The sexual assault problem in fencing

The other day a was frequenting reddit.com and found a disturbing article from r/fencing on my front page ‘The sexual assault problem in fencing’. The author wrote that she is quitting the sport because sexual assault from coaches goes unaddressed.

I am not saying that this is a problem in Dutch fencing. Truthfully, I do not know. And that is part of the problem. As a community of fencers in the Netherlands, we should know. This is an issue too important not to. In 2017 the committee De Vries[1] issued a report indicating that 1 in 7 people were confronted with sexually inappropriate behavior in sports in the Netherlands. By those numbers, it is highly unlikely that it does not happen in fencing in general and our club in particular. In fact, the problem in fencing may be far bigger than that.

The Fencing Coach[2] has written an excellent three part blog on the subject. I recommend that you give it a read. He performed a survey among women in fencing and it yielded the following results:

Close to 60% of respondents know of someone who was sexually harassed or assaulted. An equal number was harassed or assaulted herself. 60% of them reported the incident. Incidentally, not only women are victims of sexual harassment or assault. In the ages 16 to 20, 30% of the victims are male, in the age over 20, 16% are males.1

The stereotype is an older male coach who hangs around young girls a bit too much. While this is a stereotype for a reason, it is only part of the story. The testaments from The Fencing Coach blog also report harassment of referees by other referees. Coaches harassing referees. Fencers making inappropriate comments to other fencers. The list goes on.

When asked how they would handle the harassment or assault if it happened, most respondents to the Fencing Coach’s survey said that they would not know. Most had little to no faith in official channels, after all what have the authoroties done for them so far? Most women would go to their friends. Importantly, many reported a fear of repercussions should they report an incident. Either to them individually, or to the reputation of the team, or even the wider community.

For a moment I second guessed myself. Should I post this to our website? After all the website is our advertising space to draw new people to fencing and our club. The answer was yes, obviously, because self-censorship and silence will only make people who are confronted with these transgressions more alone. It is time to break that cycle. Transparency is the only way. As a club we need to have this talk and not wait until we are faced with an incident. As the Fencing Coach put it: “The burden is on the victims to come forward. Fear of retaliation or repercussions is real; however, as a community, we can make it easier for people to come forward with complaints by clearly outlining their options and providing avenues of support.”

If you have any questions regarding this topic or at any time feel that someone at the club did or said something that was inappropriate, feel free to contact any of the coaches or someone on the board that you feel comfortable talking with. If you would rather contact an independent person at the Radboud University you can reach them via https://www.ru.nl/currentstudents/during-your-study/legal-affairs/objections-appeals-complaints/report-undesired-behavior/.

[1] https://www.allesoversport.nl/artikel/seksueel-grensoverschrijdend-gedrag-in-de-sport-feiten-en-fabels/

[2] https://thefencingcoach.com/2018/03/05/regarding-sexual-harassment-and-assault-in-fencing-part-i-not-in-our-sport/