Regarding Sexual Harassment and Assault in Fencing: Part II – Tales of Sexual Harassment & Assault

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Part I – Not in Our Sport

Part of this survey was giving women a safe space to anonymously share what harassment or assault they had experienced.

This section of the series has given me the most anguish, for a couple of reasons. One, it was hard to know which stories to share. Harassment and assault describe such a broad range of behaviors that cherry picking the most extreme stories might not showcase how broadof a problem this is. Two, while the beginning of the survey warned that any story shared might be used in my report, I didn’t want anyone to face consequences because I published their story and their harasser or abuser found out. Three, if I left out an incident, would that hurt the person who was brave enough to share their story in the first place? These were all issues I struggled with in putting together this report.

Ultimately, I decided to share nearly every response I receivedt o provide the most complete picture of harassment and abuse. I took out any responses I felt were too specific and not anonymous enough. I had well over 100 responses to this part of my survey; those are below. My hope is by retelling these moments, they will serve as an educational tool for raising awareness in our sport, and society. Thank you to all the women who answered my original survey. Thank you for your responses, I truly believe they will help change our sport for the better. If for any reason you see your story and change your mind about having it published, please contact me using an anonymous email address by messaging me at alu@mail.bradley.edu.

The Responses:

“As a teen a coach who was well known for his particular affinity to get grabby with young girls, hugged me and slapped my butt without my consent. I was 15 years old. Said coach also reached out to me through social media and made suggestive comments and requested to get descriptions of what I was wearing or doing.”

“I was young and naive and while ago before Safe sport was even around. It was a coach who offered me a place to stay as I didn’t have a room for an event. Another coach was in the room, so I figured it was fine. He flirted with me and being young, I thought it was fine. He then asked me repeatedly to perform acts on him. I refused. He pushed my head towards him, I froze got scared and felt helpless. I did what he wanted and then felt disgusted and spat out on the side of the bed. I didn’t have another place to go so I stayed there until I could leave the next morning. The other coach heard but did nothing. I cried and felt so humiliated especially since he told me the next morning I had a nice ass and he knew I wanted it despite saying no.”

“A highly suggestive/explicit remark made about my appropriate professional attire.”

“This did not happen to me, but i witnessed it. A coach followed a referee around a competition begging for her number. He refused to take no for an answer, only stopping when some male referees began accompanying her around.”

“I was forcibly touched by an older referee I trusted while at a NAC.

I was coaxed into other situations at other NACs but is it really assault if you give a reluctant, unsure yes after being asked repeatedly and having your “no” or “I’m not sure” be ignored? According to society, it’s not.”

“A coach who was way too handsy despite numerous attempts to get him to back off. Constantly touching me inappropriately to the point that I am still uncomfortable with him in the same room as me which causes great discomfort while reffing since he is from a big club. [It’s] impossible to escape him and do my job. Another time was when I was a minor just breaking into the ref world. Again dealt with advances that I was scared to openly stand up against for fear of losing job opportunities. That same man made many of my friends uncomfortable and I still hear stories of him doing the same things that he did to me over 5 years ago to members of his current team.”

“Being told that I could never be a sabre referee unless I became more feminine.”

“Uncomfortable touching twice at the last event. I was working BC and one of the ref assigners tended to be a bit touchy. Even though it was often just the shoulders, it made me uncomfortable. Also I said I was having a tough day to a referee and he hugged me which was okay but it lasted way too long even when I tried to get away.”

“While I was refereeing, a coach touched my waist as he moved around me from behind. It wasn’t that big a deal, but it made me uncomfortable and it wasn’t necessary for him to get around me.”

“Repeated unwanted passes, despite previously rejecting the same person at other times.”

“In high school, we had a coach who would be sexually explicit towards female students, one in particular, who was 14. I have also heard male coaches make comments on female students looks/bodies in a sexual manner.”

“When I first joined the sport, I entered into a relationship with an older man who was an assistant coach and teammate. It was an abusive relationship and involved instances of sexual assault. At tournament this abuser was frequently put in position of authority over me; reffing me at NACs and regional events, and manipulating our situation for personal gain. He would discredit me to other individuals to discredit my reports of his sexual abuse.”

“A member of the fencing community made suggestive comments about my body on a few occasions.”

“While setting up a tournament, members of my (majority male team) did not let me handle any of the technology, as I “had less experience” (this was not the case). In another instance, a member told me that I could never be captain because I am a woman and women do not have leadership capabilities.”

“A coach actually patted me [sic] ass.”

“Unwanted massages.”

“I was refereeing a tournament where we got to wear casual clothes (shorts/t-shirt) and as I was just standing around waiting for a DE slips to be passed to me, the pod captain slapped my butt with a clipboard and said “nice ass kiddo” I don’t think this would have happened if we had normal referee clothes on.”

