Sexual assault in the BJJ community is certainly a hot topic right now, and has been for at least the last year or so. What do you do to prevent it? what do you do if you discover there's been an assault involving your student(s) or instructor(s)? Here's my suggestions for a "best practices" guide.
1. Taking preventative steps ahead of time also protects yourself as an individual, and your academy as an entity, from liability.
2. Encouraging others to come forward.
3. How to help students, parents, staff and survivors.
1. How do I prevent this from happening in my academy?
Require communication with staff: I think all staff should sign contracts with the academy agreeing, among whatever else is employment-related, to immediately inform the academy upon arrest or being charged with a crime more serious than a traffic offense. That way, alleged offenses outside the academy family are known to the academy ownership and decisions can be made about continuing employment. Just think, if your kids' class instructor is arrested for possession of kiddie porn, you and your academy could be legally liable if you don't make attempts to stay aware of that stuff and continue employing them.
Background checks on staff and students: publicdata.com offers a membership for $19.95 a month for 1000 lookups-- you can look by name, driver's license number, etc. Do it every month on errybody.
Decide what kinds of offenses you'll be willing to tolerate in your student body or staff and make that clear and public. This stuff is public record so don't worry about people claiming a violation of their privacy. It's a privilege, not a right, to train with you and you shouldn't tolerate sex offenders (or violent criminals or wherever you want to draw the line) in your family of people. Use this to differentiate your academy from the others in your area as part of your safety-first marketing plan.
No tolerance policies on romantic relationships between instructors and students: This is a toughie. Remember, we're talking best practices guide. Sure, two thirty-somethings ought to be able to handle themselves, but ugly breakups happen and sometimes they tear academies apart. The power disparity between instructor and student creates all kinds of sticky issues possibly related to control, coercion, retaliation after the breakup, etc. But it's even worse when it's a 20-something instructor and a teenage student.
No private privates: Never teach a private privately (any age, any gender)-- always have another person present (student, staff, parent etc.) Consider installing a nanny cam in your academy that live streams to a website and records for at least 48 hours. Knowing that everything happening in the academy can be viewed live and is being recorded is a tremendous deterrent to the kinds of behaviors that lead to sexual assault, as well as sexual assaults themselves. And it protects instructors/teachers from the possibility of a thwarted flirtation turning ugly and retaliatory.
Education of staff and students: Educate your team family about sex and consent. Lots of sexual assaults come from known assailants who don't seem like a threat. They're not strangers in a dark alley. Virtually every community has some sort of rape crisis organization that will be delighted to give an educational presentation about assault and prevention to your academy. Try hosting one annually! Don't forget-- just because you are a BJJ person doesn't mean all sexual assaults can be prevented with some BJJ! All the much-vaunted self defense in the world (how to break a wrist grab, how to defeat a bear hug, how to beat a ponytail grip) won't help you if you've been groomed as a victim, if your boundaries are being encroached on, you're intoxicated or otherwise incapable of giving consent.
There are three main considerations in judging whether or not a sexual act is consensual (which means that both people are old enough to consent, have the capacity to consent, and agreed to the sexual contact) or is a crime. Because laws are different in every state, it is important to find out the law in your state. You can call your local crisis center or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE to find out more.
Read lots more about grooming for child and adult victims here:
2. How can I encourage a culture of openness and fairness? Don't put instructors or upper belts on a pedestal, which may foster an environment of cultish hero-worship. Welcome constructive feedback. Provide an anonymous means of communicating (not just about rape, but anything that a student might be hesitant to come forward about. Openness in one realm translates to openness in all.) Carefully examine your heart to make sure you don't retaliate in any way against this feedback. Seriously, an academy with a culture of openness in ordinary everyday kinds of ways will have that openness in the big serious stuff, too. Discourage flirtation between students and with instructors. Challenge rape jokes, victim-blaming or misogynistic or harassing statements when you hear them. Do not agree with abusers’ excuses for why they abuse. Let survivors know that it is not their fault. Hold abusers accountable for their actions: do not let them make excuses like blaming the victim, alcohol, or drugs for their behavior. Avoid victim blaming in the media especially.
3. Supporting your team family in the aftermath:
Fast action: When there are accusations of any sort of wrongdoing, the best policy is to suspend the wrongdoer and eliminate their access to the academy and your students. Take back keys. Make a public announcement that reports public information to avoid slander lawsuits but supports the survivor.
Be patient. Remember, it will take your loved one some time to deal with the crime. Help to empower your loved one. Rape and sexual violence are crimes that take away an individual’s power, it is important not to compound this experience by putting pressure on your loved one to do things that he or she is not ready to do yet.
Encourage your loved one to report the rape or sexual violence to law enforcement (call 911 in most areas). If your loved one has questions about the criminal justice process, talking with someone on the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1.800.656.HOPE, can help. Be willing to talk with law enforcement and the prosecution.
To help your team: It can be very stressful to watch a drama unfold in your own academy. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) has posted detailed suggestions on how to help a survivor's friends and family here. Whether it was a teammate assaulted or a teammate accused of assault, these are terribly emotional issues; do your best to keep the gossip mill out of the academy as much as possible. Discussing the case or the individuals involved may alert one side or the other to potential character witnesses or may negatively affect the survivor's ability to prosecute criminal and civil actions effectively.
Some common reactions to learning a friend was raped:
Shock: You may be very surprised to hear what has happened. You might have difficulty figuring out how to respond.
Anger: You might feel angry at the perpetrator for hurting your loved one. You might also feel angry at your loved one for not telling you sooner or for telling you something that is hard for you to hear. This can be especially true if the assault was committed by someone that you know.
Sadness:You might feel sad for your loved one, for his or her family, or for what this assault may change about both of your lives.
Anxiety: You might feel anxiety about responding the “right” way to your loved one. You might feel anxiety about how this will impact your relationship.
Fear: Depending on the circumstances of your loved one’s assault, you might be concerned that something similar could happen to you.
Almost anything is normal. Everyone has a different reaction when they find out that someone they care for has been sexually assaulted. There is no “wrong” way to feel. What is important is that you show the survivor that you care and that you can help support them.