Kyle Beach's openness about his sexual assault empowers male survivors like me
Like a man, I tried to “tough it out” at the expense of my mental health
This First Person column is written by Chris Middleton who lives in Toronto. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
Warning: This column discusses sexual assault.
I have been numb these past few weeks after watching Kyle Beach's emotional interview on TSN.
The Canadian hockey player initially came forward as a "John Doe," saying he was sexually assaulted in 2010 by the Chicago NHL team's assistant coach Brad Aldrich. The allegations have not been proven in court but according to an independent investigation, senior leaders of the team knew about the concerns at the time and ignored it. They wanted to focus on winning the Stanley Cup that year — which they did.
The team was fined $2 million US and Chicago's general manager Stan Bowman resigned. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has committed to reviewing the league's policies and is expanding the NHL hotline to victims of abuse "wherever [they] may be in the hockey ecosystem."
But when Kyle Beach spoke out publicly for the first time, it meant something to me as survivor of sexual assault.
- Quebec legislators vote unanimously to create special court for victims of domestic, sexual violence
I always find it hard trying to discuss the feelings that reappear for me whenever stories like this circulate. It's not like being sexual assaulted is something you can casually bring up in conversation. Whenever I try to bring it up, it becomes more about navigating the other person's feelings rather than my own. They react as if they are witnessing it happen in the moment. I have to reassure them that the assault happened close to a decade ago — not on my way over.
So I've kept my feelings to myself, often to the detriment of my mental health. Like a man, I "tough" it out.
Around one in three women in Canada have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime compared to one in eight men. In 2019 alone, women were five times more likely to be sexually assaulted over men and 94 per cent of sexual assaults are committed by a male perpetrator.
I don't want to take up space in women-centered spaces. But even though men make up a minority (13 per cent) of survivors of sexual assault, it can feel isolating as a man to vocalize your trauma and seek help.
Men are less likely to report their sexual assault than women for a myriad of reasons. Shame, guilt, fear, embarrassment, not being believed — a lot of the same reasons women don't come forward. Trying to seek help can be a long, complicated process, and then there's an added level of denial, disbelief and social stigma around men being victims of sexual violence.
The first time I tried to get help, I went to the student services at the university I attended at the time. I waited two hours in the under-funded office to get pulled into a small room where a grad student asked me why I was seeking help.
"I'm here because I tried to kill myself because of the trauma I've been experienced from being groomed and molested."
She jotted down something in her notes and then looked up at me and plainly said, "Anything else?"
Oh, I'm sorry, you needed more?
This grad student's dismissal of my experience wasn't intentional, I'm sure, but I never followed up with student services. In retrospect — especially now, in the context of all the allegations of sexual assault at Western University — I probably should've started somewhere other than my university campus which might have better equipped to handle what I was going through.
The experience at university was not the only time my experience was minimized.
I've been dismissed by friends in discussions about sexual assault because they thought I "didn't know what it was like being a victim." Well, not to dampen the mood, but I do.
I've been brushed off by other family members because they wonder, "Why would this happen to you?" I don't know, I'm still trying to figure that out myself, thanks.
I've been told I'm lying because I didn't "seem that bad." Sorry I wasn't crying on the phone when you called to check in, I'm not allowed to do that at work anymore.
Men don't have a ton of visible representation when it comes to survivors of sexual violence. It's why men like Anthony Rapp, Terry Crews and now Kyle Beach are so important to let men know they aren't alone. As we saw with the #MeToo movement, representation helps empower those who might not otherwise have a voice.
I'm happy Kyle Beach has found some vindication in the Chicago report, and I hope he knows how brave it is — in a male-dominated industry like hockey— to publicly come forward and be the face of this when he did not have to. It's always difficult to discuss sexual violence and the systems that uphold men who continue to do this time and again.
The culture of silence within the NHL that lets things like this happen is unacceptable, but recognizable. I hope that this situation empowers more male athletes — and males in general — who have been victims of sexual violence to discuss their experience.
Speaking up has helped me heal in ways I never thought were possible. I don't think we'll ever get to a place where we can casually talk about sexual assault, but I'm hoping we can get to a place of action rather than silencing.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted or who is affected by these reports. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.
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- A photo caption in this column previously said Kyle Beach was in a Chicago jersey during an NHL game. In fact, he was a draft pick for the team but never played in a regular season game with the NHL.Nov 30, 2021 3:35 PM ET