Monday, November 24, 2014

Sexual Harassment and Martial Arts Instruction and Training

The martial arts is a physical activity and some martial arts, e.g. the grappling arts, involve frequent intimate physical contact. This intimate physical contact could involve sexual harassment or be construed by the female student as constituting sexual harassment.

Do you have a sexual harassment policy that all instructors and students are familiar with? If not, why not? Do you even know what sexual harassment is? Not think you know but actually know from study and with authority to support your knowledge.

All instructors in the largely amateur activity of the martial arts should be able to answer these questions in the affirmative in order to protect the welfare of both students and instructors. The protection of the welfare of students and instructors takes priority in my view over the legal risks associated with the issue.

The Australian Human Rights Commission defines sexual harassment as: Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated where that reaction is reasonable in the circumstances.

When a male instructor or student executes a bear-hug attack from behind or in front of a female student, which involves intimate physical contact of both bodies, and which makes said student feel uncomfortable, is that sexual harassment? Could it be construed by said student as being sexual harassment? Demonstrating a scooping throw (sukui nage) where the defender puts their arm between an opponent's legs when that action makes her feel uncomfortable, is that sexual harassment?

I don't know, but thinking about sexual harassment and how it is dependent upon how the conduct and contact makes the other person feel alerts us to a greater awareness of how we conduct classes.

I became acutely aware of this issue when I was conducting many private lessons with female students. I developed my own way of dealing with the issue because the school I taught for did not have a sexual harassment policy nor instructed instructors on how to deal with this issue.

With all female students, whether in a class or in a private lesson, I'd inform them that they should feel free to inform me if any particular attack or technique made them feel uncomfortable. I'd also inform them of the physical contact ,if the attack or technique involved intimate physical contact, prior to the contact.

I have discuss the above with some male martial artists who dismiss the idea. They suggest that the female student should expect and accept intimate physical contact when training. That is dismissive of the concerns of the student and there are better ways of dealing with the issue.

What remedial action do you take if sexual harassment happens? Without having thought about the issue of sexual harassment prior to teaching, which would include the drafting of a sexual harassment policy, there is no way of knowing what to do in these circumstances.

I was giving private lessons to three female students because they felt 'uncomfortable' with one of the male instructors and the 'attention' he paid them. They decided upon private lessons rather than attending his class. Naively, and ashamedly, I did not take their concerns as seriously as I should have, however, ultimately I did inform the management of the school. The manager's response was to chastise me for saying such things and the claims were never investigated nor the welfare of the women asked after (and please don't confuse manager with principal).

There were failings in this regard in the school I taught at, however, they are common failings because the martial arts industry is essentially amateur in nature and lacks poor governance. The way to rectify this particular failing is to understand the issues associated with sexual harassment and develop a sexual harassment policy that deals with ways to prevent it from happening and how to take remedial action if it does happen, and to ensure that all instructors and students are aware of the policy.

The reference to writing a policy may sound overly officious or ureaucratic to some, however, the discipline of drafting a policy forces one to study and understand the issues involved with sexual harassment. If for no other reason it is a worthy exercise.

A very good start is with the concise information brochure on the subject published by the Australian Human Rights Commission: Effectively Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment: A Quick Guide.

A rare example of the martial arts attempting to address this issue is the Australian Ju Jitsu Association's sexual harassment policy. This and other OH&S policies were written by the late Brierley Bailey who was the National Secretary of the AJJA for many years. He was attuned to the need for good governance in order to protect the welfare of students and instructors.


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