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What Do We Do About Sexual Harassment In The World Of Sports?

As the sporting industry is marching towards a progressive golden era, more and more sports have come up with the concept of mixed teams. Earlier, badminton and tennis were the two famous sports that promoted the mixed gender concept. Today you will even see sports like cricket and football played together by men and women.

Now imagine playing in a football ground with your teammates, or colleagues, who are basically just passing the ball and trying to score a goal. You notice these friendly shoulder rubs, slight pushing and tugging, which seems to be normal. Sometime later, you notice one of your teammates being groped by another. A difficult situation, isn’t it?

You understand that those ‘friendly shoulder rubs‘ are not friendly anymore, but intentional touch. The pulling or tugging of the t-shirt may be an attempt to slide hands inside it. And while they are trying to stop your teammate, holding them or any part of their body inappropriately is simply wrong, and constitutes assault!

This can happen again and again to you while you shrug it off as just an accident during a contact sport.

These intentional, over-friendly, but non-consensual touches could have been initiated by your own teammates, your coaches, or opponents. It is so much more difficult when the person who has harassed you is your teammate. Because when you play as a team, the bonds built are similar to a family.

When it comes to sports, and especially team sports, your team cannot win a game or function properly if one or more members lack essential elements of trust, dependability, and security. Most of the victims choose to (or believe that they should) calmly endure the torture for the team to function smoothly and not break into fragments of doubts and disgust.

These kinds of assault occur not only in mixed gender or team sports but may even happen if you are a swimmer and your coach, while trying to teach you a particular stroke, may touch you anywhere.

Accidents may happen twice or thrice, but not more than that. And if you are unsure about the touching, then speak to someone about it.

Harassment can happen anywhere, starting right from your dressing room, where only the walls are witnesses, or on the ground, in front of several people who may notice and choose not to speak.

There are chances that these incidents go totally unnoticed by other people.

One can be harassed by anyone, either by the teammate we trusted the most, or the coach who taught us the very basics of the sport. It can be an opponent with whom we are just playing a friendly match, or even by the manager or members of the particular sports association.

Most of the times, survivors are either hushed by people around them to maintain the dignity of the sport, or by the authorities by luring the sportsperson with financial support or by pressurising them during this most vulnerable situation. Speaking about such treatment in public would not only tarnish their image but could also cost them their career.

The pain, humiliation, and the trauma a survivor of sexual harassment goes through is impossible to fathom and understand. The basic instinct of any human who goes through it is to share their plethora of feelings with someone they trust. But what if that basic right of yours is snatched in a jiffy from you?

The chaos in the survivor’s head about the situation—analysing and reanalysing the incidents, and the indecisiveness to speak up or not— often remains where it is. Being physically violated without consent and the uncertainty of the consequences could scar a person for life.

These incidents do not only happen to women, but these can also occur to men. Though the number of incidents reported by men might be lesser. All thanks to the stigma or perception created by society and the community around masculinity, knowingly or unknowingly.

We cannot stop the incidents or the predators, but we can educate more people on how to recognise and address such disgraceful acts, especially in the field of sports.
Talk About Consent:

According to Wikipedia, consent is the voluntary agreement to the proposal or desires of another.
A little story about consent:

Say I own a pair of running shoes, which my friend requires as she is participating in a marathon. Consider the shoes as consent here. She now has a few ways to obtain them from me:

She asks me and I give them to her.
She asks me and I don’t give them to her.
She takes it from me forcefully, without my permission.

In the first situation, I give her the shoes with my consent; in the second situation, she backs off politely; but in the third case, which is the case with most offenders, she takes the shoes without my consent, which is wrong. In a scenario involving unwanted touching, this a criminal offence.

If you still do not understand ‘consent’ totally, then here are a few things you need to do:

  1. Ask. Ask the person if they are okay with your touch. And if you think you have accidentally done something or made a gesture that could make them uncomfortable, apologise.
  2. Look out for signs. If the person is uncomfortable with your touch and, does not show interest in talking to you, then back-off.
  3. Do not seek consent from drunk people. Why? Because they are drunk!
  4. Accept a ‘no’ without taking it personally.

How To Recognise Assault

There are no definitive signs of an offender. You can look out for your teammates or friends and make sure that they are comfortable. Sometimes even when the survivor tries to communicate what they’ve gone through, the signs may be so subtle that they go unnoticed.

We totally love the way Sophie Taylor talks about an assault in her article “We Need To Talk About Consent“. Here is a little snippet from her blog and her experience:

In order to look after our teammates at parties, we have to be able to recognise when they need help and when they are crossing boundaries with other people. So, what does it look like?

In my case, it looked like someone being kissed who didn’t want to be. Someone who was turning their head away and laughing awkwardly, and saying ‘no’ as many times as possible. This doesn’t fit with the image in most of our heads of sexual assault, and the reality is that it can take a multitude of forms.

Here’s more things that Taylor recommends:

Questions You Can Ask A Survivor

  • Are you okay?
  • Hey, can I get you some water?
  • We’re taking a team selfie, get over here!
  • Let’s go home and drink tea like the geriatrics we are!
  • Literally anything.

Questions You Should Not Ask A Survivor

  • How does it feel being stalked?
    Is it that bad?
    Why don’t you just accept their advances?
    Do you have to make a scene out of it?

You have no idea what the victim must be going through and the kind of pain or turmoil they are in. Do not make it further difficult for them.

There are so many incidents that happened around us in the sports field that went totally unnoticed. If you search for reports of these assaults, we are sure you would wince in disgust. One of them was a 15-year-old athlete committing suicide after being harassed by seniors. We are shocked and pained after knowing that a youngster who was just starting a fascinating journey was pushed into death just to satisfy the lewd sexual needs of a coach. Another incident that left us deeply appalled was a 21-year-old Indian boxer who ended her life after continuous harassment from her coach.

Needless to say, even if these victims survive and gather the courage to speak up against the offender, they may go through something called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

How To Prevent Such Incidents From Happening

  1. Develop policies and procedures against such acts.
  2. Educate as many people you can about such offences.
  3. Teach the kids more about such offences and tell them whom to approach.
  4. Screen the applications of participants and coaches.
  5. Maintain a secrecy procedure for complaints.
  6. Have a sports counsellor.

Let’s Talk

There is no point in going through all the trauma alone, while the predator enjoys their freedom. The pain cannot be articulated or understood by people who have not been through the same.

Every experience is different and needs to be voiced to prevent more such incidents. We urge you to speak and put forth your opinions.

Not one other person should suffer at the hands of atrocious offenders.

More power to you!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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