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Amid the many sexual abuse, assault, and harassment allegations that have come out over the last several years in hockey, the behavior from those responsible comes as no surprise to those of us who have been through it before. This has been happening for a long time in the sport, at every level and facet, and it will happen again. There are people who claim they will always, always, always believe survivors. They'll claim to support the ones most marginalized within the industry. But hockey culture still insulates and protects bad actors at every level, and until the culture is radically changed, there will continue to be stories like mine.
I used to work in hockey. I worked in the digital media department for the San Jose Sharks. I wrote for Fear The Fin. I ended up being part of hockey Twitter for all of the above and more. But the day I named my sexual harasser changed things. I named my other hockey-related abusers, too. I felt like I had nothing left to lose. I was already getting online harassment and abuse over naming them; how was naming all the others going to make that different? It was already a dehumanizing experience to begin with and I felt defeated trying to push through it.
I was sexually harassed by a popular writer while I was still working for the Sharks. It was a DM slide (typical) that was inappropriate right out of the gate. I went public with it many months later, posting the screenshots on Twitter, encouraged by someone I had spoken with to not censor the writer's name. Many others came forward with their experiences with harassment and abuse by the same person. I was told by women I knew that it would be a surprise if his editor did anything about this situation. I was mutuals with this editor on Twitter, only ever interacting with him on the timeline, that I can recall. I didn't know much more about him other than what some women told me.
Back in 2014, and possibly still to this day, hockey Twitter had a lot of whisper networks. Anyone who wasn't a cis man would often hop into DMs or Gchat talking about which men to avoid. We'd share stories of what was happening, who said what, and show receipts. It was always anything and everything with hockey media men at the time. At some point, I had enough. I went public with what happened to me.
I had support at first. A lot of people claimed to have my back. Then I saw people publicly state they were rescinding their support for me, unfollowing or blocking me after. A woman told me that I should just take the harassment and keep quiet if I wanted to keep my career as a sports journalist. There were others saying, essentially: "I know these people being named and they're great men. Don't get sucked into the gossip."
I didn't know what was happening. I had no choice but to retreat to whisper networks. The people I thought were my core group of friends in hockey had abandoned me months before only to be part of the brigade to disrupt my credibility.
The person who harassed me was fired, but the editor who fired him immediately distanced themselves from me and was silent when I was inundated with harassment. I was told that the then-girlfriend of the person who sexually assaulted me led a campaign that essentially went "believe all survivors, but don't believe Jen and this is why." And there's probably more that was said that I don't want to know.
It's hard. It hurts, it stings, and still does. My trauma was litigated on the main stage of a Twitter timeline, only in the end for me to have no public support in hockey. Any credibility I had was damaged despite the fact that I had the receipts showing that I had been sexually harassed. People claimed they weren't making jokes at my expense for naming my harasser, but the impact showed otherwise.
My name is attached to all of this. The person who sexually harassed me — last I heard — has a book deal. I spent about seven years away from hockey because what else do you do when you have no public support? Neither my harasser nor his editor never made any personal apologies for what they put me through.
The seven years makes a big change. Most people don't remember why I was harassed or that I was harassed at all. People don't remember what I used to do in hockey unless I remind them.
But there are people who do remember. Some are remorseful that they didn't support me at the time. But most don't even acknowledge it at all. I've made mental notes of the people I vaguely stayed in contact with over social media in the seven year absence, including the ones who still support the harassers, abusers, and their enablers.
That's the thing with hockey culture. It's an insular environment not just contained to the players and staff at the rinks. It trickles through from top to bottom, even to the bloggers on hockey Twitter.
When all of this happened, it was 2014. Before the #MeToo movement was co-opted by white feminists. Three hockey writers were found to be perpetrators of sexual harassment and gendered harm that year. This seemed wildly unusual in media at the time, let alone hockey media. And yet, they're still offered grace, forgiveness, a space in an industry that only caters to these people — the old boys' club, as they'll often call it.
I don't claim to be perfect. I spent the majority of 2014 not realizing what I was going through were trauma responses to everything that was happening to me at the time. I wasn't a great friend to a lot of people. The friends who stuck by me then were the ones who were willing to kick my ass to get me to see the problems at hand. None of them are hockey friends.
I don't think my story of how hockey culture treats survivors of trauma is an isolated one. I think it's the same story that would be told by the majority of survivors. Some are lucky to have had the support as they went through their trauma being litigated on a public stage. Many are not. As each revelation comes out about abuse and harassment in hockey, I am reminded constantly of how little everything has changed. The language and tone around incidents of abuse, assault, and harassment has changed in the last few years, but the end results are often the same.
I wrote a piece at Fear The Fin after I came out with my harassment story. I wrote, "I didn't want to write about hockey anymore, I didn't want to talk about hockey anymore; I just wanted to enjoy the game in peace without fear of harassment." That was eight years ago and I still feel like that's the case. I can't enjoy the game in peace without any fears of harassment, abuse, and assault. I experienced it before; it could happen again.
I've come to have a love/hate relationship with the sport. I'm doing hockey data work in my free time because I enjoy it, I know I'm good at it, and I don't want to let hockey culture win by trying to fuck with my joy.
But the days grow harder when I see there are more allegations in the sport, and I am always just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And the other one. And the next one. And the one after that.
It becomes a miserable experience trying to continue surviving in an industry where you know you'll never be treated fairly, where survivors will never be treated with the respect they deserve, because the status quo is held sacred above all else.
If it were a healthier culture, there would be more people — men, especially — standing up for survivors, having survivors' backs, having conversations with others about why they need to change the culture and drawing a hard line with them if they're not receptive. You should question the people who stay friends with abusers and enablers. It should never have to be on a survivor's strength to speak up to spark change. Survivors should be allowed grace and not be forced to put on a brave face and be strong through dehumanizing experiences. It's not always our battle to keep fighting. If you say publicly that you stand with the survivor, you don't take that back. Those are not conversations for survivors to have to start.
There are a lot of moments when I question if staying in hockey, even casually, is even worth it. If leaving again means that hockey culture wins, even if I were doing it as an act of self-preservation because I don't know if I'll have any public support this time around.
When these are the thoughts that consistently go through the mind of a survivor, one would hope that the industry recognizes something is amiss. That, maybe, it's time to change things up.
The problem with that is that it's hockey. That time may never come.
(Photo: Akshar Dave/Unsplash)
Filed under: essays; ice hockey
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