(VIDEO) The Predictable Disaster: Post Earthquake, Widespread Rape in Haiti Goes Unaddressed

Amie Newman

After January's earthquake, Haitian women are still fighting for their own lives and those of their children. But they are now experiencing high--and predictable--rates of rape and gender-based violence.  Why is so little being done?

Haitian women are fighting for their lives – and the lives of their children. There is no simpler way to put it.

Since a devastating earthquake brought the country to its knees on January 12, 2010, the people of Haiti have had to dig themselves out of the rubble, literally and figuratively. But the rubble remains – and for the women and girls who survived the quake it barely covers the evil that has arisen in the displaced person camps and make-shift communities surrounding Port-au-Prince designed to offer temporary if not stable protection to those left trying to piece together what remains of their country and their lives.

Except, life has become a nightmare for the women and girls left there.

Last week, the New York Times reported on the escalation of rape and sexual violence of women and girls in the camps. But concrete statistics on how many have been attacked elude authorities and it’s being left up to Haitian women’s rights advocates, on the ground, to track the violence.

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These advocates are part of a long-standing group, KOFAVIV, Commission of Women Victim-to-Victim, made up of survivors of rape. As the international women’s rights organization and KOFAVIV partner organization MADRE notes, members of the group have “witnessed the skyrocketing incidence of rape in the camps and the lack of a coordinated or effective response to these persistent threats.”

KOFAVIV member and rape-survivor, Malya Villard-Appolon, who has been living in the camps, testified in front of the UN Human Rights Council recently about the conditions:

I live in a tent in a camp. I have witnessed violence against women and girls. And, I have also witnessed the completely inadequate government response. KOFAVIV has recorded at least 242 cases of rape since the earthquake. But, we have yet to see a case prosecuted.

KOFAVIV has suffered its own loss, of course. As a result of the earthquake, KOFAVIV members died, lost their homes, their families and still, in these camps, living with barely the most basic of necessities, the women of KOFAVIV devote themselves to the necessary protection of their fellow sisters, daughters, aunts, mothers and grandmothers.

As Diana Duarte of MADRE, told Rewire:

In the best of times, KOFAVIV provides support from rape survivors to rape survivors – medical support, but also they shepherd them through a process that can be complicated and hostile when filing a legal case, they provide a community space where rape survivors in Haiti can get that psychosocial support. In the aftermath of the earthquake, they continued to do it in circumstances that are unimaginable. The leadership of KOFAVIV lost their homes, their families, many women who had previously been members of KOFAVIV disappeared or were killed. After the earthquake, they found themselves living in the camps, witness to the escalating rape and sexual violence so prevalent there now.

Beverly Bell, an activist, journalist and Program Coordinator for the woman-driven, multimedia education and movement-building collaborative working around the world, has traveled to Haiti and details the horrors, via KOFAVIV, faced by women and girls in the camp. In this case – a KOFAVIV leader’s family:

At 8:00 p.m. on March 2, a man came under the tarp which is home to Delva, [KOFAVIV] co-coordinator Malya Villard Appolon, their 13 combined children and grandchildren, and other family members. The man threw Delva’s 17-year-old daughter Merline on the ground, dragged her outside, and prepared to rape her. Merline beat him off. An hour or so later, the man returned with three other men and a pistol. They beat four of Delva and Appolon’s daughters.

There aren’t nearly enough tents to house all of the displaced people living in the camps so for women living out in the open, the violence is even worse. The lack of lighting, security or police presence – basically all of the things that would protect women against rape – places women and girls in danger. But the tents provide very little protection, anyway. Duarte tells me a story of an attacker who cut through one woman’s tent with a blade to get to her.

In fact, the leaders of KOFAVIV seem to be in particular danger because of the increasingly high-profile nature of their work there. In an email to Rewire, Bell writes:

…last week a man came to the KOFAVIV headquarters (a tarp in the middle of a camp) with a gun to kidnap one of the coordinators and to extract ransom from the othe coordinator. Fortunately, the plot failed.

At this point, two of the leaders who have been attacked have fled the camp with their families and are camped out in the yard behind a human rights office but will be returning to yet another refugee camp to continue their “amazing vigilance and human rights advocacy” in the face of daily threats, writes Bell.

