Hockey Has a Sexual Assault Problem

(Photo via Darryl Dyck/CP)

For all of the posturing that male hockey players, coaches, and their teams do to maintain the purported squeaky-clean, gentlemanly image, there is an undeniable trend in sexual assaults being committed by members of the hockey community. Of course, this trend does not apply to the overwhelming majority. Nevertheless, a string of recent sexual assault claims and cases has become a much-deserved black eye for the game of hockey, across all levels.

Recent Incidents in Professional Hockey

D.J. Jones

This “era,” for lack of a better term, of exposing sexual assault in hockey was spurred by the Kyle Beach situation in Chicago.[1] Since then, a number of similar incidents have come to light, including another one within the Blackhawks organization. It was recently revealed that the Blackhawks terminated their AHL affiliate’s longtime head athletic trainer, D.J. Jones, upon investigation into sexual harassment claims.[2] The allegations were made by a member of the Rockford IceHogs’ ice crew, and were in reference to a 2014 incident.

Jake Virtanen

Most recently among pro hockey players, former NHLers Jake Virtanen and Reid Boucher have both had sexual assault charges brought against them. Virtanen, a former member and 2014 sixth overall draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, was charged with one count of sexual assault in January. An investigation was launched in May 2021, after a 23-year-old woman filed a complaint. The civil lawsuit alleged that Virtanen sexually assaulted the woman in a West Vancouver hotel room, after she ordered him to stop and end the interaction several times.

Virtanen has maintained his innocence; he denied the claims in a June 2021 response, insisting that the two had consensual sex, and that the woman had not “expressed any indication, verbal or physical, that she did not want to engage in physical activity.” A month later, the Canucks bought Virtanen’s contract out, and he has spent this season playing for Spartak Moscow of the KHL. [3] Virtanen requested to have his case tried by a judge and jury, and declined a preliminary hearing, as well; the judge granted both of these requests. Virtanen’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 9 in British Columbia Supreme Court.[4]  

Reid Boucher

Boucher, who was also playing in the KHL this season, had his contract with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl terminated last month, following his sentencing in a Michigan sexual assault case. The incident occurred in 2011, and involved the 12-year-old daughter of Boucher’s billet family, with whom Boucher lived while playing for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. Boucher, then 17 years-old, allegedly blackmailed the girl, and forced her into oral sex on two separate occasions. Boucher had found harmless, innocent videos that the girl had made of herself dancing, but threatened to post the pictures and “show everybody” in order to embarrass her. Notably, the victim had previously sustained considerable bullying from others in her life. The conversation then turned to alcohol and sex, as Boucher pressured her to drink and forced her to engage in oral sex with him, despite the victim pleading with him to stop. Boucher then pressured her into oral sex once again, this time by threatening to “tell everybody” about the prior interaction.[5]

Boucher was initially charged with first-degree criminal sexual misconduct last year; however, he agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of third-degree criminal sexual conduct involving penetration with someone ages 13-16. Boucher was sentenced under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA) to four years of probation, with one year of jail time suspended if he completes the probation successfully. Under HYTA, if Boucher does in fact complete this sentence successfully, his record will remain clean. Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Patrick Conlin attributed the youthful trainee designation to “unusual” circumstances, referring to the amount of time that had passed since the incident, and Boucher’s age of 17 at the time.

The now-23-year-old victim voiced her disapproval of the sentence, specifically the youthful trainee designation. She also shared that she has battled self-harm, a substance use disorder, and an eating disorder for years as a result of Boucher’s assault. Police reports indicate that USA Hockey had enough information to remove Boucher from the billet household in 2011, but failed to do so. USA Hockey denies any knowledge of the alleged incident.[6]

Clark Donatelli

Last July, former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL) head coach Clark Donatelli was indicted by a grand jury on four counts of second-degree sexual assault. In November 2020, former assistant coach Jarrod Skalde filed a federal lawsuit against the Penguins, alleging that Donatelli had sexually assaulted his wife, Erin, in Rhode Island in 2018. Additionally, Skalde asserts that he was fired for reporting the incident to the team – which would constitute a violation of the state’s whistleblower laws. Skalde reported the incident to Penguins management in June 2019; the team announced later that month that Donatelli had resigned due to “personal reasons.”

Erin Skalde was expected to file a civil suit of her own last fall, but the Penguins reached an out-of-court settlement with the Skaldes on November 9. Donatelli pleaded not guilty at his November arraignment, and was released on $10,000 bail. However, Donatelli was ordered to have no further contact with Erin Skalde.

Recent Incidents in College/Amateur Hockey

Paul Washe

Even more recently, Western Michigan University captain Paul Washe was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, after a Western Michigan student claimed that Washe sexually assaulted her at a December 2021 party. Washe had been accused of sexual assault at least once before, as well. The mother of another alleged victim stated that Washe and two other WMU hockey players sexually assaulted her daughter in August 2017. She further noted that her daughter reported the incident to the university, and that the school’s Title IX investigation found Washe and a second player guilty.

