the rape of a teammate

In January 2013, two athletes sexually assaulted a co-worker and teammate.

The three members of the Lloyd Irvin martial arts academy ran into each other at a New Year’s Eve party at a nightclub. One teammate had too much to drink and didn’t want to drive home. The others offered this person a ride, but instead of bringing their teammate back home, they attacked her in a parking garage. The assault is described in detail in the criminal complaint filed against Matthew Maldonado and Nicholas Schultz: the police could narrate the rape in gruesome detail because security cameras in the parking lot recorded the whole thing. One of the least gruesome passages:

The Complainant then pushed Defendant Schultz off her as her body slumped to the ground with her head still against the wall. Defendant Schultz then advanced toward the Complainant and began to lie on top of her. Defendant Schultz again pulled the Complainant towards him, holding on to her until her body collapsed again, this time her head striking the ground. (from Zack Arnold on Fight Opinion)

As they assaulted their teammate, she fell over, she asked that they stop, she hit her head on the ground and against the wall.  When they finished, the two men left their Brazilian jiu jitsu (bjj) teammate unconscious on the parking lot pavement: it was 38 degrees. There she lay until someone walking by heard her cry for help. Schultz and Maldonado had offered her a ride home; instead of looking after a person they saw just about daily at their gym, they attacked her and left her for dead. As one member of the bjj community put it, they left her there like she was a piece of trash – which is, of course, exactly how other people in that community have talked about her.

When this story broke, it quickly came to light that in 1989 the man running their gym, Lloyd Irvin, had been charged with rape. He’d participated in a gang rape – most of the men involved went to jail. Because he didn’t have intercourse with the victim, this man did not.

This past winter, there was an exodus of fighters from this man’s gym: these athletes left as they learned of yet more harassment of teammates within the gym. This wasn’t a club they wanted any part of; they went public with their outrage. (See Brent Brookhouse’s reporting on Bloody Elbow/SB Nation; listen to Mike Fowler talk about these issues in an interview for Open Mat. That section starts at 1:14.)

This past week, in spite of video evidence of the assault, a jury acquitted the two men of kidnapping and first and second degree sexual assault. A mistrial was declared regarding a misdemeanor charge against Schultz.*

Over the past year, the leader of this gym, the man who’d escaped the rape charge in 1989, has scrambled to try to paper over the scandal of his conduct – much of this story has been acted out through social media, and much of his behavior has only served to confirm him as an abusive coach. People in the Brazilian jiu jitsu and martial arts community have been doing serious soul-searching: a public conversation about rape, violence, aggression and power began almost as soon as the story broke.

For example: from the start Georgette Oden, a bjj practitioner and an Assistant Attorney General in Texas, has been breaking things down for the bjj community on her blog Georgette’s Jiu Jitsu World. Her posts are very helpful to readers who need to understand what sexual assault is, and, more recently, how a jury might acquit defendants and why an acquittal doesn’t mean that the victim wasn’t raped.

Aaron France, a DC Police Detective who is also a bjj coach addressed the case in a Facebook post that has since been shared on Reddit and on blogs. He attended as much of the trial as he could, and saw the video evidence. When Maldonado was acquitted, some people were eager to celebrate this as a declaration of his innocence. France writes:

Ask yourself; if this happened to your wife, your daughter, your girlfriend, your sister, or even a close female friend, would you advocate Maldonado’s innocence? Most of you would be calling for blood. Some of you would even take it yourselves. So if we were to look at Maldonado’s behavior, put criminal implications aside and give him the benefit of the doubt, here’s the best thing we can say about him… He had sex with a woman who was intoxicated to the point where she could not walk, and afterwards he treated her like a piece of trash, by leaving her half naked on the cement floor of a parking garage, in the middle of the night, when it was barely above freezing.

And that woman? She was his “teammate.” Not many people outside of the Brazilian jiu jitsu Community can comprehend the bond that develops between training partners, due to the level of trust that training partners are required to develop in each other.

…Yet there are a few people who believe that we should let him back into the Brazilian jiu jitsu community. These people believe that he should be allowed to continue to sharpen his skills, learning to choke people and cause their joints to stop functioning. They apparently believe that he should be allowed to do this in the presence of women and children. How can you possibly ever trust this man not to just hang onto a choke, or not hold an armbar after you tap? He’s already demonstrated a propensity to do what he wants with another persons body, why should we believe it ends with sex?