We Know What’s Coming

What seems particularly difficult to comprehend is that this sort of sexual violence shouldn’t be surprising. It is, according to Duarte, “…something you always see in the aftermath of natural disasters.” And the help victims so desperately need is just not there. The resulting chaos that comes after an earthquake or any type of extreme natural disaster, says Duarte, means “there is a breakdown of community support services and a breakdown of law and order. The community ties that allow women’s groups to operate and work against sexual violence falls apart. So much needs to be done to begin to rebuild the network of support for women who are facing the threat of sexual violence.”

What is surprising is that, given the reality that rape happens, the certainty that women – most often the center of family and community life, the anchors – will be sexually assaulted post-natural disaster, there isn’t more done to prepare or to set up mechanisms to respond when it happens. Duarte says:

The reality is that responding to sexual violence, in terms of all the different responses necessary, and putting in place mechanisms to prevent sexual violence is just not at the top of the list post-disaster. There are so many other immediate needs to be met. This is a line repeated over and over again – that addressing the particular vulnerabilities of women after a natural disaster gets pushed to the side.

What is being done, then, to address the rising sexual violence? The New York Times reports that, “Recently, security in eight big camps has improved, with joint Haitian-United Nations police posts or patrols; about 100 Bangladeshi policewomen arrived late last month to deal with gender-based violence at three of them” and a recent UN resolution passed that would ““accelerate efforts to eliminate violence against women.” But is this enough to make a real impact on the lives of women and girls living in Haiti, facing the daily threat of rape?

Not according to Duarte and MADRE:

The sad reality is that, though female UN peacekeepers have been deployed and we have seen some positive responses from members of the [UN] Human Rights Council –much more needs to happen. The level of rape is not decreasing; women who have been raped are constantly approaching KOFAVIV. MADRE’s argument is that there are immediate things that need to be done. We’ve petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and we’re asking them to take precautionary measures: increase security, increase lighting in the camps, immediately.

On June 7, MADRE and the women of KOFAVIV took the cause to the United Nations Human Rights Council in hopes of finding this support and assistance. Villard testified on behalf of KOFAVIV and the many rape victims saying,

“The violence is occurring in the camps because: There is no education around sexuality and women’s rights, Security is inadequate; There is a lack of secure housing; and, aid distribution is ineffective and aid agencies fail to consult grassroots groups, which deepens poverty and fosters violence.”

The truth is that, says Villard, “…the systems for protecting women in the camps are broken. We get no protection from the police, or the peacekeepers. We feel we do not have access to the rooms where decisions about our safety are made. We need the support and commitment of the international community.”

Shunted to the Side

The role of women’s groups on the ground, post-disasters, is critical – and this is where KOFAVIV comes in. MADRE cannot seem to convey enough how important it is to support “women’s organizations on the ground.” KOFAVIV spun into immediate action providing some degree of security by organizing neighborhood watches, accompanying women to the latrines, and creating community gathering places for women. Duarte says these actions are “huge” because women living in the tents feel “disoriented and isolated.”

But while women’s groups on the ground know exactly what’s coming after a disaster like an earthquake and can begin to move into immediate action, with, says Duarte, “an incredible level of expertise,” to provide services to women and families, they get shunted to the side when response agendas are set.

“It’s so unfortunate because these are the groups operating in these communities and they know, in the aftermath, which families need support, how to funnel aid resources to make the response much more efficient. But they aren’t considered in the agenda in the days, weeks, and months afterward,” says Duarte.

In March, the international community came together in a “landmark” donor conference to set an agenda for rebuilding Haiti and women’s groups in Haiti, women’s voices, were nowhere to be seen or heard.

From the global humanitarian news site of the United Nations, IRIN,

Haitian-born Massachusetts State Representative Marie St. Fleur, who represented the diaspora community at the main conference, said she was not surprised to look across the room and see few other female faces. The text of the Haitian government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), a blueprint plan for recovery, offered a similar lack of gender diversity, she explained. 

“There needs to be a bolder vision for reconstruction, and right now, there isn’t a very clear place for women within that,” St. Fleur told IRIN. “But I think we make a mistake when we say that we have to have a place for women, because they must not placed in a corner like that. Women and girls must be integrated throughout this plan. And that doesn’t exist, right now.” 

