Serioius Topic Require Serious Work, How Backhand Shelf Fails To Meet The Standard When It Comes To Sexual Assault And Hockey
Backhand Shelf is one of my favorite hockey blogs. I enjoy the out of the box approach they take to hockey blogging. From breaking down Xs and Os to a medical doctor blogging about hockey injuries, the blog takes a wider view of the sport than most blogs.
Today however they went a step beyond their core competency and did themselves, and possibly the cause they seek to champion, a disservice in the process. In a post entitled “It’s time for hockey’s culture of sexual assault to change” writer Jennifer Conway and blog editor Justin Bourne bit off more than they could chew.
To support the premiss that there’s a “culture of sexual assault in hockey” Conway lists 21 cases of alleged sexual assault dating back to 1989. Of these examples a grand total of 4 cases resulted in criminal convictions. Several of the events listed wound up in no charges being brought, not guilty verdicts or ended when it became clear that the accusers were lying or trying to extort money. For the vast majority of cases Conway lists to support her damning allegation she provides no information whatsoever on the final disposition of the matter (One of these, the case of an Albany River Rats player charged with sexual assault, I’m familiar with because I live in the area, ended with the player was acquitted).
Conway cites this as an example of how hockey culture treats sexual assault lightly.
In several of the cases above, the players were allowed to continue playing, at least for a while. In one Mercyhurst case, rather than implement training on sexual assault or drinking, the college merely raised its fine for excessive drinking from $25 to $100, and moved to make dorms alcohol-free.
Amazingly, just a few sentences before that she notes that in that case the players were charged, tried and…acquitted. It seems to me given the outcome of the case, the college made the right decision. I’m not sure what punishment Conway thinks should be handed out to people found to be not guilty.
When I pointed out to Conway on Twitter that her “evidence” was less than compelling compared to the seriousness of the charge she was making, I received an astonishing reply.
@drewmtips If it’s not a fire, why is there so much smoke? Again, read carefully the reasons why convictions aren’t made often.
— Jen (@NHLhistorygirl) September 10, 2012
Of course the whole point is, how much smoke is there? Obviously when you think lack of convictions shouldn’t stand in the way of assuming guilt, you’d think there’s quite a bit of smoke. Others however might see someone determined to make such a big statement, yet they could only find 4 actual cases that resulted in a finding of guilt.
Now I understand rape and sexual assault are under reported crimes and that obtaining a conviction can be difficult (obtaining a conviction on any crime is supposed to be difficult, the standard in the US of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a very high one) but that is not license to make claims untethered from facts. Conway creates her own smoke by tossing every accusation she can find on the fire even though she fails to subject them to any scrutiny (she herself says her investigation into incidents to support her thesis was “cursory“).
A more useful post would have included some actual evidence, perhaps a study or two comparing the rate of sexual assault by hockey players to other athletes or better yet to similar non-hockey playing cohorts. With that kind of research we might have learned something important that the hockey world could have rallied around.
At the end of her list of mostly non-proven allegations Conway says, “These are just a handful of cases revealed in a cursory search. Imagine what an in-depth search would look like.” Imagination is all we have to go on here because Conway provides nothing but innuendo to support some very sweeping and serious charges.
As I tweeted to Bourne, there maybe a very serious issue to be dealt with here but Conway’s post didn’t do it. I admire Backhand Shelf for continuing to push the envelope of what’s discussed but if you’re going to take on serious topics, you have to do so in a serious way.