Being An Ally To Those That Need It The Most
Another controversy has hit the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community. This time it is not the loudest voices in the space rallying against social justice or promoting misinformation about COVID-19. This time, it is another story about a student being sexually assaulted by an individual that was trusted to guide them through the “ that is called martial arts. This is not new, and for anyone feigning surprise, that just means your eyes were shut the entire time. As this problem persists, it is up to those that have remained silent for years to be a true ally, supporting survivors that have been mistreated and pushing the transgressors off the mats.
Last week, the conversation started around Marcel Goncalves who was arrested in 2018 after accusations of him sexually assaulting a then sixteen-year old girl. After the arrest, Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu made a statement denouncing sexual assault and speaking out in support of the survivor. However, images soon surfaced of him training and spending time with Goncalves. Those images have now been deleted from social media. When asked about his relationship with Goncalves, Abreu responded with indignation.
It was that instance that sparked a fire, uncovering multiple stories throughout Brazilian Jiu Jitsu about the experiences of survivors of sexual harassment and assault by leaders and training partners at both prominent and lesser-known gyms. The sheer number of these stories should not surprise anyone who spends ample time on the mat. In fact, they are just a microcosm of all the allegations that have occurred. But the silence around these terrible acts speaks volumes and they need to be called out just the same.
Many individuals are speaking up about situations in which they were harassed or assaulted by someone in the gym. There are also instances of parents finding out their children were sexually assaulted by the adults that were leading classes in these gyms. All the while, there are others in the gym who are aware of what is happening, have probably seen it happen before, and remain silent. That silence must be broken if BJJ is going to end the safe space it has created for some of the worst people. Speaking up is not the only avenue of action. There are other ways to be an ally to a teammate that has faced harassment or sexually assault by someone in the gym.
Listen & Believe Their Stories: Listening and believing a survivor is the first step. Do not offer any opinions. Do not offer any solutions or feedback. Listen to their stories, but do not pry as if you are looking to get to the bottom of it or solve the situation. Check every ounce of your privilege, listen, and believe the person that has decided to trust in sharing their experience with you. The survivor does not owe you any details for them to be believed. Give that individual the opportunity to control how and what they decide to disclose.
Ask How You Can Best Support: Do not assume that you know the type of support needed. As mentioned, listen, and believe their stories before anything else. Take their lead on all action that follows. If they want the situation reported and exposed, follow their lead every step of the way and again, provide the support they ask of you.
Do Not Be a Bystander: The mantra is simple: “If you see something, say something.” Saying something can be as simple as speaking up when harassers are speaking inappropriately about others in the gym. Make it clear that type of behavior is not welcome and will not be ignored. Staying silent emboldens harassers because they feel empowered to continue their actions without fear of accountability or recourse.
Remove the Accused: When made aware of allegations of harassment and assault, gym leaders must immediately act and remove those individuals. Many of these stories revealed in recent days show that gyms were all too willing to turn a blind eye and keep the accused around, putting more people in jeopardy. Even the simple situation of being accused must be enough for a zero-tolerance policy for the sake of everyone that shares the mats.
Sexual assault and harassment are not new in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or any other space in society. If stamping it out is a true goal, those that stand silently on the sidelines must do more. Students have a voice and if nothing else, they can act by removing themselves and their financial support from gyms that continue to welcome those that violate others under the guise of martial arts. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu historically has issues with welcoming and embracing some of the dregs of society. It is time for that to change, led by those that have long been too silent on these matters.
For more resources to support survivors of sexual assault: