Stopping sexual harassment in roller derby: How to be an ally in three easy steps

Ok. This is a post that isn’t like the others. I try to keep this blog as a diary for myself, to remember all the experiences I have had. It started out when I thought I would only do this for three months until I was back on skates, and it has continued as more of a way to remind myself of what I have done. Because my memory is so bloody shit.

But due to some recent events, I feel this post is worth going off-road for.

I have had a couple of… situations… happen where I felt out of control. I was let down by people, I was let down by myself, and I felt shame and embarrassment and so didn’t talk to people about it. I am even struggling right now to just label the “situations” for what they were.

The reason for that is how people perceive these issues. And interestingly, how you’re perceived after them. But you know what, I’m gonna blog about it anyway. So here goes.

Since taking up refereeing I have been sexually harassed a few times and sexually assaulted once. By male officials. There have been some low-level “this guy doesn’t experience women very often and doesn’t realise how creepy he is being” situations. Like the time a ref thought it would be funny to come into the showers when I was in them, knowing I was the only female in the changing rooms (and after I had told them I was about to go shower… so they would keep out of it for five minutes). Or the time I told a story about a skater who accidentally smacked my boobs when I kit-checked her (hilarious), and a ref said how he would love to do that to me (WTF?). Come on guys… that shit’s just weird. Homework: Experience humans more and stop being odd around them.

But then other times I have been dictionary-definition-sexually-harassed and assaulted. I have felt unsafe. I have been followed, I have had people try to kiss me, people actually kiss me when I have been pushing them away, I have had people trying to hold my hand, calling me names, telling me that “I don’t really mean ‘no'”, and have had people touch parts of me that were so off limits I don’t even want to type about it.

The reason I have decided to write a blog post about this is not actually because of those deplorable actions. I’m sure everyone can understand how getting a person on their own and being forceful with them against their will isn’t cool. (If you’re not sure about that, I’m not sure I can help you). But the reason I am writing this is as a guide for friends, fellow refs, and anyone who sees this happening.

I won’t lie, some of the reactions of my friends to the above things hurt me more than the actual things themselves. I’d like to think my friends are on the whole, good people. I also understand how bloody hard it is to do the right thing when no one explains it to you.

I should point out that I’m not a victim. I stand up for what I believe in and I’m a fighter. I don’t need rescuing. But I do need, like everyone in this situation, some support.

I recently posted on my FB about a guy who harassed me in my local Tesco: https://www.facebook.com/karenvonsleaze/posts/10152462828476640?pnref=story
My friends gave me so much support. Some acted annoyed that I didn’t instantly go to the police. Some said they thought I was brave for standing up to people like this. I had over 200 comments and about 20 people privately messaged me. Two of them hit the nail on the head: They both said it’s not my job to do anything about this. I should speak to the police if I felt it was right for me. I had been attacked and I should put my own safety first. PERFECT responses. (I went to the police, for me, not for anyone else).

Two of my buddies even posted statuses about it. There were a lot of men saying they wished they knew how to help. I get it. It’s tough being an ally. But there are things you can do.

womensmovement

(This will make sense to you at the end of the post if it doesn’t already!)

 

And we do need you to help out. It’s easy to get a rep as a female who causes problems. So many of us will just keep our mouths shut. We will get changed in tiny toilet cubicles to avoid awkward situations. We won’t shower after events. We will start every sentence with I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.

It’s tiring.

Some of my buddies say I get offended at everything, or they lose interest at the words “sexual harassment”, or imply that it’s odd that I seem to get harassed an awful lot… and maybe that’s something I need to look into. That’s classic victim blaming. It’s easy to do, but it’s hugely damaging. It allows those situations to carry on, you’re taking the blame off the person being a douche and saying they weren’t the only one to do it, so the victim needs to change.

It’s basically saying that it’s my fault. That somehow I court this kind of attention. And because of that, maybe I deserve to be assaulted?

Not that it matters, but these things happen at roller derby events. Events where I wear a sports bra, a mens ref shirt, running tights and very little make up. I smell horrendous most of the time… oh and it’s roller derby: The most female-empowering liberated sport I have ever experienced, where I should be safe from the dreaded male gaze.