That statement is preceded by a sobering account of the steps required to bring a rape case to trial: that it went to trial, he explains, has to be valued as a certain small measure of justice. Juries, he writes – citing the Rodney King verdict – don’t always get things right.

He reminds his readers that people who commit sexual assault pose a danger to everyone around them. It is wrong, he points out, to assume that the violence of their behavior towards a woman is somehow unique to their relationships with women. It is evidence of how they treat people. Martial arts students are physically vulnerable to each other; an irresponsible training partner will hurt the people in his world.

The Gracie brothers (members of the first family of Brazilian jiu-jitsu) posted a sincere and thoughtful discussion of the crisis to their popular Youtube channel in January. In that discussion they emphasize the challenge of martial arts training: it can either produce a balanced, peaceful athlete or an aggressive and antagonistic one. They, too, stress the vulnerability of training partners – not women, mind you: but all of the people with whom you study a martial art.

The story of the abusive environment cultivated by Lloyd Irvin has scarcely left the MMA bubble, however. If it were not for Bloody Elbow’s contributions to SB Nation, I’m not sure this story would have any presence at all in sports media more broadly. It surely deserves much more attention than it’s gotten.

It deserves attention because the victims, the abusers, the bystanders and the defenders were all teammates and training partners. There are few sports communities in which such a thing is possible. And to outsiders, such a thing is truly remarkable, given the nature of the sport we are talking about. In the U.S., young women grapple against young men in high school competition – those women expand their training into bjj, boxing, Muay Thai, MMA. Men can get used to training alongside and sparring with women pretty quickly, people enjoy having women compete on the same card as men, representing their gym in team competition and in amateur and semi-pro competition. Martial arts competitions are heterogeneous – men and women are both a part of the sport spectacle. They are athletes, fans, trainers and referees.

As Ryan Hall writes in his “Open Letter to the Martial Arts Community,” “I am surrounded by people I respect not only as fighters and instructors, but as men and women, as human beings. I feel incredibly fortunate.”

As authoritarian and hierarchical as gyms can be – and by all reports Lloyd Irvin’s gym was and is a frightening example of that - they can also be something else (this is the subject of Hall’s open letter). A gym can be a place of humility and respect, a socially level space in which people commit to supporting each other as they attempt to figure out their goals, and help each other to meet them. This assault represents a crisis within the martial arts community not because it seems to express a form of masculine aggression latent to the sport (which is how we tend to frame rape cases involving football players) but because it betrays the value that define it.

Sexual violence between members of the same community is engineered to either expel the victim from that community or to make her sexual subjection a condition of her membership. Unlike the women assaulted by football players in the stories that make national headlines, the woman assaulted in this story was not only a fellow teammate; she was also a fellow employee.

There can be no assertion that rape culture is somehow endemic or specific to a sport that is desegregated: a sexual assault in that environment is like a sexual assault in any environment in which the victim knows, and has some kind of relationship to her attacker. It isn’t the sexism of the sport that’s at issue, it’s the sexism of that gym-space, and the sexism of the world. These are, in fact, the conditions under which most sexual assaults happen. A person might be attacked by her co-worker, a member of the same military unit, she might be attacked by her boss, a teacher. A member of her family. And, actually, where these football stories are concerned: these young women are not outsiders. They are, almost universally, fellow students at the same high school or university.

Of course every community must work towards a world in which there is no sexual assault. Every instance makes us ask why and how. With regards the case at hand, we must consider how little justice there is for victims of sexual assault and how much harder such cases can be for those assaulted by people they know. (Would that jury have acquitted those two men if they were strangers to the woman they attacked? In what world do you leave a consenting sexual partner on the ground, outside in the winter when she is too drunk to even sit up?)

This case shows us that we need to consider how should we respond to such a profound transgression of the athlete’s community.

We must work not only to make another attack less likely, but also to embrace the person attacked: to refuse to exile and shame her. To refuse complicity with narratives which make the presence of women within the sporting community into the problem, the “cause.” We must make room for conversations about sex, violence and power.

