Trigger warning – this article contains discussions on sexual assault and may be distressing for some readers.
The ultimate community is designed to feel safe. Our teams are like family, and the support we offer each other on and off the field is incredible. When a sexual assault happens, that familiar, protected home you’ve built around yourself comes crashing down. All of a sudden, the community that made you feel so safe, becomes one of the most difficult places for you to be.
5 years ago, I was raped by an ultimate player whom I had once called my friend.
Because of this, the tight-knit nature of our community that I love so much has also worked against me in a lot of ways. Over the years this has meant seeing my perpetrator frequently – I’ve seen him at tournaments, at practices, at league, and heard his name come up in conversation even when I was in a different city. Ultimate became this strange balance of being a safe haven and simultaneously a place of anxiety.
I spent the following few years after it happened playing it off as an “awkward sexual encounter” in my head. I was in total denial. No matter how much I tried to push it to the back of my head, “awkward sex” never answered how I felt about it. I ignored the feeling I’d had when I showered and washed my bed sheets at 5 in the morning. I struggled to sleep for days, and my anxiety still resurfaces. Mostly, I felt nauseous every time my ultimate team was practicing next to the men’s team. “Awkward sex” doesn’t change your life the way this did for me.
When I was younger, I was taught that rape and sexual assault was violent. It took me several years to understand what consent really means. 5 years later, I still struggle to use the word rape to describe what happened. There is still a part of me that doesn’t want to believe it. No matter how many times I’ve talked myself into taking some of the blame, engaging in any sexual activity with someone without their consent is sexual assault, and having sex with someone without their consent is rape.
From conversations I’ve had over the years, I’ve noticed that among ultimate players there’s a mentality of understanding, but also denial. People seem to comprehend that sexual assaults do happen, but they struggle to believe that they or their friends could be responsible.
When we shy away from conversations about consent, absolutely anyone can become a perpetrator.
Recently, there was an article published in InsideOut Ultimate by Sophie Taylor on consent and sexual assault. It inspired me to share my own story. We need to keep talking about consent. The conversation has to continue, and it is important to understand the reality of the issues at hand.
This is about doing what we can to make sure no one has to feel this way again. So that no one ever has to go to a tournament in fear of seeing their perpetrator on the sideline – or worse, be too uncomfortable to go to the tournament, practice, league game, or social event at all.
I would like to share a definition of consent that helped me when I was trying to wrap my head around my own experience. According to Planned Parenthood, consent is:
“Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).”
It is so important to take the time to consider the various facets of consent. Recognize that there are both verbal and non-verbal cues which can help you navigate these scenarios. Just because someone is not saying “no”, does not mean they are saying “yes”.
Furthermore, we live in a society where victims of sexual assault are often put down for speaking out both publicly and privately. This past fall, I told my perpetrator in person that I felt he had raped me. It was terrifying, but in the end it was an extremely positive experience. He held himself 100% accountable. He took full responsibility. He listened. He believed me about details that he himself didn’t remember. He implored me to stop blaming myself for any of it. Honestly, while I may always struggle with what happened, he regained respect from me during that conversation.
Confronting someone about sexual assault may not be possible for everyone. That said, I want people to hear a positive story about speaking out, and I want perpetrators to learn from his ability to hold himself accountable. Consent and accountability are two things we can genuinely spend time talking about and working on, and both have a huge effect on our community.
We will continue to foster a safe environment the more we talk about consent, listen to our teammates and our ourselves, and believe one another. Through all of the stressful and anxious times, ultimate has also been a source of joy for me throughout all of this. In part, this is due to the amazing people and teammates who have stood by me over the years. Ultimate is packed with incredible people, and collectively there is a motivation to continue to do better for our community as a whole.
Having a conversation is an immensely effective way to create a positive change. Discuss it amongst your teams, support each other and learn together. Have it as a discussion topic on the table at forums. Discuss what we can do as ultimate players to support survivors within our community. Ultimate is not exempt from sexual assault, and it’s time to talk about it.
If you or someone close to you has experienced sexual assault, you can find many helpful resources that you may need here: https://www.nsvrc.org/
Check out and contribute to UpWind Ultimate’s #HUCKYES Campaign: https://www.upwindultimate.com/huckyes/