Football Manitoba partners with harassment, abuse online report platform

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Football players, coaches, parents and volunteers now have a platform to protect themselves in Manitoba.

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Football players, coaches, parents and volunteers now have a platform to protect themselves in Manitoba.

A new partnership was announced Wednesday between Football Manitoba and REES (Respect, Educate, Empower Survivors) to make online reporting for harassment and abuse available to the sport’s community across Manitoba.

“It’s a very difficult thing for people to come forward when they have been made a victim of assault or harassment,” said Bill Johnson, executive director of Football Manitoba, the sport’s governing body in the province. “This is an opportunity for us to remove some barriers and make it easier for people to come forward.”

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Football Manitoba executive director Bill Johnson (left) and Carter Dawson, partnership liaison of Respect, Educate, Empower Survivors (REES), at Charleswood Broncos Football Club.

REES is a 24-7 online information platform that will provide increased options for report bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.

A critical feature of REES is called “repeat perpetrator identification,” which aims to identify individuals who have caused harm early on. If the same individual gets reported multiple times, Football Manitoba will immediately be notified.

“It seemed like a way for us to offer a platform for our members to access resources to potentially report any incidents that occur, so we can stop these things before they become 10-, 15-, 20-year ordeals like the Kelsey McKay situation,” Johnson said.

McKay, a former high school football coach in Winnipeg, was charged in April with sexual assault, exploitation and luring. The allegations involve students and former players of teams he coached.

As a football mom, REES founder and chief executive officer Mary Lobson reached out to Football Manitoba to join forces.

“We’re at a point where sports are having a reckoning with a culture that has persisted for a long time, relating to this culture of silence. This is an opportunity for a provincial sport organization to really step up and take a leadership role in letting their community know that they want people to come forward and that they want to hear about issues,” she said Wednesday.

“I think it’s a really important, significant step in beginning to shift that culture by creating spaces and having clear pathways for people to come forward, because a lot of times people don’t know where to go.”

REES includes multiple reporting options, including anonymous, and information about resources and supports available in the community, while gathering critical data and insights that can be used by Football Manitoba to inform prevention and awareness strategies.

Football Manitoba is the first sports organization in Canada to implement the platform. Lobson and Johnson hope other organizations adopt it moving forward.

“The platform can be adapted for any sport organization and is used outside of sport. We want to work collaboratively with sport organizations who are interested in leading change and enhancing safety,” Lobson said.

bryce.hunt@freepress.mb.ca

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