Lolz. I love this gif. It’s so brilliant.

When you victim-blame your friends for this abuse, you’re saying you don’t care about them. You’re saying it’s their problem and you don’t care for their safety. They will hear that and stop asking for help. They will lose their own value and believe that they’re bringing it on themselves and this is what they deserve. Don’t do that to your friends.

That response is your fear coming out. A fear of hearing about bad things happening that you don’t want to admit happen. But your mate had it happen to them, so allow yourself to feel uncomfortable for a little time to hear and offer them some comfort – because they can’t just ignore that it happened and carry on.

However, like I said up top, you need to look after yourself too. If you hear things and they upset you, go seek out some help. Counsellors can help you make sense of things and develop a better understanding. I would say talk to a friend, but it has been pointed out to me that this has the potential to build into gossip. So practice some damage-control, if you need to talk about your experiences, talk. But if it’s someone else’s experiences – make sure you do it with a trusted individual or a professional who can provide a safe and anonymous environment for you to be open without causing any further problems.

So… allies, friends, and people I don’t know.. here are my Top Three Tips to standing up to sexual harassment… (these are MY tips, not a conclusive list, more a springboard for you to jump off of. It’s written about me, but assume you can replace me with anyone. Anyone. Regardless of gender. Got it? Good!)

Step one: ASK
I do not expect you to know what it is in my head. You may see a guy giving me a lot of attention, standing near me a lot and giving you filthy looks for talking to me. I may not have even noticed him doing this. I may have noticed it and be OK with it. Or, I may have noticed it and be freaking out. You’re my buddy, right? Ask me about it.

Some men think you should roll in there and defend my honour, make a scene and call this jerk out on his behaviour. But I think I would cringe myself into a coma if you did this.

So just ask. Come to me, get me away from the person and ask if I’m aware of what seems to be happening in your eyes. Am I cool with it? Have you got it wrong? If not, how can you help me? Worst case scenario, that bloke is my fella and you got yourself a little bit of embarrassment on your face *licks thumbs, wipes it off your face*. Please accept this… You would rather giggle with me about this later than have me crying on you because that guy got weirder. Right?

I may want you to white knight the fuck out of it. I may be like HELP ME DECK HIM (you can hold him down, I will do the punching). Or, more than likely, I will say “Yeah, can you shield me from him, he’s being super odd”.

Step two: Don’t blame me for it
Regardless as to whether I was laughing at jokes. I have rad hair (I do, it’s not a crime) or heaven forbid I had a shower in the changing rooms when I was the only female in a crew and had no other choices. It’s not my fault if someone forgets how-to-human and decides that they have the right to do whatever they want to me. It’s called entitlement and it is 100% their issue and not mine.

I have been called a “tease” by a buddy for talking to men. The scenario: I was the only female in a ref crew (again). I didn’t know the other referees so I got to know them as I was going to be with them for more than one game. I spoke to them, told jokes, told stories and shared ref tips. This apparently makes it open season and my fault for the harassment from one official in that group that followed. That is Grade A bullshit. I didn’t tell people about what happened that time because of that being said to me. I believed I had done something wrong. I had not. If you missed it earlier, see: Victim blaming.

Step three: Be the change you want to see
Women are overwhelmingly outnumbered in refereeing. We can fight for our rights and we do. But join us. Make it that bit easier.

This one time I wasn’t the only female in a crew, but I was the most outspoken. When a junior female referee was expected to use the same tiny changing room as us and the burly blokes on the crew, who made cracks about how hot she was and watched her get undressed. I said something. I didn’t say it loud enough and I didn’t say it long enough. But I took her aside and I found another area for her to change in. I felt intimidated by the situation, I can’t imagine how she felt. Men do not like me pointing out their perverse ways. Help me by doing it for me. You know it’s wrong, so say something. Don’t leave it to the women to say the situation is oppressive for them.

