Sexual Assault in the Dance Scene
A little while ago Bgirl Jilou, a dancer from Germany, bravely published an article about the sexual assault she endured at a Breaking event a couple of years ago. Her story has opened up a conversation in the dance scene about this sensitive yet important topic. Underneath her Instagram post are now countless stories from people opening up about personal experiences with assault and organisers have started thinking about ways to tackle this issue at their events. We can all agree that's a step in the right direction. Right? Wrong... In between the mostly positive comments on Jilou's post are comments of people criticising her. And to my surprise some of these negative comments come from other women, women who say they fight for equality and female empowerment. Why are we as women competing with one another? Every story, every woman out there speaking up and using her platform, every woman who is standing up against injustice, is helping our fight for equality. Emphasise on OUR fight. Every person and every organisation that feels inspired to do better is a win. Whenever someone comes out with a story of assault or harassment, we need to support her (Or him!). Publicly criticising a woman who shares a story of assault gives other people validation to criticise it, ignore it, brush it off or even assault other women. If women, who know what it's like to experience something like this, don't event support each other, why would other people get behind the cause? We have many names for assault but let it be clear it is all assault. Groping, grabbing, stroking, whatever, if anybody lays a hand on you against your will it is assault. "It's not like she was raped" I see those comments under almost every story or post about assault. Any form of assault is a crime. It is traumatising 100% of the time, it is a big deal 100% of the time. It cannot be downplayed. It cannot be accepted. When we discuss this subject we feel the need to constantly say (Not all men). But why? I'm pretty sure men who don't assault women, don't need to be told they don’t assault women. Putting disclaimers everywhere makes the message less clear, and gives people who do participate in certain unacceptable behaviours a chance to not feel responsible. Its 2020 and apparently still not common sense that you can't just assault women, we can’t afford to beat around the bush.
People have criticised Jilou for not mentioning the name of the person that assaulted her. Shut up. It is her story to tell, there is no wrong way to tell it. Women hardly come forward because there are basically no repercussions for this kind of behaviour and though we must encourage a safe environment where people feel safe to speak up, it is, and must always be, the victim’s choice what he or she wants to share. Exposing a couple bad guys does not change the culture, in fact honing in on 1 or 2 cases makes it feel like an isolated issue instead of a cultural or institutional problem. These things happen every day, in every country, in every industry. Raising awareness and sending out a message as a community that we will not ignore this problem any longer is a first step towards prevention. We need to create an environment in which victims of these kind of crimes feel comfortable enough to come forward. Criticising someone who shares a traumatising experience or someone that is trying to make a positive change does not create a safe space, it does not help the victims and it definitely does not help move the scene forward.
I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine about Standing Rock: the pipeline that was going to be built through a Native-American reservation and it was being heavily protested at the time. At first just by Native-Americans but the protest became almost trendy and people were setting up stalls and tents and turning it into a media frenzy. It aggravated my friend who supported the Native-Americans from the start because "They don't actually care about the cause". But the hype that was created attracted more attention and was helping the same cause he was fighting for all along. If you fight against that hype, what are you actually fighting for? Do you want the issue to be solved and the land to be given back to the Native-Americans or do you just want to be self-righteous? If you criticise someone for speaking up (or the way she speaks up) about harassment or assault, are you actually fighting to help victims and end sexual assault and harassment or is your motivation of a more selfish nature?
As an artist you are a role model and people look up to you no matter how small your audience might be. So, pick your battles and be careful what you say. Victim blaming is all too common, and even with good intentions you can sometimes do more harm than you might know. We must stop normalising this culture of objectifying, harassing and assaulting women. I want to thank Jilou for highlighting this issue and sharing her story. I stand with her and all the other victims of abuse, assault and harassment. As a victim of assault myself, I feel empowered by her story. As a woman, I feel motivated to speak up and no longer ignore injustice. As a producer and event organiser, I feel responsible to find ways to create safer spaces and safer events for everyone.
You can read Jilou's story here