The program ‘Beyond the dressing room’ addresses gender violence inside and outside the stadium

A new program aimed at combating gender-based violence in sports has been launched in and around Stratford, Ontario, targeting young male athletes.

“Beyond the Locker Room” asks sports team leaders to sign a pledge, which acts as a code of conduct in and out of the locker room. There is an educational part if the teams request it, but it is informal rather than following a set curriculum.

The project, which began on November 25, is a collaboration between the Stratford Police Services, the Ontario Provincial Police and Huron County Victim Services. Key points of the commitment include:

  • “Be positive role models in the locker room and in our community.”

  • “Constantly educate ourselves and others on how to combat gender-based violence.”

  • “Recognize our privilege in the roles we play and use our platform to promote the voices of others.”

  • “Recognize, challenge, and correct the behavior we witness in our community that contributes to gender-based violence.”

Gender-based violence in sports has been in the spotlight ever since news of the Hockey Canada controversy broke this summer, where a previously settled sexual assault case against some players on the 2018 Canadian youth team was reopened.

“It’s really necessary right now for some of these groups to reflect and say, ‘Well, what can I do to help solve some of these problems that we’re seeing in society?'” Dawson Currie, crisis response leader with Huron County Victim Services, told CBC News.

“It’s not just based on gender. It’s not for a specific group… nobody’s in trouble, nobody’s pointing fingers. Our goal is really to find these groups that need to have the conversation and encourage them to push themselves to be leaders, to stand in front of our community.

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Empower instead of shame

The program came about when Darren Fischer, a community resource officer with the Stratford Police Service, approached Currie about creating a program that would address gender-based violence.

Fischer, who works with high school students in the region, says she spends a lot of time specifically addressing conflict-related issues with students.

“I’m dealing with unhealthy relationships, the issues around sexual consent, and I’m also there as a general support for the students,” he told CBC News.

“Over the years that I’ve been in this role, I’ve seen a real need to not only educate young people about some of these concerns, but also try to empower them in the sense of developing leaders and mentors so that they can control their own actions and educate each other”.

They wanted a show that would address the issue by empowering athletes and encouraging leadership instead of using guilt or shame.

The organizers do not approach sports teams about the program, but instead wait for the teams to communicate. The Stratford Blackswans rugby team were the first to join, but have been in talks with other teams, including The Stratford Warriors.

“I think it’s a program that’s sorely needed and I’m really glad that it’s at the forefront right now and people are using it as much as they are because this is an issue that affects everyone,” Currie said.

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