Regarding Sexual Harassment and Assault in Fencing: Part I – Not in Our Sport

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Dear Fencing Community,

Scandals of sexual abuse have rocked USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics, it’s not a stretch for us to wonder if USA Fencing has a similar problem which should be investigated and addressed. Sexual harassment and assault have become hot topics in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and we can’t assume fencing is unscathed. At the 2017 Portland NAC referee meeting, sexual harassment and assault were openly discussed and that discussion has spread from the referees to coaches and beyond into the larger fencing community.

In this changing atmosphere, I thought it would be prudent to run a survey for women to try to gain a sense of how prevalent sexual harassment and assault was within our community. Just how many women have been sexually harassed or assaulted by another member of the fencing community? Could we get a snapshot of what is going on within our sport?

Originally, this survey was distributed to my female fencing friends on Facebook with a note asking them to pass on the survey to other women in the sport. After the survey spread through word of mouth and garnered about 85 responses, it was posted to the Facebook page of The Fencing Coach. When the survey closed after being open for a month, it had a total of 218 complete responses.

Survey Demographics

Age

Below is a graph showing the ages of the respondents. 60% of respondents were between the ages of 18 and 35.

Age.png

Role in Fencing

For this question, respondents could answer what roles they identified with in fencing: Athlete, Coach, Referee, Tournament Staff (Bout committee, armory, medical, etc.), and Other. They were allowed to pick multiple options that fit their roles. Other included parent, fencing club administrator, and club owner.

Role

Time in Sport

This asked how many years the individual had been involved in fencing. Of the women, 50% of respondents have been in the sport 6-15 years.

Time.png

Country

Even though the survey was written from an American perspective, after it was shared on The Fencing Coach Facebook page, we received international responses. Of the 218 respondents, 177 were from the United States (81%), 14 from Canada, 5 from the United Kingdom, 2 from France, 2 from Ireland, and 1 each from Australia, Denmark, Germany, Indonesia, India, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Romania and Thailand. The remaining 8 were unknown according to the survey app. While much of the third part of this series focuses on what we can do from an American perspective, I still believe there is merit to including the international responses because it shows that this is a greater problem in fencing, not just within the United States.

Survey Stats on Sexual Harassment

 Do you know of someone who has been sexually harassed by another member of the fencing community?

 Yes: 125 (57.3%)

No: 93 (42.7%)

 Have you been sexually harassed by another member of the fencing community?

Yes: 129 (59.2%)

No: 89 (40.8%)

 Did you tell anyone about the sexual harassment?

 This question only appeared  if the respondent said yes to the previous question, ‘Have you been sexually harassed by another member of the fencing community?’

 Yes: 57 (62.6%)

No: 34 (37.4%)

 Who did you report the sexual harassment to?

 This question only got asked if the respondent said yes to the previous question, ‘Did you tell anyone about the sexual harassment?’ It allowed for the respondent to select multiple responses. Other included club head owner, female Referees’ Commission member, significant other, and high school athletics director.

Report.png

Survey Stats on Sexual Assault

 Do you know of someone who has been sexually assaulted by another member of the fencing community?

 Yes: 68 (31.2%)

No: 150 (68.8%)

 Have you been sexually assaulted by another member of the fencing community?

 Yes: 41 (18.8%)

No: 177 (81.2%)

 Did you tell anyone about the sexual assault?

 This question only appeared if the respondent said yes to the previous question, ‘Have you been sexually assaulted by another member of the fencing community?’

 Yes: 32 (78%)

No: 9 (22%)

Who did you report the sexual assault to?

 This question only appeared if the respondent said yes to the previous question, ‘Did you tell anyone about the sexual assault?’ It allowed for the respondent to select multiple responses. Other included high school athletic director and member of the Referees’ Commission ombudsman committee.

Report Assault.png

How often have you been sexually assaulted in fencing?

This was an open ended question. Responses included “once”, “2”, “5”, “6 times”, “several times by one assistant coach”, “between the ages of 15-22, it was fairly often”, “on a weekly basis by my former coach of 4 years”,  “I don’t have an exact number”, and “I prefer not to think quantitatively about this.”

Summary of Stats

The results of this survey substantiate that fencing has a sexual assault problem. Let me be clear: this is not just a sexual harassment problem, but a sexual assault problem, as well.

Three out of five women who responded to this survey have been sexually harassed by another member of the fencing community.

One out of five women who responded to this survey have been sexually assaulted by another member of the fencing community.

Imagine all the women you know in fencing: now apply those statistics to your imagined group. This harassment and assault has occurred within our community and has been perpetrated by members of our community.

Despite statistics collected suggesting only 60% of women know of someone who has been harassed, and 30% know of someone who has been assaulted, it is likely we all know someone who has gone through harassment or assault.

This is not acceptable. Not anywhere. And not in our sport.

Click here to read Part II – Tales of Sexual Harassment & Assault

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