‘Criminal shame’ to let culture of silence continue

In June, you may have found yourself reading about the CHL, OHL, WHL, QMJHL class action lawsuit over allegations of abusive hazing.

You may have been instantly relieved that your son/grandson never had to experience the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that is outlined in the class actions claims. A comforting thought, indeed, though perhaps not entirely realistic. Or maybe you did have a fleeting thought that you should ask instead of assuming it never happened to them, but then the uncomfortable nature of that conversation makes you bury the idea.

According to Dr. Kelli Palfy, an expert in male sexual abuse, that’s called “willful blindness.”

Add to our “blind eye” that perpetrators, including coaches, situate themselves to be perceived as the least likely person to commit such offences, that is how this type of abuse continues. Because no one wants to talk about it, or even acknowledge the possibility of it, offenders keep getting away with it.

“The reality is that men being abused, especially our hockey heroes, doesn’t fit our archetype of them. But limiting men (and boys) to only discourses of strength and power does a huge disservice to them,” said Palfy, who wrote the book Men Too: Unspoken Truths About Male Sexual Abuse. “Boys and men who have been abused, need to be able to recognize their abuse, and put words to the pain, hurt, anger, confusion, and suffering they experience.”

Palfy said that ignoring abuse may cause it to seep out negatively later in life. How? She states that it is common for survivors to turn to hyper-masculine sports, alcohol, and drugs in order to forget and cope.  She says that there are much higher overdose and suicide rates among male sexual abuse survivors.

A psychologist and former RCMP officer, Palfy attended a training seminar led by NHL player Sheldon Kennedy.

Recalling his bold admission of the abuse he’d suffered as a hockey player at the hands of his coach inspired Palfy to research why boys and men don’t commonly disclose abuse, and to write her book.  Kennedy played for the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames. He has since become a vocal spokesperson for abuse prevention programs.

Palfy chronicles many difficult case studies in her book to create understanding and awareness so that abused boys and men know that they aren’t alone. “Men need to be able to have a voice to cut through all the shame and guilt … to take back their power and know that what was done to them was wrong …  and not their fault.”

Hockey families across Canada need to have the difficult conversation about male sexual abuse and the class action lawsuit (if they experienced ritualized hazing, racism, homophobia, sexual, and or physical abuse). It would be a criminal shame to see the culture of silence continue, just because we are squeamish. One uncomfortable conversation may get our boys on the path to get the support they need to leave this ugly past behind them.

Kennedy said that one of the reasons that he never spoke about his abuse sooner was because everyone was so proud of him that he didn’t feel like he could be a victim.

Boys cannot be left feeling responsible for what has been done to them. It is the adults who need to be held accountable for their actions, not the boys who were abused or following suit. There is no shame in admitting to being abused (or even being part of the abuse in this case). The only shame would be in not having the conversation with our sons. (Palfy’s book has tips about how to do this.)

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