A Difficult And Uncomfortable Opportunity For Discussion

A guest author urges the community to stand up and challenge ourselves to have a difficult conversation.

A spirit circle. Photo: Kevin Leclaire -- UltiPhotos.com
A spirit circle. Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

This post was written by guest author Mike Lovinguth.  

A Letter to the Readers of Ultiworld:

I opened my phone on the plane after Regionals this weekend to a text with some very disturbing news. A member of the ultimate community had been charged with videotaping women nude and engaged in sex without their permission. My response for the victims probably echoes yours: disgusting, horrifying, heart breaking.

Recognizing, discussing, and making visible the reality of sexual violence in our community is one component of treating vulnerable members of our community better. It is one piece of finding ways to make lives safer from this threat, in particular youth and women.

Ultimate is not immune from sexual violence. Sexual abuse studies suggest 1 in 6 women have been abused. These studies are, understandably, difficult to perform, and so may even under-report the frequency and severity of abuse. From conferences I’ve attended through my work in youth sport, I’ve heard estimates that can rise significantly. Men are certainly not immune either. Again, statistics range from 1 in 10 to 1 in 6. There’s a website for men detailing this statistic: 1in6.org.

The avenues for exposing threats like this are complicated, murky, and often penalize victims at the expense of safeguarding due process to the accused. As such, issues around sex and sexual violence often get neglected or discarded when it comes to sports.

Ultimate is no different and the issue of sexual violence has been ignored by the ultimate community. Not entirely, mind you, as there are a few safeguards in place (background checking, coaching code of conduct) with USA Ultimate and education in place within the coaching development program — but it’s never going to be enough. We can’t rely on others to protect our friends and children. It is not pleasant to talk about. But ignoring the issue is not any sort of solution. It means we’re not willing to address it as a community in an open way. This secrecy harms victims and protects perpetrators of abuse.

What I’ve reflected on during the 36 hours since that text, speaking with many friends, is that knowledge of the acts in Cambridge present a difficult and uncomfortable challenge for us to cover and discuss in a public way. The story sat out there mainly in texts until Ultiworld published on Tuesday. One victim’s story was posted on Facebook late Monday night. That story became very public, very quickly. When I read her story, I was saddened, horrified, depressed, awed, humbled, and hit by thousands of other emotions. I am amazed and again, humbled, at her strength and courage.

While I am happy that Ultiworld reported on it on Tuesday, I wish it would’ve been reported on September 9th, as soon as the Boston Herald announced the arraignment of Teddy Browar-Jarus. And while I respect that moderators of /r/ultimate wanted to discuss the posting internally, I wish they either were strong enough or had enough agency to publish the original threads in their entirety, and instead moderate out victim-shaming, identifiable information, and other damaging comments. I don’t work in the media, so I don’t know how hard those decisions are. But I wish they were faster.

Why? Because while I’m awed at the public statement from the woman who came forward, it should never have come to that. We should have stood up for the women in ultimate and anyone else affected by these actions prior to anyone having to bare this pain publicly. Even as our community presses for additional gender equity in the media sphere, when confronted with the very serious issue of sexual violence, how can our most public forums for discussion suppress comment and stay silent for so long?

I’m the father of two boys. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing women in the ultimate community from the first day I stepped on the field at Truman State, and of course outside of the ultimate community in my family and places of work. I want my boys to have amazing and safe experiences with coaches, teammates, and future partners, and hopefully to play some ultimate. I want the women who I’ve met through ultimate to have amazing and safe experiences with coaches, teammates, and their current and future partners. That’s why I write this.

I don’t know Browar-Jarus and while I don’t know any of the victims, I wouldn’t write about knowing one if I did — that’s clearly a choice they have to make. That makes writing this letter very easy for me — I can stand on the outside and comment. I do know victims of sexual assault, and readers of this letter do too, even if you don’t know it yet — that makes writing this letter very hard. My heart hurts when I think about their path to healing through the world, the fear and violation they may have to face alone, and I hope they have access to support.

I write because this is an opportunity to discuss sexual violence and sports and one we can’t shy away from. If we sweep the issue aside, we miss the opportunity to stand up for the innumerable victims who can’t speak up.

-Mike Lovinguth

I’ve spent a lot of time on this letter last night and today. It was helpful to have several friends read it over and provide tweaks and advice. They’ve helped me to come up with a short list of resources available to victims of sexual violence, along with organizations that have been involved through my work in youth sports. This list is far from comprehensive:

RAINN – Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network
-Hotline: 800.656.4673
-Chat, and Local service provider locator at: https://hotline.rainn.org/online/terms-of-service.jsp

National Sexual Violence Resource Center
List of local anti-sextual assault coalitions
http://www.nsvrc.org/organizations

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline
1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453)
(staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with professional crisis counselors)

Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse
http://www.d2l.org/

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
http://www.missingkids.com/home

Child Welfare Information Gateway
http://www.childwelfare.gov

Childhelp
http://www.childhelp.org

Stop It Now!
www.stopitnow.org

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