Duarte agrees:

“When you don’t take a gendered approach to human rights, you compound women’s vulnerability.”  She continued:

Women are disproportionately represented among the poor in Haiti. When massive disasters hit, resources are at a minimum to begin with. Women just aren’t prioritized in aid distribution when you have gender-neutral aid distribution…By not listening to the expertise and valuing the voices of women after a disaster in the process of reconstruction, you’re rebuilding a country on a very weak foundation and that’s not something Haiti  – or any country – should do. You’re ignoring the voice of women who could contribute so much.

This is what makes the response from KOFAVIV, MADRE and advocates like Human Rights attorney Lisa Davis who works with them, so inspirational, however. Duarte tells Rewire the story of how Lisa traveled down to Haiti with a financial contribution to KOFAVIV, from MADRE. Within just a couple of days, women of KOFAVIV turned that money into basic supplies for their fellow women in the camps; pots and pans, hygiene kits were almost immediately distributed. The efficiency was astounding and it makes a concrete difference in the lives of women and girls, today.

The United Nations is a key vehicle for making change and these women’s groups know and understand this. It’s why they are working closely to monitor and push the UN to do what it needs to do to make life safer for women and girls in Haiti.

As Tracy Clark-Flory writes on Salon, “It isn’t that attempts aren’t being made to protect Haitian girls and women from violence. Patrols and security have been ramped up, but there are too many people, too many tent cities and too many devastated neighborhoods to look after.”

So groups like MADRE and KOFAVIV and advocates like Beverly Bell, through Other Worlds, continue their vigilance. They raise money, organize speaking tours to promote Haiti women’s involvement in the reconstruction efforts, work with the United Nations, make visits to Haiti to bear witness, record stories, and offer support. They have made some crucial and positive steps forward with some countries willing to make the prevention of rape and sexual violence a priority in their aid; the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) listening to Villard’s testimony and the just-passed resolution from the HRC devoted to accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women, around the world.

Though these are steps forward, it bears remembering that on any given day, KOFAVIV will continue to gather the stories and testimony of women, in these camps, in open-air spaces, of their experiences of sexual violence and rape as they attempt to rebuild their lives amid the rubble.

Culture & Conversation Media

The #MoreThanMean Video Highlights the Abuse Women in Sports Media Have Faced for Decades

Shireen Ahmed

Much of the discussion has been around how shocked the men in the video seem to be at the violently misogynistic tweets, and how shocked its male viewers have been.

Last week, the team at the “podcast and web community” Just Not Sports shared a new video project. The video, titled “#MoreThanMean: Women in Sports ‘Face’ Harassment,” featured two notable sportswriters, Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain, who sat across from men who read “mean tweets” to them.

The tweets began in an almost comical yet rude manner—”I’d like to start a petition for a ban on all links to Julie DiCaro’s Twitter feed”; “Sarah Spain sounds like a nagging wife on TV today”—but they escalated quickly into violent misogyny, including messages of sexual assault. These messages had been sent directly to the women, and they had seen them. The tweet-readers had not. The video shows the men shifting uncomfortably in their seats as they are expected to vocalize these horrific remarks. Meanwhile, DiCaro and Spain remain very dignified and calm.

Within one day, the video had reached upwards of one million views; it now it stands at over three million. The #MoreThanMean project filled social media timelines and headlines, including international outlets. It has ignited discussions on the radio, news shows, and feminist websites. Fellow women sportswriters wrote about their own experiences and how we were affected by this video. I did. Spain wrote about what the experience meant to her, as did DiCaro.

Much of the response, however, has also been around how shocked the men in the video seem to be, and how shocked its male viewers have been. Men have said they were horrified to read and hear these tweets, effectively centering their own reactions in the conversation. This, too, is problematic: This video may have highlighted the abuse DiCaro and Spain receive through the internet, but women in sports media have faced this kind of harassment for decades. Disbelief and horror are not enough; it will take real, systemic change from the industry, social media companies, and these “shocked” fans to work against this kind of incessant abuse.

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In 1990, Lisa Olson, a former journalist at the Boston Herald, endured what she called “premeditated mind rape” when she attempted to interview the New England Patriots football team after a game. She settled with the team owner and the players were fined. More than 25 years later, prominent sports journalist Erin Andrews was awarded $55 million in a lawsuit against a hotel that failed to protect her privacy from a man who videotaped her while she was naked in her room. He leaked the video to the internet. Both journalists were unmistakably targeted because they are women.

