White Ribbon Day

As a female actively involved in sport, including numerous types of martial arts over the years, I am surrounded by men both in the workplace and at training,  and I recognize the significance of the 25th of November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

White Ribbon Day recognises the role of both men and women in tackling the very real issue of violence against women. It encourages men to swear ‘never to commit, never to excuse, and never to remain silent about violence against women.’

If one in four women will experience violence in their lifetime, then you or someone close to you would have experienced this violation. It is too often the case that instances such as this are allowed to occur, without consequence or condemnation.

A violation
As an athlete heavily involved in martial arts from when I was a child and currently active in the sport of brazilian jiu jitsu, I find myself surrounded by a majority of men both in training and in my social life.

So yes, I have experienced bullying and harassment from coaches and teammates in the past. There has been a time not too long ago when I have had to leave my team and even consider legal action against a coach.

It is important to note that these aggressions build gradually, until I realised its culmination. This gradual progression of verbal abuse and physical/emotional bullying makes it difficult to realise that a violation is being committed – and this is true for most victims of harassment.

The decision to speak out to a higher authority and to leave was a difficult one. Men and women I have trained with everyday for five to six days a week told me that being spoken to or treated ‘that way’ is accetable, because it’s a good team, and he’s a good coach.

There were tears, and fear for my safety, and at odd moments, doubts of my sanity – because it is ‘his word against hers’, a figure of power against the new girl.

Fortunately there are the few good people who helped me stand up for what was right, and gave me the courage to finally speak out. Few ties have been completely severed in the process, but as my male cousin advised, at two in the morning from across the ocean, that in this experience you will discover who your real friends are; which acquaintances have real integrity. He was right.

The consequence
Traumatic experiences cause very real manifestations. Work performance suffered because of lack of sleep. Healthy diet and training ceased completely. My behavior became withdrawn.

As protest I trained under another coach in another team, but it took me months before I could make friends, or even hold a conversation. A love of the sport was almost replaced by a fear of the few bad types of men within it.

But I was lucky to have been a smarter girl with a strong support network. It took me a few months to return to my normal, happy, and confident self. I have  since moved to a better team and am involved in other sports. I have kept my real friends and have gained a new respect for all of them.

The weekend
This weekend I am competing in the 2010 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Pan Pacific Championship in Melbourne. I realise that I am an active competitor now because of my male and female coaches, teammates and friends, and the support of my work colleagues and the encouragement of  my family. I am a sportstar because they encourage me to be, and I actively surround myself with good people.

I am lucky and I am aware that not all women are. I swear never to commit, never to excuse, and never to remain silent about violence against women.

To help spread awareness about issues of violence against women, swear your oath.

For more information about harassment in sport and legal networks, the Australian Government has detailed information here.