 

So those are my tips. From someone who has felt it, and wants your support, to someone who can give it. I’m not blaming anyone here. Men, I’m not saying you all do this. Women, we could show a sister some more support. People who don’t fit the gender binary, you can help out too. I know people from all walks off life get harassed  – but I am sharing my experiences and saying how I could have had a bit more help from people who were there, and have since said they wished they knew how.

I also don’t expect this to change everything overnight. I just hope it makes it easier for people to be more considerate without worrying that they’re being sexist by standing up for a woman.

In the words of Emma Watson in that epic speech: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

I know that was a bit HEAVY, so here, have a funny:

Acknowledgements: Wiki, equalityhumanrights.com, YouTube, everydayfeminism.com.

Further reading: http://www.ihollaback.org/http://www.everydaysexism.com/, Jezebel guide to: NotAllMen

35 thoughts on “Stopping sexual harassment in roller derby: How to be an ally in three easy steps

  1. Hey Sleaze.

    I’m sorry to hear of your recent ordeal in a supermarket. Sounds awful. I hope the police follow up and bring the aggressor to justice.

    I relate to the other points in your blog. I have turned to up games where there has been one changing room for a crew of mixed officials. I have found this very awkward and not something I feel comfortable with. Now I wear my stripes to games/events to avoid this embarrassing situation. However I have avoided the problem without addressing it. Hopefully in future I’ll be more confident to speak up and express my concerns.

    Great blog. x

  2. Very insightful 🙂 shine a light on the uncomfortable realities and open peoples eyes to what goes on, how to make changes personally and influence change within others, people often are collaborators of sexism by dismissing the inuendos and jokes that paint woman as objects or one dimensional, no one what to be like that, don’t be one of those people

  3. Have you thought of putting this together in a programme and putting it into schools.
    What you describe is basic gentlemanly behaviour. In the sixties this was taught to us in primary school, not just the opening doors and walking traffic side of the pavement, but an empathetic approach to others in distress.
    The abhorrent behaviour you describe should not be allowed to prevail, which is why what you say is important.
    Unfortunately, it is not cool, where as the blatantly sextet rap music, media in general etc. is.
    I wish you every success in your difficult endeavour.

  4. Thank you for your blog! And, yes, it IS difficult to express these things, but if we don’t, who will? And, when, indeed?
    Thanks also for your strength and for being you! Take care!

  5. Thank you for sharing this with us and the derby community. I’m angry that you’ve had to put up with this, derby should be a safe place, fuck everywhere should be a safe place!
    You opening up about this has made other women feel they can speak up and that’s pretty amazing. X

  6. Good, brave words. Thank you.

    I’m gonna say it: I think there are some people who hang around roller derby because it’s Girl Alaska. And they need to go away. And when you have a group that prides itself on being all inclusive and alternative, it’s hard for that group to kick people out, but we need to start.

  7. I agree whole heartedly. I think it is all over the sport, not just Reffing. I do think that , we, as the women, aren’t always helpful. I don’t want to be confused as victim shamming or free riding, however with names like …….(insert sexual induendo) Plastered on our backs and fishnets on…… It certainly doesn’t make the behaviour acceptable, but.

  8. No, someone can be lying naked on the floor with ‘fuck me, yes, literally’ written on her, and it is still not ok to touch or hassle her without her free, informed and enthusiastic consent.

  9. I was sexually assaulted by another female skater at a roller derby event. It’s a problem on both sides of the track. When it was reported to the individuals running the event, it wasn’t taken seriously because it was a skater, a female, that assaulted me. So frustrating.

    • That is more than frustrating, it’s disgusting. You had the strength to say what happened and it wasn’t listened to.

      If you can, and want to, bring it up again. Take it above the people you did before perhaps? Maybe that first person had their head elsewhere and didn’t give you the time and concern you needed. (Not an excuse, just a hope I guess). Perhaps share it with a friend and have them come with you to support you if you do take it up with the league again? Or put it in writing to them and ask that it is dealt with according to their code of conduct (if you do this, be sure to stipulate you expect a response, and specify a two week period in which you expect to get one – other wise it can drag on!). If you decide that taking it further isn’t for you, that’s also completely fine and I hope you’re getting support in working through it. This is your experience and so far it has been a pretty shitty one. I’m sorry for that and I hope knowing that others have experienced similar and are pushing to make changes about it now helps in some small way.

