Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why I don't recommend martial arts for victims of abuse

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone whose stepchild had been a victim of abuse. I was going to suggest martial arts as a means of building self-esteem and learning self-defense ... and then I stopped myself and did not.

Here is why -- because in my 43 years of experience in judo, I have seen a higher proportion of sexual abusers than I have in the general population. I suspect this is also true of other martial arts. Now, it's true that this is only limited to my experience, but in 43 years, traveling around the world, as well as monitoring the news on judo fairly closely, that experience includes a lot of people.

There are a few reasons I think this is true:

  1. In general, people who are seeking to abuse children have to get access to them in some way. Thus, you find more child abuse among people who come into contact with children regularly in settings unsupervised by other adults. To become a teacher at the K-12 level you need to get at least five years of education plus pass a background check, including getting finger printed. To teach martial arts you need to be in a club for a year or two and convince someone to give you a rank. Yes, in some clubs it can take five years or more to get a black belt, but that's not true everywhere. Often, if you show up to class and pay your dues on time you will get promoted. The background check is pretty minimal. The same is also true of many other extracurricular activities like youth sports or dance. 
  2.  In AYSO soccer, my daughter has competed for five years in two different cities and nowhere could you have practice unless there is a female chaperone there.  In contrast, supervision in martial arts programs by other adults tends to be pretty minimal. At our judo program at Gompers Middle School, we cannot have practice without a certified staff member from LAUSD on the mat, but that is an anomaly. I know of dozens of judo programs that have practice with just one adult instructor. Growing up, that was the norm for me.
  3. Situations where a person is in authority - coach, teacher, priest/ minister or parent - not only do they provide an opportunity for abuse but children are often trying to please those people and are often afraid of their authority. Besides, these are the people who children are supposed to be listening to their directions.
To sum it up, you have a setting where physical contact between an adult and a child is allowed, where people with minimal to moderate screening  are in positions where they have unsupervised access to children and are put in a position of authority over them.

On top of all of that, there are certain characteristics that make abuse more likely to occur.  The vast majority of judo instructors are male and over 90% of sexual abuse of females  and depending on the study you read, 63-86% of sexual abuse of males occurs with a male perpetrator. 

That is not to say that victims of abuse should not do martial arts, ever. There are people I would trust completely.  Jim Pedro, Sr. , Tony Mojica, Steve & Becky Scott, Karen Mackey - I could give you a list. The point is, all of these are people I have known for years.  I would feel comfortable recommending any one of them INDIVIDUALLY. 

However, I would not feel comfortable recommending judo, or martial arts in general, and since I did not know anyone who lived near this particular family, I caught myself and just expressed sympathy and recommended family therapy.

The reason I wrote this post is that I think people who love martial arts often DO recommend judo, jiujitsu or whatever it is they do as sort of a knee-jerk response, because, after all, it may be great for them. For some children, though, it may be the worst possible thing to do.


Unknown said...

Great article!!
All I could think of while reading was Kayla's incident.
Sad state of affairs when numbers are so high you tend to lose count.

Take Care

Mike R

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Excellent post! I have to agree with your point of view. I think that immediately sending a child to learn a martial art may give them a false sense of security - given the context. On the other hand, martial arts might give the child the confidence to stand up for themselves. I think it's more important that the child learns to recognize the warning signs and to tell a parent.

Nic said...

Sad, but true! I grew up in Judo and spent many weekends as a teen travelling with adult male teammates and coaches. I didn't suffer any kind of abuse, but the opportunity was there! Now as a female coach of children I make sure there are females in the room, coaches or parents, when I leave them with a male teacher. I don't allow children to travel with male club members unless there is a female club member or family member of the child available. For the safety of the children and for the safety of the men!

Kerry said...

What a sad situation. :-(

I really hate those guys. What they do to children should be capital offense, immediately, without appeals.