The football-centered conversations about rape just haven’t been compelling to me. Too often, such conversations are anchored in a deeply patriarchal language that re-inscribes the social vulnerability of women to masculine aggression. And while you will see the shadow of that mindset creep into the Gracie brother’s discourse, overall, the conversation that they and Oden and Hall and others have been forwarding is actually centered on the integrity of fighting, as an art that defines a community.

At the heart of a fight is a consensual relation to violence. That consensus is not merely an agreement to fight: it is also an agreement to stop fighting when one fighter submits to the other and “taps out.”

That rape was a violation of the bonds of trust and dependence that make that sport even thinkable.

Bloody Elbow reported in February that Lloyd Irvin’s best fighters left when one of the women on the team confided in a teammate that she’d been subjected to classic harassment that was moving towards sexual coercion. She needed help and advice.

In how many sports does a woman talk to a man, as a teammate, about this?

That one gesture – in which a junior woman athlete turns to a male colleague – and that one productive response – athletes united in their outrage – demonstrates how things might go: within at least the community of fighters invested in a not-sexist training space, the problem isn’t men, and it isn’t women. The problem is the sexist, authoritarian leader. That authoritarian figure is as much as a problem for men as for women.

There is no such thing as a “rape culture” unique to “jock culture” – it is only (only!) the deep, dramatic segregation of football as a purely masculine space that makes the Steubenville-like stories of social, public group attacks on women feel somehow unique to the sport. I wonder if one attraction to that phrase “rape culture” isn’t the way it lets us disavow the fact that gender segregation builds sexual violence into a social structure. You won’t find an authoritarian patriarchal space that doesn’t in some way produce the conditions of possibility for this kind of attack, a kind of violence that partners well with homophobic attacks on genderqueer people.

Making this story all the harder to tell is the ferociousness of public ignorance about sex and power.

I imagine that people who join together in sexual assaults against people who are incapacitated (by alcohol, by drugs – sometimes by drugs given to them with malicious intent) are people who would not dare to consider their relationship to eroticism, to sex, and to pleasure.

I imagine that these are people who do not know how to participate in a conversation about sex and power. These are people who cannot solicit consent from a sexual partner – they are too afraid to ask even themselves what it is they are seeking in a sexual encounter that is as much with their male teammates as it is against the woman they are attacking. Even in the community of athletes trying to do the right thing, many stay away from the subject of rape, harassment and sexism. Few know how to talk about it.

I end with this set of observations because Irvin’s defense of the 1989 assault seems to amount to calling the woman a whore, describing the attack as a group “pulling a train” on a “freak” who then changed her mind. And that’s how many people want to think of the NYE victim. Would these men even know what consensual group sex within a BDSM context even looks like? Of course not.

Within the sports media community there is almost no room for bringing a sexually progressive voice to bear on this topic.

People who play with those scripts (group encounters, D/s, bondage etc.) tend to be quite practical about sex – working knowingly towards wisdom, often within pedagogical relationships with more experienced people. It is, in fact, entirely possible to seek out sexual communities that give you something like what a gym promises: A better understanding of one’s body, one’s desires and ambitions, a social intimacy not bound by romantic/domestic partnership.

Sexually progressive folks can be extraordinarily careful about consent and perfectly able to make that carefulness sexy. I wonder if the jury that acquitted those two guys have any idea what a consensual three-way looks like? Sex-phobic people will imagine it is people out of their wits going at it in a back alley, so blind drunk because no one would dare do such a thing sober so if you are that drunk isn’t that what you were looking for? If we can’t trust a jury to do the right thing, it is perhaps because a jury of one’s peers isn’t likely to be able to think through the relationship between sex, power and violence.

For me, this is one of the horrifying things about heteromasculinist, sexist, homophobic, anti-sex spaces. They produce a fantasy of community, of collective identity but at the violent expense of specific bodies. They are driven by a terror of that-which-they-are-not. A fear of the bodies against which they define themselves. Sex becomes an instrument for producing specific bodies as socially abject.

