Rachael Denhollander describes precisely how sexual violence thrives. From her impact statement at the Larry Nassar trial: “This. Is. What. It. Looks. Like. When institutions create a culture where a predator can flourish unafraid and unabated. This. Is. What. It. Looks. Like. When people in authority put friendships in front of the truth, fail to create or enforce proper policy and fail to hold enablers accountable. This. Is. What. It. Looks. Like.”
An excellent short interview with Denhollander can be viewed here:
Larry Nassar was a “nice guy offender.” They are the most successful offenders. The “nice guy” facade boosts impunity and is part of grooming both victims and enablers.
Perhaps there should be a term “super nice person, opportunistic abuse enabler.” Yoga teachers can be some of the most charming, amiable,and poised people you’ll meet. Yet, abuse scandals in yoga are rampant. And when it comes to responding to abuse, how many yoga teachers put friendships and career in front of the truth?
My reason for speaking up about Pattabhi Jois sexually assaulting me had much more to do with rape culture than with the yoga world. I spoke up because when someone sexually assaults you there is nothing to be ashamed of. When you leave an abusive situation, when you realize the secrets aren’t your secrets (they’re the secrets of the abuser and the enablers), when you have the courage to name a “nice guy offender,” and to face the backlash: You, and I, have a lot of wisdom to inform abuse education, prevention and response.
Often survivors of sexual assault are viewed as broken. However, when enablers didn’t protect us and beneficiaries silenced us, it’s the system that’s broken, not the people who left it. Neither the enablers nor the beneficiaries are qualified to educate or advise about abuse, safety, and healing, or to lead reform. They would first need to own accountability and make amends, not according to their standards, but in a way that demonstrates they are actually interested in justice and reformation rather than damage control.
I’ve heard about a couple of new policies for reporting sexual assault within yoga communities. One problem is that they use the euphemisms “inappropriate adjustment” and “sexual misconduct” to obfuscate sexual abuse, assault or harassment.
Another issue is that they emphasize the anonymity of the victim. Of course, if a victim wants to remain anonymous that should be respected. But wouldn’t it be better to create a culture where the stigma of being a victim of sexual violence is gone? Where the shame that keeps victims from disclosing is gone? Where the fear of retaliation from the abuser and/or community is irrelevant because victims of sexual violence are respected and protected, not through anonymity, but through a complete shift in the attitudes towards us?
This shift can’t happen unless and until our names, our work and our wisdom are honored and actualized. We don’t personally need enablers and beneficiaries to do this; It’s what the world needs in order to properly address and prevent sexual violence.
That people will embrace the wisdom of survivors within their own community is a vision. Maybe someday the world will be ready for it.