      The gender of the person committing the act is irrelevant. As is the gender of the victim. You didn’t deserved to have your assault dismissed. No one does.

  10. I have found in live , that everybody needs support and to stand up to what they believe in ! Even if this hurts yourself because in the end it is your life for you to live how you want !
    People need to look at themselves
    And realise there actions affect other people!

  11. So well put and extremely important to share, will definitely do just that, as well as try to follow your advice! Thanks for putting your thoughts on ‘paper’! <3

  12. I don’t know you in fact I got here through a friends posting but four this to be very thought provoking. I have recently moved from the pacific NW to Texas ( in no way am I saying anything derogatory against Texans in fact as a whole I have found them to be old school chivlerous) however the culture change, the fact that I am now not extrey over weight, I’m a red head (kinda sticks out here) , I look younger than my age and my youngest daughter has bloomed into a beautiful 13yr old CHILD has some how brought on more unwanted advances then I’ve ever experienced in my life. I have been trying to find a way to explain to her what to do when it her and what to do when she sees it happening to her friends. I believe I will have her read this I like the way you phrased this from the voice not of a victim or potential one but as someone just reding support and wanting to educate. I am lucky to have a husband who is very tall, ex military law enforcement yet the times he’s been with me and seen something had escalated to the point I was uncomfortable he did not go a Rambo he simy said to the man ” hey, your making her uncomfortable please back off and think about what your saying” we have been lucky enough that has worked. My bigger concern is what to tell a teenage girl, one who sees it at school and sees no one else acknowledges it. She is an all or nothing kinda gal calm or Tasmanian devil I’ve been looking for a way to explain that there are other ways to help. While the circumstances are not the same as yours the advice will be a great starting place. I am truely sorry you have had these experiences and if your friend I would have come up and checked on you. I have done so with my own friends twice being right on and helping to exit the situation and not escalate it. I agree that police or no police must be up to what helps you. However, I can’t help but think thank you for doing so, this ay very well helped someone else. I know this post was a novel when really I just wanted say awesome blog thanks for sharing.

    • Hmm. Sounds a lot like me your daughter! Best way to help her is to educate her as much as possible.

      This is a great documentary: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1784538/
      It taught me a lot about how women are represented in the media and the impact that has on how we view ourselves and others view us. It will help her argue this with people who don’t realise they are stereotyping her based on gender.

      I read a LOT of blogs: http://www.everydaysexism.com/ is a hoot, always fun to read. So is http://straightwhiteboystexting.tumblr.com/
      But for a real education, I got a textbook about sexual objectification in women and self objectification. Probably a bit steep for a young ‘un but if she gets into it, I found reading comments by professionals, peers and professors incredibly educational.

      Mix that with some fun reading, ANYTHING by Caitlin Moran, particularly How To Be A Woman (and while you’re at it, How To Build A Girl). This book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Be-Awesome-Modern-Life-Ladies/dp/0007485700/ref=pd_sim_b_15?ie=UTF8&refRID=1CTPW4G7RMSK8XG8HS3G and anything else that Google throws at you when you type in FEMINIST BOOKS.

      You seem like you’re a supportive parent. Always be open to discussing this with her and I’m sure she will grow and find fresh ways to fight off the dickwads she encounters. Just give her a sounding board of finding her arguments, love and support her, and tell her how wonderful she is. I’m sure she, and you, will do just fine. Sending love x

  13. you are so amazing for writing this post! I don’t know you but I love you… Well, love your writing, your style, your view And most of all your balls!

