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Addressing Female Harassment in Jiu-Jitsu

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Bernardo Faria BJJ Foundations

As reported by BJJ Heroes two months ago, BJJ black belt and former mixed martial arts (MMA) athlete Ericka Almeida was the victim of an extremely abusive relationship with her former coach Herman Gutierrez. A case that is being investigated by the Brazilian federal police.

Following up this shocking event, UOL Esporte — a major sporting website from Brazil — created a series of articles reporting other cases of harassment suffered by women in martial arts, with a particular focus in Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. The theme was named “Vozes do Tatame” (or Voices From The Mat) and it was created to encourage women to share their stories and report their aggressors. Using social media as a tool to gain traction on the subject, the hashtag #QueroLutarEmPaz (I Want To Fight In Peace) was created for others to share their own accounts.

The series features first-hand reports from women who experienced gender violence and sexual abuse. According to the journalistic report, all men accused on these segments were black belts in judô or jiu-jitsu.

The series was written by Adriano Wilkson. Book author of “A Grande Luta” (“The Big Fight”), the same author who wrote a story on April 2018 regarding the fighter Marlon Sandro, former Nova União professor, who was accused of attacking his former fiancee Tayssa Madeira.

After his report about this incident, Adriano unveiled a lot more similar cases in martial arts, including abuse, harassment, and rape. “I started researching and one story led to another… Many women told me their stories but the majority asked to remain anonymous for fear of the repercussions. This year I decided to write something huge, in first-person, about their problems“, he said.

Unfortunately, abuse reports are common in martial arts. More recently the espnW Brazil (cable channel) carried out research focusing on harassment in jiu-jitsu from 2017 to 2018. The result was outright scary: 258 women replied to the poll and 159 reported harassment.

Out of these women, 50,4% said the problem was caused by a teammate, 34,1% by their professor, 5,4% by “someone else” and only 34,1% didn’t report any issues. When asked where the harassment occurred, 48% told on the mats and other 18,6% off the mats (social media, for instance).

Many women were discouraged from training after the ordeal, others tried to leave the team, but many other women were simply too afraid to talk about it or make a change. 79% of women said they didn’t move the team after the harassment.

In Brazil, every eleven minutes a woman is raped — not referencing just martial arts, but around the country. Outside of my country of origin (Brazil), harassment is an equally dangerous problem. There have been well-documented accusations towards members of the Lloyd Irvin team, particularly the 2013 case with Nicholas Schultz and Matthew Maldonado. Another case that was followed by the media was that of Marcel Gonçalves, a well known black belt who was sentenced last year after pleading guilty to having sex with his teenage student. These are just a few cases that were made public, but there are many women suffering in silence.

The main purpose of this talk regarding harassment is not only to report what is happening but to encourage women to share their struggle with others and talk about the issue. Abusive behavior is a worldwide issue and it is important to underline that this is not just a jiu-jitsu problem. Our martial art does not condone abuse, quite the opposite. But we are living in jiu-jitsu and it is such a big part of our lives that we need to address the issue in our own backyard.

If you are suffering any kind of abuse, look for someone in your team to talk about it, women (or men) who you trust to report the problem and who make you feel comfortable when doing so. If you have proof, such as text messages or calls, save them. The second step could be looking for the police and the justice department in your country. Try to find a help-line to report the incident and be sure to look for a lawyer.

If everyone gained the courage to speak out, harassment numbers would likely decline, which should have a very positive effect in raising women’s numbers in our sport, women looking for jiu-jitsu to help themselves — in and off the mats.

The cover photo picture was taken by Sinistro Lacerda.

More articles by Mayara Munhos (in Portuguese) here.

Bernardo Faria BJJ Foundations

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