“Older men kissing me on the cheek. At the time i was underage, too.”

“Tournament staff member who I had never met before grabbed me in a bear hug. Despite my obvious pushing him away, he then later that same day grabbed my leg while I was leaning against a table and ran his hand up towards the edge of my skirt before I could slap him away.”

“I was fencing abroad when a referee touched my butt without my consent.”

“Grabbed by coaches at an event multiple times, been subjected to verbal insults to women at almost every event.”

“Unwanted grabbing of genitals. Excessive sexual advances after repeated “nos.””

“Forcibly kissed by a married peer.”

“The harassment was when I would use my power as a College Club Fencing President and because I was female the other College Club Fencing Presidents, all male, would call me names or unwontedly touch my arm or back. Luckily it never went beyond that.”

“Nothing ever happened in practice or a tournament, but some things happened at social events with the team. Or people I met through fencing ended up being different people outside of a more public setting. For example, a guy I met on the fencing team grabbed my boob at a party the team was throwing.”

“I’ve encountered verbal harassment throughout my experience in fencing, usually at fencing clubs or clubs events such as camps and clinics.”

“Most of the sexual harassment I receive is verbal. One time a person said to me that if I went to their hotel room I could study for my fie test with them all night long.”

“As an underage referee (age 15) I was asked by an adult male referee if I’d like to accompany him and his friends to a strip club, in which, “I could earn some money”.”

“Unwanted sexual acts within a consensual relationship with someone in the fencing community.”

“Friends making jokes of a sexual nature at my expense that I didn’t understand at the time and only later figured out thanks to the urban dictionary.”

“As an athlete I had my crotch grabbed by a male athlete in high school and the zipper of my lame smoothed by male referees. One had the audacity to reach between my legs to fix the straps of my lame/jacket when I was 14.”

“I was a referee at a high school tournament. A coach, younger but the coach of a team in high school, had a disagreement with me during a match. He came up to me after all the matches in that area and it was just the two of us. He apologized to me, but as he was apologizing he put he hands on my hips and caressed my side. This would not have happened in a million years to a male referee.”

“At a coaching clinic where I was the only woman in the group, the presenter wanted to tell a sexist joke so he patted me on the head and said “don’t get offended” before telling the joke.”

“Rumors about who I have intimate relations with.”

“A coach repeatedly putting his hands on me while explaining how he would like calls made, a coach forcing himself on me past the point of activity I wanted.”

“A teammate who was married exerted himself on me.”

“I was grabbed for an uncomfortable and unwanted hug.”

“In formal setting/organization meeting for a large event

*As the only female on the board

All other members of the committee were greeted with handshakes and proper names

As I rose to shake hands with the committee leader I was briskly grabbed into a close intense (unwanted) embrace and addressed as ‘sweetheart’”

“A very misogynistic teammate would make inappropriate comments at me to discourage me”

“At USFA Club: normalization of: grooming behavior of female students, sexualized comments, unwanted “horseplay,” coercion for sex.”

“Unwarranted joking of breasts/butt in fencing uniform.”

“A club mate grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth aggressively without warning.”

“Mostly innuendo under the guise of “good fun”.”

“A lot of the men I have been surrounded by in fencing are older. Many are sweet, but some can push the lines. For example, I have been hit on many times and in joking ways been told that certain men would hook up with me, date me, whatever. It was meant as a joke but when it happens enough times it begins to become very uncomfortable…constantly being reduced to my body sucks. I do not want to be an object for old men to relive their glory days on.

“Grabbed in elevator at event. Forced kissing and groping.”

“During college, I was assaulted while blacked out from alcohol at a fencing party. The assaulter was another fencer. A third fencer left the room and allowed it to happen. My college fencing team also was generally a culture full of harassment and unfriendly towards women and LGBT folks.”

“Mostly inappropriate comments, touching the small of my back, or too long of a hug.”

“My former boss and Head Coach of [fencing club], [Name], has repeatedly harassed me sexually. He would call me “yoga pants” instead of referring to me by name. He would suggest that I sleep with a co-worker repeatedly. He took me out to dinner where he complained about his problems with his wife and it made me feel very uncomfortable.”

“I was 16, extremely depressed, and sexually assaulted by a 25ish year old assistant fencing coach. 6 years later, I took the SafeSport course (I wanted to start teaching beginner fencing). When I got to the section on sexual assault tactics (grooming tactics), I realized he literally did all of those things to me. Not just one, but MANY of those things were exactly what he did.”

“When I was a senior in college, a fencing ref at a collegiate tournament repeatedly commented on my appearance (“your ass makes knickers look good!”, “engaged? That means I still have a chance!”). He was my ref.”

“By peer, unwarranted sexual comments on putting on gear, cornered in areas while stretching. Laughed off as a joke when I explained it made me uncomfortable.”