In the totally segregated universe of football, the communal aftershock is not felt deeply enough. But in the bjj community, it seems at least within some quarters, this event has led to serious, serious soul-searching and an affirmation of the sport’s ethos, an interrogation of the power structures that distinguish one gym from the next, and an affirmation of shared vulnerability as not a weakness but a value. A thoughtful relationship to consent and violence is, in other words, built into the sport’s heart. This, I think, might be one reason why so many women enjoy belonging to this particular sports community. Because on the mat, no really does means no.

*Revised Nov 7 as jury decision came down right after this was posted.

Comments

  1. Thank you for the kind words about our coverage. Feel free to e-mail me if you would like to discuss anything.

  2. Its very disconcerting to learn that the perpetrators of such a heinous crime were not brought to justice. I know the BJJ community is in an uproar over how this will effect the sport. I think they should be in an uproar because a person was attacked, violated in the worst possible way. BJJ should be a sport in which rape is directly addressed, as it is a great form of self defense for women. But how can women trust an institution to help protect us (by teaching us self defense) when that very institution betrays us on so many levels? I’m speaking of not only this event but also the very public opinion that women are inferior in athletic aptitude and should not be in the sport at all. This axiom is evident in numerous negative, misogynist comments made on blogs about the sport. This view creates a clear and present danger to women in this sport because some men are threatened by women being on a level playing field.

    Rape is the subject nobody wants to talk about, nobody wants to hear about, and nobody wants to believe. Therein lies the danger. Too many times women are blamed for the unscrupulous acts perpetrated upon her. I am absolutely flabbergasted and appalled that the jury sided with the Df, esp. when the law clearly states that intoxication invalidates consent. It was clear from the reports the victim was too intoxicated to consent when she could not stand, slumped to the ground and hit her head on cement, and it was clear that the act was not consensual when she was left for dead in near hypothermic temperatures. The Df’s mens rea was proven by his apology, that he knew he did not have consent.

    Rape is the violent form of asserting patriarchal control, and these acts show how that ignominious view of women as subordinate to men has crept into every crevice of society. How is that forcing a woman to do the most intimate act that is reserved for love (or at least attraction) against her will is socially acceptable?? You may say its not, but when looking at the laws and societal reactions to similar situations (Steubenville most recently), its clear that we as a society do not value women as human beings and as equals to men. And yes, that problem presents itself in every context of life, including martial arts.

    It saddens and angers me that no lesson has been learned in the District through this atrocity. And it saddens and angers me that such sexism, callousness, and megalomania has invaded such an intimate sport. And to be sure, men are not the only perpetrators of sexism against women. Other women have propagated this view by echoing the same sentiments as sexist men, by trying to force control of another woman because the perpetrator feels women are the weaker sex. This NYE incident exemplifies the disparate treatment and devaluation of women. It s the most extreme example, but I can think of lesser instances that have happened.

    • And I would like to add that the focus of the importance of the sport over the actual harmed person is also made clear with the statement by Mr. France, “He’s already demonstrated a propensity to do what he wants with another persons body, why should we believe it ends with sex?” Ends with sex?? Sex is the end all. More trust is required to engage in sexual activities than to simply roll with because sex is the most physically and emotionally intimate two people can become. When woman’s body is minimized below the spirit of a sport, we have a real problem,

      • Paula,

        Thank you for taking the time to comment on this post. Your comments are thought provoking and important. I think France’s point (made in a Facebook post, so it should be taken as conversational) is that we need to see sexual violence in relation to other forms of violence. Too often the way people conduct themselves “in sex” (in marriages, in the bedroom, but also in an assault like this) gets framed as totally not-related to who and how they are in other situations.

        As a person who works in gender/sexuality studies, I’m constantly humbled be the diversity in people’s relationships to gender/sex/sexuality. For many people sex is the most intimate thing, and the place where they are most vulnerable. But there are people for whom that isn’t the case, too. Reading a lot of sports biographies, sometimes I get the distinct sense that for some athletes, the bonds that form on the field of play will feel as intimate as anything else they encounter in their lives. For the men who committed that assault – as you say, sex is not a space of intimacy but its opposite. There is no recognition of the personhood of the person they violated.

