Warning: The following discussion strays a bit from our normal posts on the writing business, and on health and fitness, for a more sobering discussion. Whether you choose to read it or not is up to you.
It’s taken me over a week to put my thoughts together in response to two male grapplers from Lloyd Irvin’s gym who were arrested after being caught on videotape “allegedly” raping a teammate on New Year’s Eve. The arrest warrant, based in part on CCTV evidence, has the details. (This brought an old case where Lloyd Irvin himself was found to be involved in a gang rape in 1989, though he skirted jail time due to, um, a technicality.)
In response to what from a business perspective may simply be seen as bad PR, Irvin purchased the domain LloydIrvinRape.com and turned it into a marketing site. Whether someone who was on trial for a gang rape should be teaching rape prevention is extremely questionable at best–I myself would prefer to take a rape prevention class from someone who would take issue with forced sexual encounters, but Lloyd Irvin black belt “Phil_PROC” found it fitting to blame the victim.
Before adding my own thoughts, I wanted to continue to run down the list of links already available, both informative ones by sites like BloodyElbow.com, and thoughtful, well-written responses already out there. Afterwards, I’ll add some of my own commentary.
Although it’s always nice to see so many men and women speak out about how unacceptable this type of behavior is (and I definitely have a newfound respect for many people who spoke up both publicly and privately), the excuses made in the aftermath of such events is particularly disturbing, to say the least. Georgette Oden covered this well in her blog post, It’s Not Rape Culture… Or Is it?. (We don’t have to go very far to read rapists explaining themselves, or others making excuses for them. We don’t even need to visit MMA forums. Just go to Reddit [or read this synopsis on Jezebel,] or hang out on xoJane or the “Good Men” Project.)
In a post on Breaking Muscle, Valerie Worthington, Emily Kwok and Lola Newsom challenge readers to look at their own behavior, to look at what each one of us can do to make sure something like this never happens again–and hold ourselves accountable when we don’t live in a way that reflects the values of respect and responsibility. Valerie wrote an additional piece on how we justify bad behavior (a great book on this topic is Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts.
Ryan Hall wrote a very long and thoughtful open letter to the martial arts community, and I’d encourage you to read all 22 pages of it. Rener and Ryron Gracie put out a 30-minute long YouTube video to discuss ways to maintain a good vibe in the gym. And although it’s not about this incident directly, a video about Steubenville football and rape & how not to be creepy. (Here’s a quick follow-up video as well.)
First, I want to make it clear that I don’t at all believe that victims of deplorable and criminal behavior are at all responsible for what happens to them. Let me repeat that: victims of criminal behavior are not responsible for what happens to them.
I do, however, think we are all responsible for helping co-create an environment where such behavior is deemed unacceptable, and that starts at the gym. On the mats. In the hallway. In the changing room. On the phone. Over social media. At our social events. In our homes.
I’m not saying one should be antagonistic or be difficult. Obviously, especially as beginning students, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help make their academy welcoming and friendly and fun, and to keep the vibe lighthearted and playful. I am saying that it’s important to create a safe space for yourself, and that more often then not people err on the side of being “too nice.”
Some examples of what I’m talking about:
Refusing to engage in cult-like behavior. (Because when people take these steps, they’re more likely to act with integrity and less likely to justify really abhorrent behavior in order to protect a gym or a coach’s reputation, even in the face of evidence which would suggest they should do otherwise.)
- not letting anybody tell you that you shouldn’t read books or watch videos online–or making sure it’s actually for a legitimate reason and not a power play
- refusing to call former teammates “traitors,” and, when appropriate, finding out what happened when someone left instead of listening to rumors (or worse, starting them)
- making up your own mind about what goes on instead of following orders or towing the party line
- talking to people outside of your gym and getting their opinion about things that happen within the gym. (I once got yelled at for giving an instructor at the time a really nice BJJ poster, since it wasn’t an official poster from the team he trained with. Asking other people for their opinion outside of my gym made me realize I hadn’t really done anything wrong, despite the long lectures I received.)
- introducing people outside of your gym (friends and family) to instructors and teammates, and getting their legitimate opinions. (My fiance’s opinion of my teammates, who he met at a dojo party, helped me leave a gym with a very unhealthy training environment–and helped him understand that my complaints weren’t unfounded or part of me gym-hopping for fun, but a systemic problem in that institution.)
Calling people out on unacceptable behavior and working for change (because this helps create a safer environment as opposed to a safe haven where predators thrive and creepy behavior festers and grows).
- Asking people to delete videos of you training when they were recorded without your knowledge, let alone consent.
- Publicly or privately discussing comments or behavior with the people who are responsible for it–not the people who were targeted. (Let me repeat this: I’m saying the person responsible for bad behavior is the one who has to address it, not the person it happened to.)