Their antics have changed the societal fabric so much that other children and innocent adults have to suffer the far reaching consequences. Both children and adults are often deprived of healthy, normal relationships and there is an air of mistrust that makes things uncomfortable, when there is no cause for concern.

All one has to do is trot out those figures and say what you've said. Better safe than sorry.

Well, maybe, if that's the way our society really wants to live.


Unknown said...

I agree with you, Kerry...problem is that I could honestly see myself carrying out the capital punishment.
I have 2 daughters and I assure you that if my daughters had been violated in any way, I would have planned and implemented the punishment.
And how could you blame a father for seeking total and complete retribution.
So...the damage to the family could be more extensive than only the abused.

Mike R

Unknown said...

Everything has an inherent risk to it. Most abuse occurs from family or friends.. so you can't hide at home or outside the home. Let's just avoid any self development cuz one might get abused.. yeah that is the ticket!! live in fear!

Sylver said...

According to the FBI's website, there were 85,000 forcible rapes in 2012 alone in the US. According to another website, 90% of all rapes are committed by people under their forties, so roughly 75,000 forcible rapes for 184 million people under the age of 45, which makes an average of 4 forcible rapes per 10,000 people in 2012. (Other sexual abuses are not included, mostly because I am too lazy to hunt the statistics down)

"Average" for the US means 4 forcible rapes per year for a population of 10,000 people under 45, give or take.

I haven't been able to find a reasonably accurate figure for the number of Judoka in the US nor for the number of Judoka involved in forcible rape in 2012, so this is as far as I can go based on the facts available to me, but I suspect you might have some estimate of these 2 figures.

I have heard about a few high profile instances of forcible rapes involving judoka, including an ex-Olympic champion (in Japan, so not counting toward this stat), but assuming we have at least 10,000 judoka in the US, do we have more than 4 forcible rapes per year?

Do we really have a higher proportion of sexual abusers in Judo/martial arts than the national average? Not that I think Judokas are saints or anything like that, but the national average is already so high I find it hard to believe we manage to do worse.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Jesus -
I'm not advocating living in fear. I am arguing about being very careful with children who have already been abused at putting them at-risk of further abuse.

Yes, family and friends are the most common abusers - friends like that judo coach who is so nice to me, the brown belt assistant instructor who offers to drive me home.

Obviously, I competed in judo and so did my children, but I was very, very careful who they associated with when they were young.

Incidentally, that "what are you worried about" line was used on me years ago when I was watching my youngest daughter at the park and I would not let her out of my sight.

The youngster who said it was 12 or 13. Later that year, he was arrested for molesting a 4-year-old at the same park.

It's not fear, it's not allowing situations to develop.

marie said...

You said it beautifully both in your blog and now you response above. Too many times have I heard of the situation where a child was molested and not a parent could be found. It's each parents responsibility to ensure their children's safety and wellbeing by being there and mindful. Thank you for this blog post

Anonymous said...

Great article. If I were asked, I would probably have recommended martial arts for a survivor without really thinking about the issues you brought up. I should know better - Sugar Ray's experience shows that even highly skilled young fighters can be taken advantage of.

I also have a list of instructors I've known for years I could recommend, but I shouldn't judge all instructors by them. We have a rule that there should be no fewer than three adults in the room at my school, but that was in part because a teacher once had a seizure (hasn't happened again, thank goodness, but they still don't know what caused it).

Thanks. I really appreciate your thoughts on this.

Kerry said...

Mike, even though I am childless, I understand your feelings completely. I've had the pleasure of having watched 4 neighbor girls grow up, from toddler to adult, over the last 25 years. They aren't my girls, but woe be to anyone that ever tried to hurt them when I was around. I'd gladly go to jail, after ensuring that they weren't harmed in any way.

But, our relationship has never been really close. I've always kept the girls at a distance, because of the issues we're discussing now. A couple of the girls were/are always giving me presents and wanting me to hang out with them, but I keep my distance. I don't ever want to be accused of being a child molester, so I don't allow the relationships to grow. I think that is a sad but necessary thing to do, given the current climate.

