I recently wrote about how male victims of sexual assault might face social stigma in coming forward in ways that women don’t
(thanks to a reader who eloquently pointed out that a sex assault series I wrote focused mostly on women, not men).
I’m not a huge hockey fan, beyond the fact that both my brothers have a love for the game. I’m working on it, though. Anyways, I found hockey player Theo Fleury’s very public disclosure about his sex abuse and the subsequent Winnipeg Police Service investigation really interesting.
Last week, I walked into at least two discussion among guys I knew who were discussing sex abuse. Think water-cooler talk, without the water cooler.
Theo’s very public stance caught their interest and gave them a connecting point to a crime that traditionally de-masculinizes and disempowers men. According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, men are the least likely to report sex assaults.
It also reminds me of one of my favourite essays by Ariel Levy, the New Yorker’s gender queen, called "Dirty Old Women." In one of her earlier articles before her meteoric Female Chauvinist Pigs fame, Levy studied how young male sex assault victims who were targeted by older female teachers weren’t pitied by society – they were high-fived.
Think of Mary Kay Letourneau. The married, 32-year-old fifth and sixth grade teacher hooked up with her 12-year-old student, having a child by him in 1997 and later marrying him. Both went on Barbara Walters after she was imprisoned for child rape and then released, proclaiming their love.
Letourneau now hosts "Hot Teacher Night" at a Seattle bar. Ugh. Do you think you’d see a convicted male Winnipeg rapist holding court at a downtown club after sleeping with a student? Don’t answer that question.
Anyways, also surprisingly – Winnipeg police made the unusual move of confirming the investigation after consulting with Fleury and his family.
This is incredibly rare, especially from a journalistic perspective, where often there are court publication bans that carry on even after a sex assault victim’s death that prohibit media from identifying them. Theo’s reportedly paid a price for his disclosure and this weekend, says the co-author of his book Playing with Fire: The Highest Highs and Lowest Lows of Theo Fleury.
Kirstie McLellan Day called out a Calgary Sun sports reporter, Eric Francis, who she said was victim-blaming Theo in his coverage.
Here’s her shot back. Her kicker line?
"Eric is putting out a column every couple of weeks that has Theoren's young wife in tears as she drives their baby girl around the city and gets the finger and is sworn at by Sun readers. It sells papers, but look at the damage it is doing."
I’ll be curious to see how the Fleury investigation develops. Historic sex abuse cases are hard enough without chasing down a suspect that may have long fled the country.
But Theo’s public acknowledgement of the investigation – and the police choice to confirm it – is a step in articulating what is unspeakable for many.