directly discussed sexual abuse or harassment and, quite frankly, I should. It’s an element for women in sports that is real and alive.

A 2008 report published in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology tests the hypothesis that sport creates a protective barrier to sexual victimization. The research refuted the hypothesis and showed us that “female athletes suffer higher rates of sexual victimization from authority figures in sport than their non‐athletic counterparts in education and the workplace”. The article, Participation in college sports and protection from sexual victimization, concluded that “(s)tudent athletes were significantly less likely to report sexual victimization during their late high school and early college years than their non‐athletic counterparts. A gender gap in the pattern of reported sexual victimization also appeared between males and females across all student age groups, with females reporting more sexual victimization than males.”

Comparing the reports to our male counterparts, we believed (albeit, with utmost shock and horror) when NHLers Theoy Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy came forward with accusations of sexual assault. The general mindset resulting in trusting their accounts revolves around questioning why any male* would come forward and make something like that up. If we recognize that coming forward for a male is difficult, why does society somehow think women imagine events or make up accusations with ease and a flippant attitude? (Rhetorical question, by the way…)

In 2015, Sports Illustrated wrote a piece on women reporters experiences with sexual harassment on the job. Allow me summarize it for you: female reporters are inundated with inappropriate phone calls, texts, tweets and emails, are continually having to set professional boundaries, receive face-to-face comments such as “Nice lip gloss, it’ll look good on my cock tonight“, combat rumours of their sexual prowess amongst team members (or an entire league), and navigate the thinly veiled quid pro quo of getting information in exchange for sexual favours.

Outside magazine posted an online survey seeking feedback on sexual harassment in the outdoors and outdoors industry (shared on the Active Women Facebook page). It appears they are still collecting and the survey is open. I would encourage everyone to answer the very simple 5 questions. Not surprising, almost immediately after posting their survey they began to receive comments and “jokes” (if they can be called that…) about the survey.   This follow up article highlights a sampling of comments, both in the survey and as Facebook users.

  • “I would like to be flashed by a girl at some point in near future in the mountains.”
  • “I was hiking the PCT. I’m a male. On several occasions, one or more female hikers approached me from behind. A few times, they said ‘hello’ as they passed. It made me very uncomfortable.”
  • “The obvious solution is for women to stay in the kitchen.”

Whether you flat out don’t believe it happens, you have some romanticized idea that it doesn’t happen in Canada, or you think all these women coming forward are over reacting simply highlights the secrecy surrounding the issue. Although I can say I’ve never experienced harassment or assault in my outdoor adventures, that does not accurately represent other areas of my life. #metoo

*I fully recognize that men do experience assault, violence, and harassment that is every bit as traumatizing as it is for women. Gender and socializing norms create the myth that a female “can’t” sexually assault a male: that’s not true. However, the rates of assault against men are significantly lower and we tend to believe men’s accounts over women’s. 

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