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Redefining power and accountability

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An independent investigation has concluded that Brandon University soccer coach Jesse Roziere engaged in “a pattern of sexually harassing behaviour.” The investigation found he continually abused his position of authority by engaging in inappropriate conduct, including asking a player on a date, making sexual advances and drinking and partying with players.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/05/2022 (274 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An independent investigation has concluded that Brandon University soccer coach Jesse Roziere engaged in “a pattern of sexually harassing behaviour.” The investigation found he continually abused his position of authority by engaging in inappropriate conduct, including asking a player on a date, making sexual advances and drinking and partying with players.

Roziere continues to deny all wrongdoing and seems oblivious to how the dynamic of power alters social interactions. The investigator noted that “To Roziere’s knowledge, there are no rules against coaches drinking or partying with players.” This may well be true, but things that might otherwise be acceptable among people of equal status become coercive and harmful when a power differential is at play.

Any person in a position of authority should know this.

In our forthcoming book Defining Sexual Misconduct: Power, Media, and #MeToo, we trace how the social recognition and censure of sexual misconduct has changed over the past 40 years. A key finding of our research is that women are increasingly empowered to define for themselves those actions that are harmful and that violate their boundaries.

Sexual abuses and behaviours women have historically tolerated as the price of social life with men are being redefined as unacceptable, and women are demanding consequences when their boundaries are violated. This is a good thing. As a result, men are increasingly required to examine their own behaviour, to understand how their position of power affects the way sexual advances are received, and to acknowledge when they have abused that power.

Similarly, institutions and businesses must absolutely take such allegations seriously, and consider how their policies and practices create the conditions for harm, or fail to address and prevent it — including the continued tolerance of sexual misconduct.

Women must be part of the conversation regarding institutional cultures and policies.

Sexual misconduct has serious consequences for victims: one student gave up her university scholarship to escape the situation, and several students have been unfairly targeted and called liars for coming forward with their stories. While the #MeToo moment opened space for much-needed public conversations about sexual misconduct, it has not necessarily made it easier for individuals to come forward.

Nor has it created the kinds of systemic change necessary to address the harms, particularly if those harms do not meet the threshold for criminal responsibility.

It is unclear what concrete steps the university has taken to respond to the allegations and subsequent findings of the independent investigation, following its own botched internal investigation. Last month, long after the student complainants were provided redacted copies of the investigator’s report, the university issued an indirect and vague apology.

At least one of the students has criticized the university’s apology because it lacked details of what happened and acknowledgment of the specific harm caused, and was seemingly only offered after media attention brought increased pressure upon the university administration to act.

As in other cases of sexual misconduct we have seen in our research, victims often view such generic public statements as facesaving, rather than sincere.

Public statements lack the symbolic value of a direct (and immediate) apology and redress of harm. Furthermore, the university’s public commitment is rather limited in scope. The university has suggested it will review its athletics programs, but why stop there when sexual misconduct is known to be a pervasive systemic issue across university campuses?

The university was criticized in the fall of 2021 for quietly cutting resources to the office that responds to allegations of sexual violence on campus. While an external review by experts is one way to examine the issues on campus, such an external review must absolutely engage the students, staff and faculty on campus in meaningful dialogue in order to rebuild trust, and develop policies and processes that directly and unequivocally addresses the campus community’s concerns.

It is clear the affected players and former players remain understandably frustrated and disappointed at the lack of transparency and lack of direct action surrounding the situation.

If we want to create a world in which sexual harm is not tolerated, then people who cause and enable harm must be held accountable for that harm. Accountability, like harm, is defined by survivors. A trauma-informed response to sexual harm must first listen to victims and endeavour to address their needs.

Similarly, a real and meaningful apology involves speaking directly to the people who have been harmed — on their terms — working to answer their concerns and questions, and endeavouring to repair the damage that has been done.

In light of the findings of the independent report, and according to the wishes of affected students, a direct and meaningful apology to the players seems the very least the students should be offered.

Stacey Hannem is a professor of criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University and Christopher J. Schneider is a professor of sociology at Brandon University. They are co-authors of Defining Sexual Misconduct: Power, Media, and #MeToo.

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