Sexual abuse in yoga: Karen Rain's testimony/ and 2
"I don't need a 'I believe you'. I need a 'I defend you'." This is the title of the second and excellent article sent by Karen Rain to the writing of YogaenRed, from where we give you all our support. You can read the first article and the introduction by clicking on the suggestions at the end. Karen Rain writes. English translation: Athena Acevedo
Believing victims of sexual assault is just the first step in supporting them.
More than 30 years ago, I was assaulted at gunpoint in New York City while selling ice cream. I reacted as I had been taught: as soon as the thief was about six yards from me, I pointed it out and shouted "That guy is armed and he just robbed me!" Despite being the only person who saw the gun, no one doubted my word. The salesman next to me and the people passing by ran after the thief and risked their lives to get back the two hundred dollars he had stolen from me. The automatic reaction to the assault was not only to believe me, but to thirst for justice.
If I posted on social media that someone stole from me and people answered "I believe you," I'd feel more confused and upset than supported. There will never be a movement #MeToo or #YoTambién for assault victims, because "believing" them is not the issue... even if there have been no witnesses. People don't feel pressured to keep an assault a secret, nor do they assume they should be embarrassed or blamed for having suffered a robbery. However the immediate reaction to the allegation of sexual assault is doubt. Maybe people prefer not to believe stories of sexual violence because they find it unbearable to imagine that reality. Or maybe because I wouldn't know how to act if you assumed it as true. The need to maintain status quo or protect the aggressor. Or that people feel indecisive because the aggressor is their friend or relative, or someone respected or admired in their circle.
As a survivor of sexual violence, I am familiar with the discredit of others. We've been conditioned to feel grateful when someone believes us, as if they were doing us a favor. Unfortunately and, at the counter-treatment of the original intention, the Hashtags #MeToo and #YoTeCreo keep people trapped in the loop of a false debate: believing us or not believing us. There has been a situation where victims are expected to remain happy with the credibility of others, we felt that we cannot aspire to more and that no more can be done. Telling a victim "I believe you" has become an apparent synonym for social support or activism, even an alleged outcome. The truth is that the authors of many of the millions of texts published under the #MeToo or #YoTambién social media label had already reported some sexual assault and no one had believed them, or had suffered sexual assault and shut up because they knew no one would believe them. However, I would like to stress that, in the case of many survivors, after we believe that we have been subjected to the pain of the subsequent reaction: blaming ourselves and making us feel ashamed.
The prestigious yoga teacher Pattabhi Jois sexually assaulted me. There are photographs documenting this abuse, as well as photographic and video evidence that shows him violently assaulting other practitioners. There are many testimonies of victims and witnesses to the sexual assaults pattabhi Jois inflicted on practitioners for more than thirty years. Some of the people who acknowledge these facts persist in pointing at me and pointing out other victims, openly or subtly, as culprits: "That's what it happens to put someone on a pedestal. That's what they get for giving their power to someone else." In other words, he is not guilty of abuse; sexual assault was simply meant to happen and I was to blame for trusting that man. People say that kind of thing without realizing that they're blaming the victim and that they themselves keep the aggressor on a pedestal. They speak without warning that their claims free the aggressor from all responsibility for his actions.
I remember sitting on a verdict at 15, drunk and vomiting on an otoñal night. An older boy who went to the same school as me, a football player, sat next to me. He asked me where he lived and offered to walk me home. I didn't just answer. He insisted: "Karen, I don't want to take advantage of the situation. You feel bad and it's important that you get home." He stopped a cop passing by, together they found out my address and took me home. I was so drunk I barely got to talk. Evidently, I wasn't in my right mind and I wouldn't have been able to defend myself if any of these men had tried to hurt me instead of lending me a hand. He had no power to "give in" to anyone. The football player did have the power to sexually violent me, but he didn't.
No matter how naive or uredula I have been, no matter how upset my own judgment was: Pattabhi Jois is responsible for his actions against me in the same way that my school's football player is responsible for helping me. The aggressor is always responsible for the aggression. No one cedes his power; our hopes, dreams and integrity can be manipulated through deception, abuse and betrayal. No one consciously chooses to be the target of deception, abuse or betrayal: responsibility is always for the violent one.
