Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community: Let’s take a stand against rape

by Rachel Piazza, BJJ purple belt

As a woman, a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and a feminist, I was horrified to learn that two high profile male Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitors repeatedly raped their female teammate after offering to drive her home on New Year’s Eve. This story from Washington, D.C. has shocked the close-knit Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) community, many of whom are connected in some way to those involved in this gut-wrenching crime. As BJJ practitioners, we know the bond that teammates share and the trust we put in one another every time we step on the mat. As a BJJ community, we are disgusted at our association with these monsters. When those two men raped their teammate, they betrayed us all. As women, this crime reminds us of our own vulnerability to sexual assault and rape.

While we cringe because we know the trust that is shared among teammates, this scenario is unfortunately all too common. According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. The rape of a female BJJ competitor by her teammates reminds us that our community does not exist outside the misogynistic culture that fuels these attacks.

For me, BJJ is a way I resist this culture. When I put my gi on and grapple with men, I am refusing to listen to messages that tell me to be quiet, polite and docile. But this act of resistance can be a double-edged sword. Feeling overpowered by grappling partners can be a reminder of the power dynamics I’m trying to overcome. While I trust my grappling partners, as I’m sure this woman did, those fleeting moments bring on the sense of powerlessness that too often characterizes being a woman in this world. 

As I write, there are a number of high profile rape cases in the media. The Steubenville case is eerily similar to this one, with an incapacitated woman being raped by football player friends. Then, there’s the horrendous gang rape case in India where the victim suffered fatal injuries. But these are only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, 1 in 6 women have experienced a rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. As women, this reality is always firmly planted in the backs of our minds. While BJJ gives us many tools to defend ourselves and feel empowered, it does not change the culture that says our bodies are public property. This fact violently infiltrated our close-knit community upon reports of the horrific New Year’s Eve rape.

Having long benefited from a squeaky clean image, BJJ usually attracts attention in the news for thwarting criminal activity or when a child uses their BJJ skills to fight off an attacker. Now it finds itself in unfamiliar territory. This heinous crime committed by, and against, some of our own demands that we evaluate how we may be complicit in rape culture and how we can take steps to reject a culture that devalues women and claims ownership over their bodies.

Can we join forces to condemn the actions of these men and stand against rape? Let’s stand in solidarity with the rape survivor, by speaking out against these men and the shame they have cast on our sport.

Here are some things you can do to take a public stand.

  • Make a statement on your Facebook page or Twitter account condemning these acts and the shame it has cast on our BJJ community.
  • Make and share a “Don’t Rape!” meme to spread the message!
  • Use the hashtag #BJJAgainstRape to share what you are doing to end rape.

Ending rape also requires that we take action in our everyday life. Here are some great tips for what WE can do to stop rape.

Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Friends.

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