Verbal Sexual Assault

Assault on City News reporter all too common in professional sports

During a live news hit at the TFC home opener on Sunday, City News reporter Shauna Hunt was assaulted by fans who yelled a vulgar phrase at her: “F**k her right in the p***y.  Many say the phrase originated in England but has made its way over to North America and has been yelled at several news reporters during a variety of professional sporting events.  After a video surfaced of Hunt confronting her assailants, MLSE released a statement promising to ensure extra security for reporters at TFC games and that they would punish and ban those responsible for uttering the phrase.

In addition to the humiliation and insulting nature of the incident at the TFC game is the harsh reality that sexual remarks aimed at females during sporting events are occurring far too often.  Just as the NHL playoffs got underway, a shocking, unexpected tweet popped up in most Twitter feeds:  “Two young Senators fans hit with towels, called ‘whores’ at Habs games.”  The link in the tweet lead to a heartbreaking tale of two young sisters who were harassed to tears while at a Montreal Canadiens game.  Called vulgar names, soaked with beer, and even physically assaulted, all while security and other fans looked on.  It was soon clear that these weren’t isolated incidents and social media platforms were filled with stories from Washington to Vancouver of fans, many female, being assaulted and harassed simply for being a spectator at a hockey game.

Although it may seem that these incidents are caused solely by drunken fans spurred by the excitement of the post-season, inappropriate remarks aimed at women have been a reoccurring theme throughout this year’s NHL season and is showing no signs of slowing.

For hockey fans who are well engaged in social media, many will have heard of a handful of incidents that involved professional hockey reporters making sexual remarks to female hockey fans via direct message on twitter.  Although these situations are unfortunate in and of themselves, what was more disheartening and in fact, quite deplorable, was the reaction of people towards the women who were victims of these assaults.

Rather than offer compassion or support, criticism and accusations towards these women were rampant on twitter.  Suggestions that the girls “deserved” it were being tweeted and retweeted, as were sentiments that the women had enticed the reporters into making these remarks.  Then there was the defense of the reporters who had just “made a mistake like everyone does” or were “innocent until proven guilty.”  It seemed like people were quick to defend these men rather than attempt to understand what it could have been like for a violated young woman who was up against a reporter employed by highly regarded media outlet with thousands of followers.

It is blatantly obvious that, like most professional sports, hockey and the NHL are male-dominated industries.  Major networks that feature in-depth hockey coverage—whether its nightly shows, trade deadline day, or weekend round-tables–feature almost all male reporters.  The sports industry is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone, let alone a female, to break into.

But is it a bit of a far stretch to say that the sports world is so male-dominated that its getting to the point where there’s no space for women, so much so that an underlying, subtle lack of respect for females is being perpetuated and now widely accepted?

Why have these incidents been so common and, even more strangely, why was the reaction to them deemed as normal?  Most importantly, what, if anything can be done to ensure that these situations don’t occur in arenas, on twitter, or anywhere else, and are handled with the dignity and respect that these women deserve?

One thing that can change is how social media and the rest of media regard women.  Fans can begin to embrace and respect women in sports–whether they are female members of the media or other fans just like themselves–for their knowledge and views.  Male fans, along with female fans, can acknowledge incidents that may occur on Twitter that degrade women and speak up against it.

Sexual violence towards women isn’t an isolated incident that occur because of something the woman has done.  It’s never warranted or something to find humour in.  It is everyone’s issue and something everyone must work together to acknowledge and correct.  If we do nothing to make ourselves aware that these incidents are growing in number nor try to stop it from happening when we witness them, they will continue to happen.  It’s true that as women, we have to stand up for women, but even more so as fans, we have to stand up for fans.