Perhaps the sinuous attitude of blaming and shaming victims, often inadvertently, is partly a consequence of not wanting or not knowing how to hold the aggressors accountable. In my case, some people claim to believe me, but they refuse to reassess everything they believe me entails. If my friends at the time and others who practiced with Pattabhi Jois and consider him an "authority of yoga" admit that he assaulted me and deceived me, they will not be able to deny that he deceived them too. Sexual violence is sexual violence, no matter Pattabhi Jois' intentions or the way he conceived his own actions. Inflicting sexual violence is not teaching yoga. Throughout his career, the teachers under his "guardianship" fed and nurtured the power structure that crowned him as authority, increasing not only his prestige and status as a teacher, but also that of his disciples. If the disciple calls into question the authority of his teacher, he will question his own, so he prefers to encourage impunity and continue to allow aggression: he prefers not to face the cognitive dissonance of deception or his own complicity.
The reluctance to recognize one's responsibility and complicity is understandable, but also unfortunate and too common in cases of sexual assault.Large scandals of sexual violence, such as aggressions within the Catholic Church, are sheltered in these defense mechanisms. Another classic example is the case of Larry Nassar, recognized for his generosity and as "the best doctor" in his specialty, while harassing and penetrating hundreds of girls with his fingers, usually with some father, mother or other gymnasts in the same room.
It was too hard to believe that such an esteemed "doctor," that "great man," could be an aggressor. People thought they knew him well. Or maybe they couldn't bear to weigh the crucial role they themselves had played in what happened. Trinea Gonzcar and his mother treated Nassar for more than thirty years. Nassar is estimated to have sexually assaulted Trinea more than 800 times; however, both she and her mother defended him over the years. They did not even realize that Nassar's actions against Trinea constituted sexual violence until shortly before she testified at the trial where he was eventually convicted. Almost all the victims and their parents were manipulated and deceived. Nassar's reputation, cunning and charm led them to suppress their doubts. Happily Rachael Denhollander and his mother found a way to look reality in the eye.
At the turn of the century, Denhollander and his mother knew that no one would take them seriously if they talked about Nassar's sexual assaults against Rachael. The allegation would have fallen into oblivion and no action would have been taken to protect other minors, as was the case with other allegations against Nassar prior to 2016. The first survivors to raise their voices were criticized, convicted and doubly traumatized. Thanks to her mother's support, Rachael took care of herself and waited for the opportunity to talk and make a difference. It was 16 years before Rachael saw the possibility of a public statement on sexual violence meriting respect and bringing some justice.
I waited 20 years to talk myself, on social media, about Pattabhi Jois' sexual assaults. I knew I would find more support there than among those who studied with Pattabhi Jois; many of these practitioners witnessed sexual violence or had already heard of it. If the #MeToo or #YoTambién movement became a social media phenomenon, it was precisely because the people we rely on to defend ourselves, provide active support and security, that is, friendships, family members, temples, schools, legal authorities and spiritual collectives, disappointed and abandoned us.
However, the reaction to victims must transcend credibility and transform into actions both in the virtual world and in the real world. I would like all people who, with the best of intentions, have uttered or written the words "I believe you" to support the victims, to remember that survivors need more than our credibility. The movement #MeToo or #YoTambién revealed this huge and controversial problem that requires a solution of equal caliber. An effective and momentous solution is to generate a culture of credibility without disbelief, but that also offers victims encouragement and dignity, and includes awareness and prevention. Victims and survivors of sexual assault have nothing to be ashamed of. Other people's actions do not defeat or mark us.
Teaching minors and adults to develop healthy relationships and good communication habits based on explicit consent and body autonomy is an important element of prevention. It is necessary that programmes of study of subjects such as history and other social sciences include, appropriately at every age, cases of sexual offenders and sex violence scandals with transparent analyses on how society generates breeding broths for the commission of such crimes. Responsible for aggressors can change destinations and limit the damage and number of victims. That responsibility can take various forms, depending on each crime, but unless the aggressors face the consequences of their actions, we will continue to perpetuate the cycle of violence.
The real possibility of obtaining justice will encourage victims to raise their voices. Survivors of sexual violence deserve much more than your credibility: we need your active backup, your demand to point out the aggressors to take charge of their responsibility, your demand for justice, your confrontation to power no matter how uncomfortable or risky. The automatic reaction of society must be #YoTeDefiendo.
Karen Rain she studied at Mysore as a student of Pattabhi Jois during the period 1994 to 1998.