In the case of online trolls, however, the problem is more complicated: Comments, emails, or tweets can be issued by people who do not use their real names and might not be identified. The waters become murky. One of the only ways to fight them is to block them, mute them, or as often suggested, disengage, phrased as “not feeding the trolls.”

Some women, DiCaro among them, argue against not engaging because they feel it is tantamount to being silenced. Each woman might have different ways of processing and handling the situation; it’s unfair to expect that all women should simply not reply or defend their work. People who attack women constantly are trying to derail our work and conversations—and the voices of women are important for adding nuance and perspective in a field that is already predominantly male.

For that matter, it may not work. As DiCaro explained for Chicago Magazine, “There are these guys who feel you’re a fake, a phony, a fraud, and you’re in a position you don’t deserve to be in, and you’re receiving attention you don’t deserve. Their mission is to take you down. Those are the trolls you can’t ignore. They don’t go away.”

And logging off—leaving Twitter and other forms of social media—is not a plausible course of action. As a sportswriter, I feel it is essential to be on Twitter. Social media is a tool to collect information quickly, and connect with readers and fans about events in the world of sports. In other words, being on social media is an essential part of our jobs.

This is where it becomes crucial for social media companies to step up and enact policies that can prevent this type of abuse from happening. DiCaro thinks social media—Twitter specifically—should wield greater responsibility in order to create a safer space for women online. “I blocked guys, but they would just create new accounts or find other ways to get around being blocked,” she said to me over email. “And Twitter didn’t really do anything about reported tweets unless they were rape or death threats. Anything else seemed to be tolerable to them, and that was really shocking to me.”

Twitter updated its Abuse Policy in December 2015 to crack down on “hateful conduct.” But DiCaro was so frustrated about constant harassment that she created a new handle at the end of March, @ZeroSafety, where she shares screencaps of harassment in order to urge Twitter to take these tweets seriously and further amend their policies to suspend abusive accounts. At one point, ironically, the account itself was suspended for using an avatar that was considered branded.

Female sportswriters will tell you that their work and their social media profiles are real life. It is not always possible to divorce one’s personal life from what they put out on their Twitter feed. A constant deluge of horrific comments can’t be ignored or simply waded through—particularly when the comments might wish for death or sexualized violence on the sportswriter. It is unfair to expect that women will have the mental or emotional bandwidth to fight trolls all the time.

This was especially evident in #MoreThanMean, when the male participants had to use their own emotional strength to get through reading the tweets. The experience was harrowing: One of the tweets directed to DiCaro, who bravely wrote in 2013 of her rape, read, “I hope you get raped again.” On more than one occasion, DiCaro has described the abuse as “soul-sucking.”

As emotionally exhausting as it is, DiCaro and Spain have very courageously pushed this conversation forward. I can’t fathom sitting in a chair and hearing all those awful comments spoken to me in front of the whole world. DiCaro and Spain used this opportunity to educate and share lived experiences.

But I wondered: Why did this particular video affect so many people? Was it the way we were able to see Spain and DiCaro as people, not just as faceless personalities on social media? Or were the men so sincere in their discomfort that the public was mortified?

DiCaro thinks it is the latter. “Honestly, I think it’s because society in general believes men more than they believe women. Sarah and I could scream from the rafters about being harassed, but if it was just us in the video, I wonder if it would have had the same impact,” she said.

DiCaro believes #MoreThanMean is a great start toward addressing this pervasive reluctance to acknowledge women speaking about abuse. In addition to urging social media companies to take action, she also tasked those horrified individuals to make change themselves, by including women in conversations, helping to promote them in industries where women are outnumbered, and by recommending women for panels and conferences. “Don’t speak for us; scoot over and give us a place at the table where we can speak for ourselves,” she wrote.

To men, DiCaro emphasized, “And if you see a buddy or family member beating up on women online, SAY SOMETHING. It’s not okay for people to treat others this way, and it’s not okay to stand by silently, either.”

