John Abbott Athletics Has a Sexual Assault Problem
As Numerous Students Anonymously Accuse Islanders on Twitter, 2016 Survivor Names Herself for the First Time
Alyson Berube is naming herself publicly for the first time as the survivor at the centre of John Abbott College’s widely publicized sexual assault case from 2016.
Berube said she made the decision to come forward after being made aware of the situation on Twitter user @sssssssssierra. Sierra’s profile was set ablaze on Wednesday as she began posting anonymous sexual assault allegations women had sent her privately from across Montreal. According to Sierra, the posts blew up after multiple women started making allegations about the same Montreal-area men.
“I saw all these girls coming forward,” said Berube. “I saw their strength and it empowered me to come out and say that it was me.”
Many of the sexual assault claims submitted to Sierra through Twitter were from anonymous John Abbott students and alumni, saying they themselves had been or knew people who had been sexually assaulted by members of the college’s football team.
The allegations involved at least one former and four current Islanders players, some of whom were named in multiple submissions from different people. At least two of the five players are also rumoured to be moving on to join McGill University’s football team.
In 2016, Berube was allegedly sexually assaulted by a John Abbott football player. After the on-campus incident, she sought help from both the Montreal police and the college—both of which she says failed her.
After hearing Berube out and photographing the bruises on her neck, the SPVM officers who dealt with her case not only dissuaded her from seeking out a rape kit, she said, but later told her she was lying after they reviewed surveillance footage from the school. The tape in question was used to dismiss her case.
“They said they didn’t believe me because of what they saw on the tape—that I was smiling—when, in reality, they didn’t know the backstory,” said Berube. “And the school really tried to cover it up.”
According to Berube, the school initially refused to remove the alleged perpetrator from campus. It was only after a petition had made the rounds that the college announced he would not be returning the next semester. Berube also eventually left the school—permanently—due to the overwhelming fear she experienced.
“I tried going back for the next semester, but, every time I was on the bus on the way to school, I would have major panic attacks just thinking that he would actually show up and do something,” said Berube.
After her best friend directed her to Sierra’s Twitter profile on Wednesday, Berube saw that several other football players from John Abbott were being named in the online allegations and felt encouraged to finally put a name to her story.
“That way they know that it’s not just now—it was back then, as well,” said Berube. She said she believes the perpetrators are being protected because they are student-athletes.
“Football teams in colleges are a very big deal, and a lot of the players are star players,” said Berube. “If they get in trouble with the police or they do something wrong, [the college doesn’t] want to do anything, because if they lose those players, they lose the team.”
Berube is far from the only former student who claims the hostile climate that surrounds the student-athletes at John Abbott discourages survivors of sexual assault from coming forward. In fact, several former students say the problem of sexual violence reaches far beyond the football team.
Melissa, an alumna whose name has been changed to protect her identity, told The Link she was sexually assaulted in a car in the John Abbott parking lot by an Islanders volleyball player in December of 2018. Melissa said she made the deliberate decision not to come forward with her story at the time because she witnessed how poorly Berube’s 2016 case was handled.
According to another former student, Charlie, whose name has also been changed to guard her privacy, “this is an Abbott problem.”
“The football team is bad, but the other varsity teams aren’t much better,” said Charlie. Given that all John Abbott sports teams have received mandatory sexual violence prevention training in the fall for the past two years, Charlie said it’s scary that “many girls are still raped, sexually assaulted, and pressured into performing sexual acts.”
While she attended John Abbott from 2017 to 2019, Charlie said she experienced sexual misconduct at the hands of two different Islanders—a lacrosse player and a football player.
According to Charlie, each of these young men individually pressured her to do things she was not comfortable with. She said the lacrosse player also acted without her consent multiple times—slapping her, and choking her so hard that “[her] collarbones would be killing [her].”
“I’d be in pain every time we had sex,” Charlie told The Link.
“I saw all these girls coming forward, […] I saw their strength and it empowered me to come out and say that it was me.”
Charlie has since graduated from John Abbott and left Montreal, but she said the two Islanders are still students at the college.
“Honestly, after all of this, I never want to come back to the city for anything other than seeing my family and people I actually feel safe with,” she said.
