(Photo via Norfolk Admirals)
Noah Corson, Adirondack Thunder forward, and son of longtime NHLer Shayne Corson, is on leave from his minor league hockey club, as allegations that he and two other men sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl have come to light. Corson, now 24, was an 18-year-old at the time of the incident, which allegedly occurred in Quebec in 2016, when Corson was playing for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL.
Corson has been charged with sexually assaulting a complainant under 16. He elected to waive his preliminary hearing, and he is scheduled to appear in court in June. He has yet to enter a plea. The other two men involved were both minors at the time of the incident, and are thus unable to be identified under Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act. Both men pleaded guilty last year to sexual assault charges in youth court.
The agreed statement of facts states that the victim had been seeing the third man, who was not affiliated with the team, for a few weeks, but was not planning to see either Corson or his involved teammate on the night of the incident. Sexual acts were initiated with the victim at her home, but “escalated to group sexual activity to which the victim did not consent.” One of the underage men recorded a video of the assault.
The victim asserts that she was able to identify her attackers just weeks later, when she attended a Voltigeurs game and noticed a wall displaying pictures of Drummondville players, where she noticed two of the men. “I tried to erase it from my memory at first. I identified them like that, otherwise I would have never known they were hockey players . . . I started crying right away.” The victim’s name and identity cannot be shared, due to a publication ban.
She began experiencing suicidal thoughts in 2017, and was checked into a psychiatric facility. She was unable to share her account of the attack with her family for over a year, and says that she has developed “a kind of social phobia.” She elaborated that when she goes “into a public space like a restaurant, I have to be able to see everyone in the room. I can’t feel like something is going to happen to me from behind. It was the same thing at school. (After the attack), I had to sit in the back of the classroom all the time.”
Corson is no longer with the Thunder, and he is not expected to play for the remainder of the season. Corson had been on loan from the AHL’s Utica Comets, with whom he signed in August. In fact, the Comets had just called Corson up the day before the initial CBC report was released. Both the Thunder and the Comets are affiliates of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. A spokesperson for the Comets stated that “Corson’s agent has informed the organization that Noah will be taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately.”
Current and former Drummondville management claim that they were never informed of “the allegations, the investigations, or the legal proceedings.” Corson was released in January 2017, but this was attributed to “attitude and work ethic.” The QMJHL also maintains that it was unaware of the situation or its aftermath. Both Drummondville and the QMJHL made statements condemning the actions, and reiterating that such behavior is not condoned, and would not happen on their watch.
However, as we unfortunately know, these sorts of incidents do happen all throughout hockey, and it is naïve to argue otherwise. These stories of sexual misconduct across the sport have reached the point that Isabelle Charest, Quebec minister responsible for sports, recreation, and the outdoors, chimed in. Charest was especially disturbed by Corson’s story, calling it “horrific.” She added, “if there is a positive element, it is that fewer and fewer victims are reluctant to report and file a complaint. We are seeing a change in culture in the sports world.”
Charest offered a direct plea to the hockey community: “There is a toxic culture problem that is ingrained in hockey in this country, and it needs to change. At all levels, leaders, coaches, and parents need to do more to prevent sexual abuse.” Charest is, in part, referencing the series of sexual assaults and cover-ups within Hockey Canada that have recently been exposed.   While there have been a number of especially troubling events in Canada, this toxic culture permeates throughout the game and across borders. As Charest put it, without leaders at all levels committing to effect change in order to prevent sexual misconduct, the status quo will remain, and these issues will continue to arise.