If you train jiu jitsu and also do not live under a rock, then you have heard the unsettling news from this week. Two jiu jitsu fighters from a Lloyd Irvin school in the DC area were arrested for repeatedly raping a female teammate on New Year's Eve.*
The jiu jitsu community is rightfully horrified. It seems like everybody is talking about the attack and trying to find ways to show support for the victim. A female jiu jitsu fighter in the area created this poster, which is now widely distributed:
|created by Maggie Ghamry|
Others are collecting donations for domestic violence shelters. Someone is even designing a gi patch to promote martial artists uniting against rape, with proceeds going to support victims. Overall, the responses of the jiu jistu community are general outrage, support for the victim, and a desire for changes in our culture to prevent future sexual assaults.
I share these reactions, but I am also feeling something I wasn't expecting: defensiveness. I feel defensive both for jiu jitsu itself and for those of us who live its lifestyle. I am certain that my training partners would never rape me and would likely break the limbs of anyone who ever tried. Still, we all seem to be hanging our heads in collective guilt.
I feel defensive for jiu jitsu because the self-defense system was developed to prevent rapes, among other attacks. Recently, I was talking with a training partner about the likelihood of ever using the weapons disarmament techniques we were learning that day. He made the argument that odds were slim that someone would attack him with a knife and not simply be after his wallet. And I absolutely agreed with him. But for women the reality is different. I used to go on nighttime runs by myself on a trail near my house. I finally stopped doing this because I've accepted the reality that if someone jumps me, he might not be after my Ipod.
This basis in self-defense for the vulnerable is why an attack within our community is so shocking. Somewhere along the line, has our focus shifted from survival and self defense to one of dominance and machismo? This attack has people wondering - are there aspects of fight school culture that implicitly encourage rape? (I say "fight school" and not "martial arts academy" because there are HUGE differences in the cultures of various BJJ schools. The two names carry different implications about the schools' respective cultures).
This video says it much more eloquently than I can. If you have eight minutes, I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It focuses on the Steubenville football rape, but there are some striking parallels to the case here.
The video made me realize another reason I'm feeling defensive - maybe I'm part of the problem. I'm guilty of using the word rape in contexts that I'm pretty sure this dude would not approve of. For example, "That guy is going to get raped in his fight." No, I am not predicting that he will actually get sexually assaulted in the cage. I'm predicting that he will be dominated and rendered powerless by a more capable opponent. It is not my intention to trivialize rape by making these kinds of statements, but that may be the end result.
I am glad that, unlike with the football scandal above, people are not trying to sweep this under the rug. But I would be lying if I said I don't cringe every time I read the "jiu jitsu fighters against rape" plug. To me, it is something that should go without saying. Of course I am against rape - just like I'm against hate crimes, abusing children, or setting puppies on fire. The fact that we, as a group, have reason to state publicly our opposition to rape is downright disturbing.
As for me, I will not be sewing any anti-rape patches on my gi (although I see nothing wrong with doing so if that's how you want to show support). Instead, I am going show my opposition to rape by encouraging women to try jiu jitsu, rolling nice with them when they are new, and giving self defense techniques the respect they deserve.
* I realize that people are innocent until proven guilty and some folks take issue with condemning the persons in question before they receive a guilty sentence. However, I consider video footage to be pretty solid evidence. I say "rape" instead of "alleged rape" because the latter implies that I am doubting the victim.