        It’s important to remember that men are sexually vulnerable too: sexual violence is not something that only women endure. This is ugly, but: lynchings of black men often included horrific assaults that one might describe as rape. Homophobic attacks against LGBT folks often include rape. In much of the discourse on “rape culture” the way that “sex” is used as an instrument of violence, of systemic disenfranchisement sometimes gets simplified. In part because it’s hard to hold onto the full complexity of it in a sentence. It is not enough, for example, to insist that men “protect” women if only because it is in the name of that cause that so many black and brown men have been murdered. This subject – ‘rape culture’ – is, in other words, a hornet’s nest for all of us.

        I can’t believe that jury let them go. But I also can’t believe a jury let Zimmerman go, or that a cop shot and killed that football player who crashed his car and knocked on a woman’s door asking for help. At some point, I will try to write about how these things connect to each other.

        I can only understand that jury’s decision as a reflection of a basic illiteracy about sex and consent. And yes, as you say: as a reflection of naturalized forms of sexism. I do think that martial arts communities – at least some of them – are well-placed to nurture responsible conversations about these issues because the sport is one in which one’s vulnerability to another is – or should be – the site of respect. And because women are a part of that community.

        Thank you again: your comments are righteous!

  3. Thanks for the good read. I cam upon the post after your post on reddit (upvote!).

    My wish is comment on Paula’s post. I will forgo any comments on the rape issue as I understand it is a difficult topic to discuss in many areas and I do not feel a need to add further fuel to the fire. All I will say is what many others have in that if in fact what many believe to have happened to that woman did in fact happen, then those two gentlemen should have been persecuted to the furthest extent of the law. I would hope that the jury, being presented all the evidence (keeping in mind the public has not) made an educated decision but we may never know all the details until they become public knowledge.

    What I would like to comment about is in regards to Pauala’s initial comments on the BJJ community (more specifically the male community) and the level of untrust that she has in it’s ability to foster a safe environment for women.

    I believe this is be a truly unfair comment on the community as a whole. To make such a broad generalization about a few terrible incidents is the same as if I were to say that all Cruise Ships are unsafe because I saw the Coasta Concordia sink and the Carnival ship lose power – when anyone who has seen the statistics knows that cruising is safer then flying.

    I believe the short witted remarks you read online are in fact that and not from the educated or even the serious practitioner. The internet is full of them and you cannot expect everyone to be on their best behavior behind a faceless key board. What I do know is that the majority of people who I have spoken to, both on and off the mat, were truly repulsed by those events. There are those that I have spoken with that may have different feelings on the cause of the incident, but all of them were universally disgusted with the events that took place, not only because of the henius nature of the crime but also the label that we knew it would leave on a community that has worked rather hard to build a reputation as being the opposite. On top of that, I think it is only fair to point out the numerous academies and clubs who put on grapplethons, seminars and other events to raise awareness and support the cause of Rape Prevention.

    In regards to your comment about the community believing that women are not as apt in terms of athletic aptitude, I would also disagree with that. I am sure many beginners will think or even say that, but for those who have been around the sport a little, they will understand that women have amazing ability and that their ability to conceive of techniques and apply them is on par if not beyond what men can do. Their athletic ability in many areas may also be superior, certainly not always in strength but in other areas such as flexibility, hip movement and fluidity (as we all know how men love to muscle). The one area I believe women may have a disadvantage (an i may be wrong) over men is the mental part of the game. Women have less testosterone and often that aggression that is sometimes helpful in BJJ needs to be taught. Also there is often a mental hurdle that needs to be defeated with a women being comfortable with her guard and on her back, which most of us completely understand but to say that we (men) believe that women are inherently at a disadvantage in the sport, that would not be true.

    I have been to numerous academies and in all of them there is a concerted effort to try and help women be more comfortable and be on “a level playing field”. Whether, and these are all things that I have participated and witnessed others doing, that is making sure more technical and/or lighter guys roll with women, giving women the chance to first learn from female instructors, or having certain people watch when women roll with new or aggressive men to monitor the roll – these are all mechanics that are set into place because we do want to see women thrive in this sport if for no other reason except that we view the dojo as a family and within a family you do what you can to give everyone a fair chance.

    Do I think that men often change their behavior in a roll with women? Sure. I know when I roll with women, I tend to try and work on their reactions and technique because I think some men either roll too light or too rough with them so I want to give them a chance to work on their game – but that behavior may belong to the way (like you said) that women are treated as whole in sports that are co-ed, especially combat sports. I do not think that that view should be negative but simply something that men need to understand.