“A man charged at me screaming ” I’ll poke you in the target area ;)””

“I was coaching at an international event and one of the male referees asked me out, when I declined and noted that I was married he persisted. Difficult to tell him to go fuck himself when he refs my [fencers] all the time. And he had no idea what he was doing was uncool.”

“When I was a teenager, an adult referee provided a group of us alcohol at a NAC hotel party. The referee tried to stay and drink with us. We indicated that we weren’t going to drink at the moment and he should leave. I was sitting on a desk in the hotel room with my legs on the desk chair. On his way out the referee smacked me on the side of my butt and squeezed. As he did this he said “don’t get in too much trouble” and winked at me. I did not feel I could report this because I did not want to get in trouble for drinking.”

“Held down by several male fencers during a practice, sexual comments made by male fencers.”

“Told that my stretching was sexy, I must be getting my body ready for a guy’s dick.

Asked about sexual position preferences.

Told by club’s head coach before practice multiple times.”

“A coach at our club makes comments about my clothes, body, and fencing ability. He spreads rumors about my inability to be a good fencer or coach to poach students from me, and ruin my reputation.”

“A year or so ago, an off-duty referee gave me an unwanted kiss on the cheek to “congratulate” me for earning a medal. In my 20s, one of my coaches made me sit on his lap at some fencing events. Male referees, armorers, and FOC reps often flirted with me and other fencers, and we felt we had to respond politely or else face retaliation. Luckily, I believe that referee ethics overall have improved significantly since then (unwanted kiss notwithstanding).”

“I was never sexually harassed during a fencing tournament/ event, apart from possibly having my butt touched by referees who were checking or changing my body cord. I was harassed by the owner of the fencing club I worked at for 1.5 years on a weekly basis.”

“He has repeatedly told me I need to either gain or lose weight, and commonly grabs or slaps my ass when walking by and makes a comment.”

“I was running a college meet. A college assistant coach (also an FIE ref) came up behind me, grabbed my ponytails, and started talking about how my boyfriend (also a fencer) must enjoy using them as “handles” for oral sex. I did not have an existing friendship with the man. I could have and should have black carded him, but I was 19 and freaked out, I didn’t tell anyone until the next day.

Less than a year later, I watched him use the same tactic on another young woman.”

“I was refereeing CFCs. I bent over to write on the bout sheet. A coach came too close. Whispered in my ear and touched my butt.”

“I was 14, and an 18 year-old male on my team kept coming on to me and told me I was “too pretty to be single” and wouldn’t leave me alone until I gave him my phone number. He continued to contact me for a number of years, sometimes with sexually explicit messages, until I changed my phone number and moved cities.”

“Unwanted hugging, kissing on the cheeks and neck, whispering in my ear in an intimate manner. Some of these occurrences were to me as a minor by an adult coach. Others were once I was an adult coach by the same coach.”

“There was one coach/ref from another club who was much older than me and took a liking to me. The behavior was never threatening, but there were some subtle comments and plenty of looks that made my teammates and friends at other clubs concerned enough to never leave me alone near him. I never felt unsafe, and his behavior was not really concealed that others around me didn’t notice. He did have a reputation as a misogynist as well, and only coached boys, which was probably best.”

“My first fencing coach, who I trained under from the ages of 14-22, engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with me, starting with what I now know was “grooming” around the age of 15. He was 25 at the time. I thought it was consensual. I know better now that it was inappropriate, and abusive. Both because of my age, but also because of the power differential. Even as I became older, I gained even less power because the relationship became increasingly abusive. It was a relationship based on fear and power. I only began to understand that within the last several years. I have never taken steps to expose him for this, but I am thinking about it now. I know he has done this to other students (including underage students), and may be continuing to do this.”

“At nationals when I was a young teenager, a friend of mine was sexually assault [sic] by a fellow teenage fencer. We were in a hotel room, so it wasn’t physically at a USFA event. My fear by telling you it was a hotel is that the assumption you may have is to keep better eye on young fencers. The thing that needed to change for that scenario is the culture. She needed to know what happened to her, and who she could talk to.”

“My ex boyfriend made sexual advances towards me at practice.”

“Ex spreading rumors about the ending of our relationship, claiming I had cheated on him with other members of the community. Other people told me it was going on when I noticed people acting weird around me.”

Resources for dealing with sexual harassment and assault

If you are in the US (since most of this survey was US based) the following resources are for you:

RAINN provides a national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

USOC’s SafeSport handles USA Fencing sexual harassment and assault complaints. The representative for USA Fencing from SafeSport is Suzie Riewald, who can be contacted by email at s.riewald@usafencing.org or 719-866-2616. More information on Suzie and SafeSport can be found here.

Click Here to Read Part III – We Can Do Better

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