- Saying no if you don’t want to work with someone–whether you can ask a coach to switch training partners when you know someone is going to hurt you (or vice versa), or if that’s not acceptable in your academy, finding another way to leave, whether that’s using the restroom or having to leave early. Protecting yourself isn’t just something you need to do in the event of an attack.
- Helping create an environment where people will feel SAFE speaking out about sketchy things that happen. Example: I had a seminar instructor get a bit grabby when showing me a guard pass once, and realized there wasn’t a single person in the room I could talk to about it. In a small act of defiance, I asked if I could demo the pass on him and when he told me I needed an underhook, I said, “no, I’m pretty sure your hand was right here”–but this certainly doesn’t decentivize him from doing the same thing to the next woman at a seminar. And hearing everyone say “OMG he’s so great” when I talked about said seminar didn’t create the space for discussion either in the way that “How was it?” might have. Knowing that me bringing it up would be met with skepticism–or worse, people asking me what I was wearing or if I was flirting with the guy–has very effectively kept me silent.
- Stopping situations before they happen–a single incident such as the one mentioned above can get someone to quit the sport, as happened to a very tough kickboxer friend of mine, who quit the gym even after the guy responsible was kicked out. coaches can try their hardest to model good behavior and partner people appropriately, but it’s something everyone needs to keep an eye out for
Not being afraid to leave, when appropriate. (Because the best way to win a fight is to avoid it altogether.)
- Switching gyms when your coach acts like a bully, even if your teammates finally respect you, and the assistant coach is great.
- Breaking a contract if a situation becomes untenable.
- Realizing that having an upcoming tournament or being close to a promotion isn’t a reason to stay in a bad environment.
- Being aware of the fact that ONE person being bullied or treated poorly in your gym is a reason to leave, even if that person isn’t you (yet).
Knowing that your coach isn’t infallible (because then you can keep a bit of much-needed perspective, should the need arise).
- It’s okay to realize that someone may have explained something badly or seen something incorrectly (not that you need to bring it up to them, but just something to be aware of).
- It’s okay to have multiple role models and people to talk to about your training (and life).
- It’s okay to have athletes not affiliated with your gym who you admire. (I don’t train at Nova Uniao but am absolutely a fan of Robson Moura, as anyone who knows me can attest to, and the world keeps spinning.)
- It’s okay to have interests and hobbies outside of your gym, role models and friends in other areas not related to your sport, and non-BJJ communities to spend time in, if only briefly.
Creating safe space (because you deserve it.)
- Last year, I blocked about six people on facebook because they objected to a poster I linked to which said that society is broken when women are taught not to be raped but men are not taught not to rape. It was an aggressive response to discussions I didn’t think were appropriate on my page. I realized that the right to free speech doesn’t mean I have to put up with attitudes I deem unacceptable. I may not be able to control what everyone says or thinks all around me, but I realized I didn’t have to be a captive audience on my own page, either. (I’m not saying everyone should block people who disagree with them–just that it’s important to be aware of the option to not accept certain types of discourse.)
- I also delete offensive comments I feel people shouldn’t need to read. There are many places for public discourse; my own page doesn’t have to be one of them. (Again, this is a personal decision–but one which people need to be aware of. Nobody is obligated to ‘educate’ people who don’t want to be educated, 24/7, on one’s own turf.)
- Similarly, I’ve found that avoiding MMA/BJJ forums entirely is a good thing. (Any forums without moderators, rules and people using real names are a bad scene.) Not saying everyone should do this–but being aware of our options of which we sometimes forget is a good thing.
- We don’t have to spend time having discussions we don’t wish to have, either. I am all about explaining things to people and educating them if they are truly open-minded, but I also realize that I’m not obligated to make people feel better about their own poor decisions by being open to discuss things with them. This usually happens when someone does something offensive, realizes it reflects poorly on them, and wants to feel less guilty by justifying it to others. We are perfectly within our rights to remove people from our lives if they won’t change, and aren’t obligated to explain things to them ad nauseam if we don’t feel like it.
- I am lucky to have a very good training environment right now, but have spent far too much time in the past trying to convince myself that I can just separate my emotions from any techniques being taught and still get something out of it…but that’s just not the case. My new theory is that if I can’t talk to a coach about a problem that comes up in class–either because I’m afraid they won’t listen or because I attempt to talk to them and find out for sure that they’re not listening–then it’s time to move on.
Perhaps none of these actions in and of themselves will prevent rape. Only rapists can prevent rape. But they will create environment where it is less likely for predatory behavior to fester and grow–or get people out of said environments and into healthier ones.
As always, please leave your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.
Note: A follow-up post in response to Lloyd’s ‘apology’ is here: http://yaelwrites.com/2013/01/25/lloydirvinrape/.