Yup, predator: perpetrator of violence, coercion, sexual assault, and power games, sweating into their stretchy pants on the cork floor right there next to you.
Yoga communities like to think they are immune to this sort of thing. Because we share values that include trust, opening your heart, and prioritizing community over ego, we think no one could ever be so non-yogic as to rape someone. Same as in churches: the point is to love Jesus, right? Not rape people. It’s hard to wrap your brain around. We want to believe our communities are safe. We want to believe violence against women is a thing of the past, and violence against men is a pure impossibility.
Well, it is time to begin wrapping our brains around it. Because it happens all the time.
Unfortunately, the problem isn’t just the specific humans who perpetrate violence. It’s the culture of silence and shame that surrounds these incidents, and we are all complicit in that.
If you’ve ever been a survivor of sexual assault, you will probably find this pattern of thought familiar:
I shouldn’t have worn that outfit. I shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. I shouldn’t have let him/her come in. I don’t think I said ‘No’ loud enough or enough times. Maybe it wasn’t assault. He/she probably didn’t mean it that way. If I say something, I’ll be called a liar and thrown out of the community/fired. If I say something, he/she will be thrown out of the community/fired and I’ll have to carry that guilt for the rest of my life. Better keep quiet. Yup. Keep quiet.
I’ve done this. Several times.
Here’s an example: I worked behind the desk at a yoga studio for a while. When the studio director sexually assaulted me, I told no one except a couple of other girls at the desk, who either had the same story or who had heard many other girls who had the same story with the same person. We all did nothing, hoping someone would speak up.
He was eventually fired, but not for sexually assaulting his employees: he was fired for some vague mistake having to do with the studio newsletter. If any of us had spoken up publicly or gone to his boss, we could have prevented it from happening again. I was new in my job, and I didn’t know the power dynamics yet. I didn’t know that I had any power at all, and I feared getting fired if I said anything.
I was the perfect person to sexually assault. I kept quiet, and other people got hurt.
Two friends of mine, Mindy Netiffee and Rachel McKibbens, created a pamphlet specifically for the poetry slam community entitled HOW TO IDENTIFY A PREDATOR AT YOUR HIGH TEA: (Click below to download the PDF).
In it, they identify several definite red flags that you should look out for. They are:
They have a history of being an abuser. They may have had a restraining order placed on them in the past, or have been arrested for violent behaviour or sexual crimes.
They have a history of fraud or theft.
They are callous about risky sexual behavior, and may pressure or intimidate you into doing thing you are not comfortable doing.
They attempt to isolate you from your family and friends, and may cause rifts with those who care about you.
They verbally abuse you, including cruel jokes and purposeful degradation. They may stalk you physically or online, or via email, text, or phone.
They have ever used force or violence or the threat of force against you. This also includes the breaking of objects.
“Did you know?” The pamphlet cheerfully asks, “the same qualities that make a great performance poet or politician or preacher can also make for a great con artist?”
I’m going to go ahead and add “yoga guru” to that list.
Check out more possible red flags here:
They are extraordinarily charismatic. They make friends instantly. However, many or all of their other relationships haven’t endured or have ended sourly.
They may drink or take drugs excessively. They usually brag about it. They want you to be excessive with them. They are eager to buy you drinks and get you in an impaired state.
Frantic appearance! They are always on edge and have a lot of nervous energy.
They are easily angered or jealous. They are controlling. They are hypersensitive to perceived insults or setbacks.
They are unpredictable. They may be extremely self-deprecating one minute, then egotistical the next.
They have a history of lying, and being caught in lies. They consistently rationalize their dishonesty or bad behaviour when caught. They do not exhibit remorse.
Sound familiar? Take a breath. There are whole humans behind these red flags—and it’s complicated—but we have to stop ignoring that this stuff exists.
I would love to believe we live in a ‘post-feminist’ world. I would love to believe, even, that the things that happened to me only happened to me. We want to believe in a just world where good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. When bad things happen to good people, we look for flaws in the survivor, whether it is ourselves our someone else, so that the world can continue to seem just and make sense.
I also read this article this week, which is a terrifying look at how all men are wired to hate women.
Though this article rings true in some ways, I have three problems with it:
1. It identifies the problem to be all men, not the rape culture that we live in and constantly participate in. Women can have just as many of these red flags, and are just as capable of being perpetrators of violence.
2. It assumes heterosexuality.
3. It gives no solution, at all.
So we need a solution, folks.
The solution is not a witch hunt, though the rage and frustration this all brings up certainly stirs the urge to get our torches out. We need to break the silence and yes, sometimes identify possible repeat offenders, but the problem is not the people, necessarily, but the culture of silence around these incidents. We need explicitly safer spaces, clear boundaries, non-tolerance of violence, and policies for accountability when it does happen.
So I am asking for a yoga community that refuses silence. I want a community that is informed, rich with resources and options, communicative, and the closest to safe that we can possibly get. I want us to trust each other, not blindly, but because we can communicate, respect clear boundaries, and have policies in place to protect and serve that trust. I want accountability and, ultimately, prevention.
I want us to wrap our brains around this. And then to speak up.
Here are some resources:
If you’ve been assaulted:
1. Get to safety.
2. Tell someone. You have choices.
3. Explore your choices. Google self-defense training in your city, domestic violence centers, and how to file a restraining order.
Choices and information:
Blog on one community’s experience with speaking out (Thanks Jessica Mason Paull):
Resource sheet from Lisa Slater: http://youandiaregoingtodie.blogspot.ca/2012/03/resources-fact-sheet-by-lisa-slater.html
Editor: Kate Bartolotta.