    I could go on but I think I will end in there. I appreciate your opinion but will have to disagree on the merit of your argument.

    • I’d argue with that testosterone remark: the difficulty some people have accessing aggression is very intensely cultural. But I’m with you: I’ve found that in a good gym, there is a real interest in women’s skills – the women are not segregated as they are in other sports. You’ll see men’s and women’s fights on the same night, same audience. But in a bad gym, a bad scene…I’m sure it’s as Paula describes and then some.

    • Thank you for all the comments and feedback. Very interesting opinions to take into consideration.
      Profdoyle, No doubt that men are also victims of sexual assault, and its all about power and control I really like how you pointed out that rape affects all of us, regardless of gender, race, class, etc. And you pointed out that its all of our responsibility to be aware and change the negative view of rape victims. Thank you for your response. I personally frame the issue of rape more in the terms of women because, well, I am a woman, and its an omnipresent concern. Also 98% of rape victims are women; 99% of perpetrators are men, 1 in 5 women will be raped in their lifetime (some legal experts propound due to under reporting, the statistic may actually be closer to 1 in 3). See CDC.gov for statistics,

      I am really trying to hammer home is that gender discrimination is alive and well. The martial arts microcosm, though a supposedly more a disciplined close knit group, still experiences and reflects real world issues, and sexism is no exception. Bad eggs still make their way into “good” gyms. And side note: some of the gyms (not saying all) that have “fund raisers” for rape victims are using charity as subterfuge for an ulterior motive. Its basically a PR stunt to recover their reputation and attract matriculating students from other gyms.

      I have a distrust because I have personally experienced sexism by members of a gym. And you cannot ignore the fact that gender discrimination and violence against women is a global epidemic. The martial arts community is not immune. As Doug pointed out, BJJ is a male dominated sport in which aggression and competitiveness is bred. A hurt ego can lead to very inappropriate, aggressive behavior,. A male is more intrepid when confronting or verbally attacking a woman because we are viewed as the weaker sex and are smaller in general. Just because the carnival cruise stayed afloat doesn’t change the fact the Titanic sank.

      About the trial. No, I have not seen the video evidence, but I did read the police report. And from what I’ve heard, the video evidence corroborated the report. Historically juries have not given justice to rape victims. Most rape victims are vilified by the public and the judicial system. That;s why legislatures have stepped in and passed Rape Victims Shield Laws. But none of this changes the hard wired view society holds: the blame the victim mentality. And juries reflect the culture and are influenced/biased by it. Nancy Schwartzman, Executive Director of The Line Campaign and director of the film The Line, explained jurors line of thinking,
      “…When it comes to sex crimes or sexual behavior, the average person/jury member can’t seem to comprehend nuance. If you are raped, you should diligently scream and struggle in just the right way, call the police, collapse in a ball, and never have sex again. If you deviate from this script or course of action, well, you didn’t fight hard enough. You weren’t actually raped [according to the jury]…”

  4. francis froop says:

    I really enjoyed this article and I have been trying to find more coverage of this tragedy. I saw it on Deadspin, and I remember you saying it was part of a series. When will you be publishing more?

  5. I am a little late to this article, but would like to thank the author for a nuanced, powerful piece. The links within, especially to Georgette’s blog, allowed me to re-analyze this crisis through the eyes of people more experienced in legal and human rights issues than me. It is an unfortunate reality that many people who train are not versed in women’s rights issues, are not educated in gender-inequality and the ways that these issues affect us all. Our understanding of the dynamics of sex and power is often poor, informed by day-to-day experience and little else. The New Year’s Eve incident shook our confidence and exposed a general lack of action and ignorance as well. Thank you for highlighting the efforts of some in our community to rebuild. Thank you for pointing out where we misstep along this path, in our thoughts and in our language. We learn lessons everyday on the mats, we problem-shoot and critique the moves and techniques, all with the intent to make us better grapplers and in search of some truth. We can apply this educational process to this other, important and related arena. It is only through the help of others, who acknowledge our successes and instruct us in our failures that we grow as grapplers and as people.

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