Feeling safe as a young woman around many of the players on the John Abbott football team is something alumna and former Islanders hockey player, who wanted to guard her privacy and go by the name Isabelle, said is nearly impossible.
“[Most of them] are just disgusting human beings and always degrade girls,” said Isabelle. She said that throughout her time at John Abbott she witnessed many of the football players slut-shaming girls and threatening to ruin girls’ reputations if they refused to “hook up” with them.
“They’re just intimidating,” they added. “They just treat these poor girls like animals.”
While Isabelle was an Islanders hockey player, her assistant coaches and captains informed the team that if anyone from any Islanders team posted anything online from rookie initiation, they would get their team taken out of the RSEQ league. According to her, rookie initiation often involves getting the rookies “extremely drunk.”
She also said she is familiar with rumours of sexual misconduct at the hands of Islanders that date back over two decades ago.
“I don’t think that there’s any proof […] but that’s the info that’s been handed down every year from past teammates, and that’s why rookie initiations have to be kept 100 per cent secret,” she said.
While toxicity among the student-athletes at John Abbott may be more than 20 years old, Isabelle said that it is still a current issue.
“I know I wasn’t the only one who felt uncomfortable walking through shark tank,” she said.
The “shark tank” is a room with glass walls near the Agora. According to many students, it is supposed to serve as a sort of study hall or lunch space, but it is, in reality, more often an area where the student-athletes hang out.
Melissa, Charlie, and Berube all echo Isabelle’s feelings about the shark tank.
“I never used it because they acted like they owned it,” said Melissa.
“Walking through shark tank, I always felt like I was getting undressed by their eyes,” said Charlie.
“There were certain areas where the athletes would hang out, and I would basically avoid those areas,” said Berube. “If a girl walked in those areas they would cat call, they would whisper comments to each other, and it would just make me and the friend I was in school with feel very uncomfortable.”
Now, four years after her own alleged on-campus assault, Berube just wants John Abbott and the SPVM to take these new allegations seriously should the anonymous students from Sierra’s Twitter decide to come forward publicly.
Concerned John Abbott student Emily Kyte-Tremblay took immediate action after seeing the allegations on Sierra’s Twitter by writing a letter to the dean’s office and notifying the college’s Sexual Assault Resource Team about the situation.
“The entire culture of neglecting victims to support ‘star’ players is so toxic and reflects the misogyny present within the governing boards of these colleges,” said Kyte-Tremblay.
In an email statement, communications officer Debbie Cribb told The Link “John Abbott College takes the issue of sexual violence very seriously and does not tolerate any acts of this nature,” and “the College will follow its policies in response to any disclosures, reports, or complaints by survivors/victims as per the Policy on Student Code of Conduct and Discipline Procedures as well as the Policy concerning the Prevention of Sexual Violence and the Promotion of a Culture of Consent in place.”
After reaching out, Kyte-Tremblay was offered a meeting next week with director of human resources Annie Tam and was informed that the college has launched an investigation into the matter in order to gather the facts surrounding each of the alleged incidents.
“They need to really hear the girls’ side of the story, and hear how they felt, and how they feel about going back to school,” said Berube. “It’s not easy.”
Charlie also said she believes it is time for John Abbott to make a change.
“It’s unthinkable that so many girls had to go through all of this, yet the school failed to protect all of us,” she said.
Despite it being difficult, Berube encourages other students who have experienced sexual misconduct at the hands of John Abbott athletes to come forward publicly.
“I know it’s scary to come out with your name. Trust me, I’ve been there. But, in reality, it not only helps you, but it helps all the other girls that are scared to come out,” said Berube. “It can help others come out and say, ‘well, this happened to me too’.”
Sexual Assault Resources
John Abbott Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART)
514-457-6610 ext. 5555
Provincial Helpline for Victims of Sexual Assault (24/7)
1-888-933-9007 or, in Montreal, 514-933-9007
West Island CALACS (Centre d’Aide et de Lutte Contre les Agressions à Caractère Sexuel)
514-684-2198 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Edit Note: The women’s hockey player’s name has been changed at her own request after publication.