Spruce Grove minor hockey player speaks out about sexual harassment on ice
Kaitlyn Byers says she was sexually harassed and physically assaulted while playing minor hockey
A Spruce Grove teen says she hopes her experience with sexual harassment and threats on the ice doesn't deter other young women from playing hockey.
Kaitlyn Byers, 18, said her first season as the only woman on the Spruce Grove Highlanders hockey team was going well, until a game last November.
It started off aggressive and physical, Byers said. But it was nothing Byers, a veteran of 10 seasons, couldn't handle, until she was cornered by a male player of the opposing team.
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"I noticed that this one guy was targeting me and he was being a bit aggressive, and I didn't think much of it," she said.
"Then he pinned me against the ice and said, 'I'm going to have sex with you whether you want to or not.' He started off by saying 'I want to f--k you' and then it turns into 'I'm going to f--k you.'"
Byers said she was shocked by the comments, and told her coach, who she said was "furious." He spoke with the other team's coach and the referees, who she said told her coach they didn't hear the comments and couldn't do anything.
He pinned me against the ice and said, 'I'm going to have sex with you whether you want to or not.- Kaitlyn Byers , hockey player
Byers' coach received a three-game suspension, and Byers said months went by without issues.
But when the Highlanders played that team again in January, Byers said the same player became physical with her again.
"In the first period, he targeted me a bit, like he'd take his elbow and put it under my chin and lift it up. Or he'd purposely try to bodycheck me, but it's contact hockey, so I can take the physical aggression of the game."
Later in the game the aggression escalated.
"He took his stick and dug it into my ribs where I have no padding and took his other hand and slammed my head into the ice," Byers said.
"I noticed I couldn't breathe and I was scared he was going to do something else, so I forced myself to get up and skate to the bench, and as I skated to the bench, the other team's parents were cheering and clapping, saying things like, 'That's what she gets for playing boys' hockey, she shouldn't be playing boys' hockey if she can't take the pain.'"
Injuries forced Byers off the ice
Byers was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where she said she was diagnosed with soft tissue damage to her ribs and a minor concussion. Because of her injuries, she was off the ice for weeks.
An incident report was filed with the Spruce Grove Minor Hockey Association, she said. She also took her complaint to Hockey Alberta, and when Byers and her parents asked the organization whether there was a sexual harassment policy in place, she said they were told there wasn't one.
Byers started playing with another league in June and faced another instance of sexual harassment, which that league dealt with immediately, she said. She realized she felt "silenced" after her first experience with the Spruce Grove Highlanders.
Hockey Alberta spokesman Brad Lyon confirmed a complaint was filed with the Spruce Grove Minor Hockey Association about an incident that happened during a game. Disciplinary action was taken, he said, but he would not comment on what that action was or on Byers' specific case.
Any time that there's allegations involving sexual harassment, harassment, bullying of any type, they are taken seriously.- Brad Lyon, Hockey Alberta
Hockey Alberta has 185 member associations that oversee minor hockey in Alberta communities.
"We have, and our associations have, policies pertaining to harassment, bullying, inappropriate conduct, and that does include sexual harassment," Lyon said. "This is a topic that's very serious, and we're certainly treating it as such."
Lyon said complaints can be made to local minor hockey associations, which develop their own policies for harassment. Local associations review and investigate complaints and deliver disciplinary action if warranted.
Alberta Hockey would pursue an investigation if it was determined a minor hockey association did not follow policy, or if the outcome violated someone's rights, Lyon said.
In the instance of the complaint filed with the Spruce Grove Minor Hockey Association, Lyon said the complaint was forwarded to Hockey Edmonton, which investigated and took disciplinary action.
Hockey Edmonton said recent media coverage of Byers's story has brought new details to light. The league wouldn't say what those new details are, but is investigating again, but won't be commenting on the matter.
Hockey Edmonton said to its knowledge, this is the first complaint it has received related to sexual harassment and misconduct on the ice.
'I hope that young girls play hockey'
Byers said she wants to see a change in policy to ensure this kind of harassment doesn't happen to other girls and young women who play hockey, and if it does, that they'll be taken seriously.
"I hope that young girls play hockey," she said. "If something like this happens to them, I hope they choose to continue playing hockey and don't let one guy who is just an awful person ruin the rest of their hockey career."
Byers will attend Concordia University of Edmonton in the fall, and is looking forward to trying out for some women's hockey teams.
"I'm not going to let myself feel like a victim and let myself live in fear," she said of her experience with harassment.
"I can't let him get the best of me because in my mind, that's letting him win. I went back and I played hockey."
With files from Michelle LePage and Roberta Bell