It is my experience as a visible woman of color that there are no limits to the abuses that can be showered upon a woman for speaking up about a game, a team, or advocating for a victim of sexual assault by a player. I write about misogyny and race in sports; I also write about Muslim women. So, the abuse I receive is not only sexist, but coupled with Islamophobic and racist opinions. Charming, I know. This occurs only because I am doing what I am supposed to. Essentially, women sportswriters are abused for doing their jobs. For thousands of women in this industry and others, we don’t accept it but are are forced to tolerate it.

This is probably another reason #MoreThanMean struck a chord with so many. DiCaro said she was approached by women who admitted they never felt like they could talk about it before they saw the video. She suspects a lot of women keep it quiet or constantly self-edit to make sure they say nothing anyone could possibly object to. Both approaches silence women and suggest complacency is a way to combat abuse.

One way to also move away from a toxic, and in my opinion dangerous, acceptance of abuse is to support women’s work in the industry. In a column about #MoreThanMean project, DiCaro wrote, “Support women’s sports. Read and share women sportswriters. Question why more women, and especially women of color, aren’t actively promoted by their employers. Call out panels at events that don’t include women. Teach your sons and daughters that women have a place in sports equal to men.”

I feel this is essential if we want to move forward at all.

As far as handling the abuse, DiCaro told me about her self-care routines and how she should make them more of a priority. “We’re all working so hard to get ahead in this industry, [self-care] tends to fall by the wayside. But lately I’ve been giving myself permission to not charge so hard after everything. To set longer deadlines for myself, to have nights where I do nothing but watch a River Monsters marathon. And I’m a huge proponent of having pets. No matter how bad your day is, they always make you smile,” she said.

Her comments resonate with me too. As much as I rely on Twitter to stay connected and be “in the know,” I also love my time away from social media. It might involve watching Bend It like Beckham and eating popcorn. Or it might mean working out and just enjoying my family.

But self-care also means that when I log back on, I know I need help from other individuals to get through the day. After a few years on Twitter, I also became part of an informal support group of women who write about sports and its intersections with misogyny, sexual assault, politics, and various important social issues. We encourage and help each other every day, offering advice about projects, sharing contacts, and venting about our mentions. In response, we send each other photos of baby sloths or elephants and positive notes. This type of safe space is critical, particularly when we are trying to work while simultaneously swatting away trolls and defending ourselves against unfathomable rudeness.

Women are moving forward in sports writing and presenting, as game correspondents and as match analysts. As this happens, it is important to highlight toxicity in sports media and make sure that male colleagues, readers, and fans are aware of the abuse that happens and how they can eradicate it. It will not go away on its own. Consistently promoting the voices of women, and not excluding them from discussions of violence, is crucial. Equally important is addressing the layers of misogyny, racism, and homophobia present in all facets of the industry, including online.

Women need to lead discussions on what are the best strategies to combat online harassment and abuse. But it cannot be done without support.

Commentary Violence

Patrick Kane and the Culture of Disbelief About Rape

Katie Klabusich

Right now I have to consider that this season I may be a rape survivor cheering for a team led by an accused rapist.

Practically everyone in Chicago has a Patrick Kane story.

As a former bartender who was slinging drinks in the Windy City when hockey reappeared like magic on our televisions in 2007 turning a lost generation of Chicagoans into fans of the young, exciting team featuring first-year phenom Kane and his captain, Jonathan Toews, I certainly have mine. And though I’ve always been more of a Patrick Sharp girl (I’m almost done crying about the trade), I’ve appreciated Kane’s work on the ice—delivering three championships in six seasons. I’ve also sort of appreciated him in a bizzaro feminist way for having managed his party rep without his name being automatically associated amongst service staff with misconduct allegations à la Steelers champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Until now.

Blackhawks fans who had planned to spend the summer celebrating the return of Lord Stanley’s Cup must instead come to terms with the news that their star 26-year-old forward is an accused rapist. As criminal defense attorney turned sports reporter and rape survivor Julie DiCaro has covered so adeptly for the Chicago Tribune, some are handling it better than others.

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“When it comes to the Kane investigation, Internet stupidity abounds,” writes DiCaro, below a list of representative examples. “And while it’s tempting to laugh off some of the comments as written by misguided juveniles with a serious case of hero worship, the problem is actually much bigger. Tweets, comments, rumors and news reports like those above are reflective of the way our society treats those who report rape.”

