Last week something terrible came to light. A 35+ year old black belt instructor was arrested for sex with a 14 year old student. What's worse is it came to light if not in my own house, in my neighborhood for sure. I hate it. I hate that it happened at all. In particular I hate that the predator was someone I'd met, someone our community has gone out of the way to assist when he was in dire straights financially and his actions has people I consider friends and family doubting each other, doubting themselves.. there is no going back. We have to move forward.
Georgette did an outstanding piece on how to handle rape in our community. I won't re-reap that ground. I will say that we have a bigger problem, and I'm going to try to take this one on. It's nuanced, so that makes it difficult. Sexual Harassment within our community has to stop.
I can hear the eye-rolls and groans from dudes all over the internet.
I don't care, here's the deal. This thing does not belong to you. It does not belong to the Gracie family, it belongs to the world. The women who want in are just as valuable as anyone else. If you ruin jiu jitsu for someone because of what you'd like to do with your private parts, you're a horrible person. You are not welcome in my world.
So how do we fix this?
First the instructors.
- You can't date students. Sorry, you should not. If they're your student you shouldn't be dating, and if you're dating they should be studying under someone else. If you're both adults they can train at your school, but rank should come from elsewhere.
- You are the captain of the ship. You need to be an example in the academy and in the world. Your behavior should be exemplary, and if you getting laid is more important than bringing women into the sport (and students into your school) your priorities are garbage.
- No benefit of the doubt. If a student is behaving in a way that is inappropriate you let them know in no uncertain terms that behavior is not going to be tolerated. If they say anything other than "I understand, I'm sorry." they're gone.
- No safe haven. Someone gets booted from a school for inappropriate behavior it should be made known they're done. They're not welcome in jiu jitsu, anywhere.
- Communicate. If you boot someone, let other instructors know. Keep your eyes on things, and talk to your upper belts. I'm not saying you should let the rumor mill dictate your actions, but you should hear what's going on.
- Changing is important. Locker rooms matter. Individual changing rooms are ideal, gendered are ok, one big barracks style changing room can be problematic. Make the bathroom, or your office, somewhere clean and private available to new students. Let them know they have options.
- If it doesn't seem right ask questions. It's hard for students to point out something wrong with another instructor, keep an eye on your peers. In the situation with Mr. Oliveira there were a number of instructors who interacted with both him and the girl. If someone had asked some pointed questions and ignored his prestige and rank, she might have been spared years of abuse. Don't find yourself asking years later "could I have prevented this."
- Write up a sexual harassment policy and post it in your academy. Select someone in your association (outside your academy) to be a neutral sounding board. Post their number. If someone is harassed they should be able to talk to you, and if they're uncomfortable they should be able to call Professor Blah from North blahty blah jiu jitsu and feel confidant that their voice will be heard. If you need help with this, email me.
- Organize. We need to put together regional boards. Neutral bodies that hear complaints (if there are any) about instructors. In most sports this would be handled by the governing body. Since jiu jitsu doesn't have a governing body as much as a tournament organizing body we must do it ourselves.
- Keep your eyes open, and your mouth open as well. Watch people's behavior. Is there a guy that none of the women will train with? If he doesn't wash his gi, that's one thing.. but it could be something more insidious. Talk to any student that looks uncomfortable, then talk to the instructor.
- 24/7 many instructors don't spend time outside the academy with students. If you're hanging out with folks from the school, keep your standards high. A person who is a jerk in the club is a jerk, no matter how good their guard.
- Be loud. Be vocal that you will not tolerate people using their sexual desires to run people off. Post Georgette's article to social media. If you teach classes, speak out against harassment. When your instructor posts a harassment policy vocally support it.
- Hard line. This is the hard one. Keep a hard eye on your instructor. If they're a part of the problem, then you have to hold them accountable. Talk to them, I've been through 4 different company's and 3 volunteer organization's sexual harassment training courses. An instructor who has been running their own business for 15 years may not understand. Send them to this article. Have them email me. Ultimately you have to consider if you want to fly their flag, sucks but this has to be fixed from the top down.
- You are a leader. Lead. Touch base with female students you have a rapport with, make sure they are happy and comfortable at your school. If someone (male or female) stops turning up all of the sudden or suddenly changes class times, do you know why? Find out.
- Make people comfortable. This is your home, welcome folks into your home. If you're an upper belt you should be evolved past the posturing of the lower ranks. Be welcoming.
- Take it outside. If you're interested in someone within the academy, don't hit on them in the house. Treat it the way you would someone you work with. Ask them to coffee, talk some jiu jitsu and then ask very openly if they'd like go on a date some time. Not "hang out" but date. Be clear but not pushy. If the answer is no, assume the answer will forever and ever be no.
- It's not funny. If you think of a really funny sexualized joke, ask would I put my mother in place of the person I'm joking with? If the answer is no then think really hard about with whom you are joking. What is the power dynamic like? Do you outrank them? Do you outnumber them? would they make this joke about you? Then keep it to yourself.
- It's not just the final frontier. Give people space. If your academy doesn't have gendered or individual changing rooms, give anyone who seems uncomfortable the option of changing alone.
- Don't put up with it. Do what you think is needed, but don't allow the jackasses to take over our sport. Don't let jiu jitsu miss out on a great person because a terrible person was there first.
Jiu jitsu can be the martial art where the weaker can defend themselves from the strong, or we can be the martial art where we teach people to hold someone down and do whatever they'd like. Every time you let a student or a peer harass someone that is a potential rapist you're teaching to hold someone down. Is that the legacy you want for our sport? Measure your convenience against that, a few jokes, the freedom to hit on that hot girl or guy. If you don't value our legacy more than that, you're beyond helping.