Dr. DeMars, I agree with you 100%. Children that have already been abused, should have extra care taken to ensure that it doesn't happen again. Unfortunately, I don't have the answers on how that could be accomplished.


Dr. AnnMaria said...

Sylver -
I was referring to coercion , child abuse and misuse of authority more than forcible rape. I'm interested in the statistics for the latter now that you brought it up. Will look into it

JL said...

sorry for the late comment I havent been able to get over to this site in a few days.
I think this is really two subjects rolled into one. Firstly would a person who was subject to sexual abuse benefit from taking martial arts. Woulndt that depend on if they enjoyed studying martial arts?? I dont know that martial arts would be any type of help to any issues created by the abuse but then again i havent studied martial arts.

Then we have the lack of supervision at places where martial arts is taught.
I do some umpiring and refereeing. of sports. This includes men and women of all ages and sometimes childrens games. My observation is that in team sports the children are well supervied especially the girls.

In order for me to work games involviong children I have to get a criminal background check. (live in MA) which I had to pay for. This is fine with me as it ensures that people know my background is clean. My contact with the kids is minimal as i am alwayas rotateted to different games. I find that the kids remember me more than I remember them. I cant seem to even recognize most of them unless they are with their parents. They grow and change so fast that it often takes me minutes or hours to know if I have ever even seen this child before.

Im surprised that in martial arts the governing bodies or even the individual schools are not demanding background checks. Especially when instruction is given one on one, small groups or one adult is responsible for chaperoning.

In my opinion any male coach who puts himself in a sitation in which he is alone around children is either ignorant, careless or wants it that way. There is no way I would ever put myself in those types of situations with other peoples children.

I think that sexual abuse a lot of times is also an abuse of trust. Predators put themselves in positions of trust and then abuse that trust. They also prey on those who are in situations where they think they can get away with it. I dont have children but If I did I would probably trust as few people as possible. its not a foolproof strategy by any means but I cant think of any alternative.

Rachel Irby said...

When I was 19 I was training for a kickboxing match and because it was not popular for women to be kickboxing I was training with all men. One day when we were at the gym one of the instructors started talking inappropriately to me and some of the other guys around were going along with him. I didn't find these much older men making sexual comments to me flattering and told him to shut his mouth. He continued and I told him again that he needed to stop. Now because I come from a Taekwondo belt system and this guy disrespecting me was a Master rank. One of the other master ranks there asked him if he should teach me some respect. I ended up grabbing my gear and walking out of the gym. I was later called into his office when I was teaching one of the kids taekwondo classes where he reminded me of his rank and that he will not be disrespected. I quit shortly after that experience. I later heard of other girls that put there trust in him and he betrayed that trust. We were adults but it is obvious that when you are in a position of power and influence your ability to use manipulation and control is at your fingertips.

I am the Executive Director of a non-profit that works with victims of domestic minor sex trafficking or child sex trafficking in the United States. We are starting a ranch for young victims 12-18. One of our programs will be martial arts training because other programs have found such training as therapeutic. We will only use female instructors for the exact reason this post illustrates. Thank you for talking about this issue.

April C said...

Dr. Ann Maria, thank you so much for this blog post. It is incredibly important and I'm glad you brought it up. I hadn't really thought about it because everyone I've ever trained with is amazing, but you're right in your assessment that blanket-recommending martial arts is irresponsible.

Rachel Irby, I am sorry to hear about your experience! That is absolutely horrible. Just sickening. I hope those guys die in a fire. And yes, even adults can be put in bad situations and not know what to do (speaking about the other people whose trust was betrayed).

As a lady, I am always trying to bring other ladies into martial arts, but these experiences like Rachel Irby's make it really hard. On one hand, I dislike events like "Girls in Gis" because it is so sexist, but on the other hand, it is the easiest way to make a safe place to introduce girls and women to martial arts and recommend safe places for them to train.

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Jason Harper said...

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