According to the mother of the alleged victim, “’they were put on probation with the school, were told not to go around her and to see her at any point in time, and they were told to write a three-page, double-spaced paper . . . they gave them three months to write it.’”[7] Washe reportedly did not pass a recent polygraph test, that he agreed to, in which he asserted that he did not assault anyone.[8] Western Michigan indefinitely suspended Washe for an unspecified violation of team rules following the team’s December 29 matchup with Michigan State. Washe has not practiced or played since, and the university has stated that his indefinite suspension continues.[9]

Kelvin Cheuk-Ho Lee

A Toronto area hockey coach and teacher, Kelvin Cheuk-Ho Lee, is facing two sets of sexual assault charges. Last month, Lee was charged with four counts each of sexual assault and sexual interference of a person under 16. The assaults allegedly occurred during private hockey lessons being conducted by Lee, beginning in 2016 – when the boy was 8-years-old – and continuing through 2022.

Lee now faces an additional count of both sexual assault and sexual interference of a person under the age of 16. After the announcement of Lee’s initial charges, police received new information about a second alleged victim – just 10 years of age. This victim also claims that they were sexually assaulted by Lee at the Haliburton Hockey Haven camp. Lee also works as a public school teacher in the area, and has coached sports teams at the school, as well as at a local tennis club.[10]

Santa Rosa Growlers

Just a few weeks ago, three members of the Santa Rosa Growlers club hockey team were arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman in Reno, NV. The Growlers are a Senior A men’s league team based in Sonoma County, California. The players, Dominic Jones, Josiah Nikkel, and Moses Matthews III, traveled to Reno on their personal time, and the alleged incident supposedly took place the day before the team’s first game of the season. All three players participated in this game, and Growlers’ captain Blake Johnson contended that the team had no knowledge of the allegations at that time. Johnson released a statement on the team’s website expressing his deepest sympathies, and regrets that the three men were allowed to play in the game. All three players were removed from the team.[11]

Conclusion

These stories will sadly not be the last ones of their kind. In fact, the variety of ages and levels at which these incidents have occurred are direct evidence that this is a problem at every stage of our sport.

By the same token, a critical step to combating sexual assault in the game of hockey is ensuring that any such incidents are not kept quiet, but shared, and promptly reported to the appropriate authorities. As we observed throughout the Kyle Beach saga, the desire to not disrupt a team’s winning ways, and to maintain “business as usual” has previously clouded the judgment of those in position to report incidents of sexual misconduct. To the Blackhawks’ credit, though, the termination of D.J. Jones displayed an adherence to the team’s new protocols and measures put in place following the team’s disastrous handling of Kyle Beach’s situation. Strangely enough, they have now set an example for other clubs on how to proactively handle these issues as they are made aware of them.

The act of speaking up against sexual assault is extremely challenging, yet necessary; horrifying, yet essential. It is no secret that clubs and players possess considerable leverage and power over victims in these scenarios. As victims and witnesses courageously bring their allegations to light, these situations become unable to be ignored. The more undeniable this issue becomes, the more measures that are put in place to not only ensure proper reporting of sexual misconduct, but to prevent it altogether. Each of the aforementioned victims demonstrated immense bravery by sharing their stories, as do all who speak out against sexual abusers. With hope, their continued instances of courage will shift and repair the existing hockey culture, and eradicate the need for future generations to exhibit that same bravery.


Resources

[1] https://ublawsportsforum.com/2022/02/08/chicagos-rocky-town-hall-raises-questions/

[2] https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/33234271/chicago-blackhawks-fire-athletic-trainer-minor-league-team-sexual-harassment-sources-say

[3] https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/33161251/former-vancouver-canucks-forward-jake-virtanen-charged-sexual-assault

[4] https://www.castlegarnews.com/news/abbotsfords-jake-virtanens-sexual-assault-case-will-be-tried-by-judge-and-jury/

[5] https://www.nucksmisconduct.com/2022/1/17/22887842/wake-with-elias-reid-boucher-convicted-of-sexually-assaulting-12-year-old-girl-in-2011

[6] https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2022/01/31/ex-nhl-player-reid-boucher-sentenced-sex-assault-case-closed-court/9288226002/

[7] https://www.woodtv.com/news/kalamazoo-county/mother-of-alleged-victim-in-wmu-sex-assault-investigation-comes-forward/

[8] https://www.fox17online.com/news/local-news/kzoo-bc/kalamazoo/wmu-hockey-player-facing-sexual-assault-charges

[9] https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/local/2022/02/28/clarkston-native-western-michigan-hockey-captain-faces-sexual-assault-charge/

[10] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/sex-assault-charges-hockey-coach-york-1.6368871

[11] https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/3-santa-rosa-growlers-hockey-team-members-arrested-for-sexual-assault/2808159/

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2L at University at Buffalo School of Law;

MBA in Marketing;

In pursuit of a career at the intersection of sports law and sports business, specifically in professional hockey.

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