  14. So sorry as a volunteer to this sport you have been exploited this way. Really ya’ll, our volunteers?? As skaters we get the tattoo and hair color thing, but I guhonestly not by sex assaulters holey

  15. This is really sad to hear, and I hope this never happens again to you or anyone for that matter.
    I think everyone is responsible for policing this type of behavior & weeding out the creepers involved in derby and any victim of harassment or assult deserves support in times like these.
    However, I don’t think the uniform had anything to do with your experiences and is irrelevant to the issue.
    Unfortunately you have just come in contact with men who have zero respect for you or women in general and don’t belong in any environment, sporting or authority role and should either be forced out, disciplined or better yet be reported to the police if serious enough.
    99.9% of the zebras I have worked with have been nothing but professional, kind, respectful and very appropriate towards all genders & have devoted a lot of time to this sport and made a lot of sacrifices to do a good job for the derby community and to place zebras in the sleazy sneezy & creepy category isn’t fair.
    The title should read pervertedassholesatmyderbyleague.com
    that took advantage of me and the situation because they are opportunistic creepers who will continue to do things like this until caught & shamed by their peers or disciplined by the league or police.
    Just my opinion.
    I hope the problem/people at your league have been delt with.

    • I’m really pleased the officials you have come into contact with have been professional and polite. But that doesn’t change my experiences. I also don’t believe it’s anything to do with the uniform… and that still doesn’t change my experiences.

      I am highlighting that this happens in an environment that so many of us would like to believe that it wouldn’t, that (in the words of a good friend of mine) “roller derby is a magical peaceful unicorn of a sport”. This happens all over the world, in all environments. I’m just saying please open your eyes to that and be aware, and here are some pointers for dealing with it.

      Also, it’s the 0.01% of zebras you met that weren’t all that nice that I’m talking about… oh and the others that you may not have realised were creeping on someone.

      I’m a ref, I’m not trying to say refs are bad… I’m just saying they’re not all perfect so look out for your buddies and yourself.

      P.S Please stop assuming this is happening at my league, at no point did I say that.

      • “oh and the others that you may not have realised were creeping on someone.”

        This is the thing. Predators don’t act like predators all the time! If they did, they’d be really easy to avoid. This is how people who haven’t experienced it can’t believe it and people who have end up treating everybody like Schroedinger’s Sex Pest – because you can’t actually tell by watching what someone does when they’re trying to make a good impression in front of an audience.

  16. I think one of the most important points here is to be a community and look out for each other……face it, there are people, male and female, who look upon you as prey. Bring this blog to your leaugue, your organization, all others and make certain it is discussed and all clearly know what the lines are that cannot be crossed and what will happen to anyone of they are. And for god’s sake, report any incident and if you are not satisfied with the response, file a police report.

  17. I was sexually assaulted by a female player recently at the end of a match. I have not said anything yet because of these 3 questions.

    1) Did she even realize that what she was doing was inappropriate? It was the end of a long day. She was tired and full of adrenaline.

    2) Am I over-reacting? One of the others who saw it thought it was funny. ‘haha, stop dry-humping him.’ was the joke made.

    3) How will that player or the rest of the team regard me in the future? Over 70% of the team is female and the player in question is a popular veteran.

    This has been playing on my mind for a while now and your writing has spurred me into at least talking about it. Thank you.

  18. I only bothered to read up to the point of hypocrisy. Yes very wrong to go into the shower with you, but you get your boobs physically slapped by another girl and the ref says he’d like to do the same. One physically does it, one says it. Typical feminist Bullshit if you don’t have a tumblr account you should really make one and join in on the one sided sexist rants! They are super fun!

  19. These are some good tips. But harassment should be taken up by your league or at least by referee leadership. Also, men and women should not be expected to change clothes in the same room. Even in the smallest least equipped places there should be alternatives.

    • Actually, victims should deal with harassment however they see fit. If they don’t feel they can report it to higher levels, you should show support. Don’t blame them for not raising it higher – they didn’t ask for it to happen to them.

      In every situation I have mentioned above I have raised it with a ref more senior than I on the day/at the event. I chose to not involve my league. How I dealt with it and the actions that came from it aren’t the discussion point here.

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  21. Awesome post!

    Very informative. I’m a male and a ref. This post has helped me to be mindful of sexual harassment. I enjoyed reading the comments here too. Things like these need to be brought out in the open so people know they have support of their peers.

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