While local radio hosts and writers are largely handling the situation with grace and consideration for all involved, DiCaro’s words aren’t hitting home for a significant portion of the Blackhawks fan base. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a call screener for a local sports station right now.


Kane spent Saturday, August 2 at SkyBar, a popular nightclub in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, reportedly leaving around 3 a.m. with two women to continue partying at his house in nearby suburban Hamburg. Around 4 a.m., one of the women—whose name is being withheld (police say they are abiding by a gag order)—went into another room by herself; Kane reportedly followed and raped her.

The alleged victim then did what rape culture deniers demand of all sexual assault survivors: she found her friend, left, and called a family member on her way to the hospital, where she submitted to an exam and reported the attack to law enforcement. To their credit, Hamburg police appear to be taking her accusations seriously; they have searched Kane’s home and the case has been assigned to Roseanne John, head of the Special Victims Unit in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Research outlined in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence estimates that almost half of rape survivors who report experience “secondary victimization” by law enforcement. Being believed by enough personnel (most rape victims must tell their stories repeatedly) to prompt the search of a local celebrity’s home and the hiring of an expert SVU prosecutor before potential charges are filed shows a level of engagement and willingness to believe the victim we can’t, unfortunately, take for granted.

According to details obtained by the Buffalo News, the alleged victim even bears the marks rape apologists and perpetrators of the “stranger rape myth” expect of anyone truly not consenting to the encounter: bite marks on her shoulders and a scratch on her leg. She has behaved as a supposedly model victim, fighting back physically and then legally, risking the public ridicule that descends upon anyone who dare sully the name of a beloved athlete.

Obviously, I don’t know exactly what happened that night; I’m not privy to the ongoing police investigation or hospital reports and I haven’t had interview time with Kane’s accuser. What I do know is that statistically, I can’t expect relief for the knot in my stomach that formed when I first saw headlines of the incident. Research tells us that more than 92 percent of rape reports are credible. Considering we hardly have a contingent of rape survivors who were granted fame and fortune as a reward for accusing a well-known man of assault, I’m inclined to eschew society’s unfortunate convention and simply believe her until I see evidence she put herself through this ordeal without cause.

I’m not on a jury, so save the “innocent until proven guilty” nonsense. That’s a legal term, not a cultural requirement.

And, listen. I’ll be uncomfortably honest: like any fan of any sport (or anything, really), my heart sank when I heard that an integral member of a team I have rooted for—whose jersey hangs in my closet—was being investigated for something heinous. Also like any fan, my first impulse was to close my eyes and utter the sentence, “Please don’t let it be true.”

For anyone who’s more than just a casual sports consumer, it’s understandable to hope your team isn’t tarnished or is about to lose a player so good, a mere seven years in he’s already past the 100-point mark in his playoff career. With a contract extension through 2022-2023, Kane is poised to become the most celebrated player in team history. Permanently breaking up the Kane-Toews line would likely usher in another championship drought.

So, of course I had the thought. As hard as it is to admit, that was my first impulse. I’m human, which means my brain automatically considers how unexpected news will affect me before processing what it means for other people. Because I am a justice-oriented survivor who’s educated on the effects of rape culture and understand what it takes for someone to report, I processed all of that in pretty rapid succession—but I have to admit to myself that even I started from a self-serving mental moment of disbelief.

What I haven’t done and won’t do is participate in the toxic pastime of victim-bashing as a show of support for my bro, Kaner. Almost as though he knew it was on the way, Chicago sportswriter Tim Baffoe published an outstanding critique of “He’s my guy!” style fandom the day before a rape apology-laden hashtag caught fire. Ostensibly designed to prop up #88, the #iSupport88 thread is a predictable haven for crass name-calling, rape “jokes,” and non sequitur love for Bill Cosby and other celebrities accused of sexual assault.

In his piece, Baffoe holds nothing back, saying, “Patrick Kane is not your friend. You are not his dawg, and he is not your bro … And you need to stop with the garbage default setting of rushing to defend him. Even under the guise of “innocent until proven guilty.’”

In a tight-knit sports town like Chicago that thrives on the perception of personal connection, those are fighting words. Baffoe was just getting started:

The reflex of “Leave Kaner alone—you’re ruining his reputation!” or anything remotely putting the onus on the woman involved shows you’ve let sports fandom strip you of your humanity. Your ethics have grown so out of whack while drunk on being a fangirl or fanboy that you’ve drowned your soul. You value sports over violation of the human body, and you then become no different than, say, a defender of [child-abuse enabler] Joe Paterno.

