Program to educate junior hockey players about sexual violence could be enhanced, expert says


Back in 2016, the Ontario Hockey League announced a plan to team up with sexual assault centres across the province to create a program that would educate players about ways to prevent male sexual violence against women. 

Called OHL Onside, the program required players and a coach on all 20 teams to take part in a two-hour education session led by someone from their city’s local sexual assault centre. 

In London, Anna Lise Trudell of Anova — an organization that helps and shelters abused women — ran the sessions with London Knights players. 

Trudell said at the time of its creation the Onside program was considered proactive, a way to get players talking about topics such as toxic male masculinity, consent and the origins of gender-based sexual violence.

“We know from research that sports membership and fraternity membership are the highest incidence places for sexual assault,” said Trudell. “And that’s not because hockey causes rape, but it’s because there are these sub cultures within those spaces that don’t call each other out when there’s bad behaviour.” 

The overriding idea wasn’t to vilify male hockey players as predators or abusers, but rather to get some of the issues surrounding male sexual violence against women out and on the table early on in their hockey careers. Some OHL players are as young as 16 when they enter the league. 

The issue of sexual violence against women in the hockey world has become a front-page story in recent weeks. Last month it was revealed that Hockey Canada paid an out-of-court settlement to a woman who claimed she was assaulted by eight members of Canada’s World Junior hockey team following an event in London, Ont.

The players involved in the London incident have not been identified. Concerned about how the situation was handled and a lack of structural change in the organization, the federal government withdrew its funding support for Hockey Canada. Since then, corporate partners of Hockey Canada — including Tim Hortons and Scotiabank — have halted their support.

As for the OHL Onside program, some OHL teams were unable to hold the sessions during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last winter. Other teams have resumed it this spring. 

The London Knights contacted Anova last fall about resuming the program, however Trudell says she received a message from the team before Christmas. At the time there was a spike in COVID-19 cases and the team said their schedule was in flux. There was a promise to reach back with possible dates once the team’s schedule resumed, but Trudell says that didn’t happen. 

CBC News emails to the Knights media relations department for clarification were not returned. 

OHL will resume onside program

In email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the OHL said the Onside program had “resumed across the OHL this season” and that the teams were speaking with facilitators about expanding it in the 2022-23 season.

Enhancing the program is a necessary next step, Trudell said. While the program was fairly ground-breaking when it was introduced but since 2016 other institutions have gone further with similar programs by holding them more frequently, and having training sessions for staff. 

“We are now at the point where on campuses, we’re doing multiple hours of training with students over the course of many, many months,” she said. ”So having this one-off approach …. this is no longer enough. One-off training will not change behaviour.” 

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