Well done, sir.

Right now I have to consider that this season I may be a rape survivor cheering for a team led by an accused rapist. And so, for the remainder of the off-season, I’m rooting for law enforcement, the Blackhawks organization, and the National Hockey League to break from rape culture and handle the case in a way that recognizes the needs of the alleged victim as more important than the reputation of the accused.

I’m not entirely sure what the appropriate action for the Blackhawks and the NHL to take would look like. How do they balance the uncertainty of an ongoing investigation with the rapidly approaching start of training camp? As SI.com writer Allan Muir succinctly paraphrased Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh yesterday, “Kane’s uncertain legal status puts the Hawks in an impossible position. With training camp less than six weeks away and the justice system moving at its own deliberate pace, the team may be forced to suspend the star winger.”

Do the Blackhawks wait? Do they hope the league steps in to suspend him, letting them off the hook? Would the team or the league be on solid ground legally to suspend a player before there are charges and/or a conviction, as Haugh calls for?

“In the post-Ray Rice era of professional sports, a first-class franchise such as the Hawks cannot allow a player facing serious allegations to represent it until more clarity about the case exists,” Haugh wrote. “The thing about setting a standard of excellence as high as the Hawks have is living up to it; no single player, not even a living legend, can compromise that commitment to integrity.”

I’m inclined to agree that the risk of sending Kane out on the ice despite the statistical probability that the accusations are true is more risky than suspending him and being forced to apologize later, should his accuser recant or turn out to be in the false reporting minority. And I certainly applaud the decision by EA Sports yesterday to pull Kane from their NHL 16 cover and promotional roll-out:

For people who couldn’t care less about sports, why does the handling of a rape accusation by a professional sports team or league matter? I get this question on the regular every time another high-profile athlete is accused of assault or National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell does something detestable. The answer is simple: We are a nation of sports fans and human beings do not compartmentalize our experiences. It’s not just that athletes are disproportionately revered in our society; for better or worse, they’re recognizable public figures even outside their fan bases. According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll last year, over 100 million people had watched the Super Bowl despite 25 percent of respondents saying football “has the most jerks” out of any professional league.

People are disinclined to believe someone they know is capable of a crime like rape. Seeing someone’s face and hearing their name as often as is typical of stars and champions leads people to feel, as Baffoe pushed back on, like we know them. Even if we don’t like a player very much, it’s quite a step to go from dislike to believing someone is the evil outlier our culture tells us commits rape.

Because of this culture of disbelief, the language that’s used as the investigation continues is extremely important—as evidenced by the somewhat predictable vitriol of the #ISupport88 crowd. Those close to Kane and the team have been tight-lipped, but the statements that have been made manage to walk the line of avoiding the kind of enthusiastic support that erases or gaslights victims while not openly condemning someone who hasn’t yet been charged with a crime.

Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz briefly weighed in with firmer language than sports fans are used to hearing at an allegation stage of a potential public relations nightmare, saying, “We’re disappointed but hopeful,” Wirtz said. “Beyond that, it would not be appropriate to expound upon.”

If the team makes the move to suspend Kane preemptively, it’ll be sending a strong signal not just to players, but to fans—specifically female fans. The Blackhawks boast a 45 percent female fan base that’s well above the league average of 37 percent and is partly responsible for their ability to re-sign Kane and Toews for a combined $168 million. You can’t afford that price tag without both routinely selling every ticket in your stadium and bringing in massive merchandise sales numbers. The Blackhawks wouldn’t have as much of their team intact without us.

Simply continuing to refrain from hinting at motives on the behalf of the alleged victim or from promising to stand by the accused no matter what would be a bright spot in the very dark intersection of sports and rape culture. But Wirtz and the league owe more to both their female fans and to a city that welcomed them back with open arms after years of inaccessibility. If league rules allow for a suspension, the Blackhawks should take that action. If they don’t, it’s time for the league to revisit how it handles the misconduct of its players.

I’m rooting for the NHL and the Blackhawks to do the right thing so I can buy a new jersey this fall and cheer without hesitation for a team I love.