I am a skater at a small league. We were always said to be a ladies team but as I went into fresh meat with a number of new females and to our surprise, males. Most of which were fine. One much older man, from the start was not like the rest. He only talked to females, even though other men were present. I always felt uncomfortable skating with him, most did.
One session we were pracicting whips in a pace line. We were not to hold on to each other in the line but for whatever reason he insisted on placing his hands on our hips and allowing them to linger. Everytime he was told no contact. He would giggle, stop, then do it again.
This would continue for months, little advances to different girls. Touching during non contact drills, placing hands on their lower back or inner elbow while talking. Putting his face far too close to yours while talking. Comments on our bodies. Things that may seem minor in themselves but added together and over a long period of time it made us all very uncomfortable.
For whatever reason I started to feel he was singling me out. I made it very clearly, but politely that I did not want to talk to him or be near him. I would leave quickly anytime he came near. I would find that when we lined up for drills he would move to be near me. If we were doing laps he would try to stay near me and grab my hips, to “steady himself”, his words. I made it very clear this made me uncomfortable and unsafe on track. It continued. We told the coaches a few times and nothing was done. They just said “thats just how he is.” always defending him.
We moved on to contact. This is when it got worse for us all. We would preform contact drills, where we would push with our hips against another skater. Every time he did his he would quite obviously rub his crotch against us. He never did it against a man. This was obviously uncomfortable for us and may seem like an accident but he was the only male to do so and with every female, regardless how many times he was told not to. It got to the point that a fellow skater got so angry she had to sit out of the drill. When I spoke to her she told me this was the reason.
That same session I continued to play. He was in the opposing pack to me. We were not team mates, he held onto my hips with his crotch against my bum almost like he was thrusting me. I lost the plot at this. Swore and told him to “get off me”. He just smiled smuggly. My head coach then proceeded to tell me off, reminding me this is a “contact sport”. I threw off my pads and sat in a corner packing my things, so angry. The drill ended and to my surprise he started to come towards me. I was honestly thinking, is he going to apologise? So I gave him a moment to speak. Too my horror no apology left his month, what came instead was “would you come to the toilets with me to check my body for bruises?” I couldn’t believe it. He had no regard for what he just did. No remorse. No understanding of how inappropriate that was. There were other men present. I shouted for him to get away from me, and to go ask another man. I started to drive myself mad worrying about it, was I over reacting? Was this normal? I started getting really anxious before training. Even crying and shaking at the throught. I just thought why am I getting so upset when “nothing happened”. But that was just what I was being told by coaches. But it was my body and I have the right not to feel violated by a man.
Although others had all discussed between themselves and with me, it became more clear that 2 in particular were just as upset and angry as me. We finally issued a formal complaint to the head coach. It took alot for us to say how we felt, surprisingly the response was a post on facebook to the whole league reiterating that this was a contact sport and that touching happens. If we didn’t like it this may not be the sport for us.
I was horrified. And didn’t know what else to do.
He said to two other males, “isn’t it great being it a sport where you get to just grab women all day.” Neither of them agreed and told him it was inappropriate, thankfully.
It just continued. I Ignored him best I could, never letting him close enough to touch me, but still the little comments would pass through, he came to tell me about his crotch, ask me about my underwear, comment on my body, comment on others, discussed his sex life. Just obscure things to try and get a reaction from me. Inappropriate things but everytime I mentioned it, I started to be singled out by the head of the league for “hating him” and having a grudge. I did hate him, for no other reason that how he made me feel and what he did. How I would never get away from him unless I leave. That I was told I was over reacting. After a while a new head coach was put in place. A girl who was aware of the allegations and believed us. She did whatever she could to make sure it stopped but was powerless to remove him from the league becauseof other heads.
We had a recruitment drive with young women present and he only skated beside them. He was told by the coach, who was on our side and noticed things herself. to move along. He skated away but as soon as her back was turned he went over to the skater again.
This was the final straw for me, I needed to protect them if not myself. I put a formal complaint into our sponsor who happened to be our governing body, with their own polices on the matter. To my great relief they took it seriously and proceeded with an investigation. But to my absolute horror there were women in my league who did not believe me and submitted evidence to support him. Even with everyone else coming out later.
As the investigation was going on, out of the blue he posted on one of the groups pages “people may think I’m a dirty old man but I’m not.” then “I want you to know I’m in this for the roller derby, nothing else, some of you may think this old geaser is looking something, I’m not, ask anyone.” guilty conscious perhaps? … It was a stupid remark. People did begin to ask and more and more came out. Including a story of a sexual comment made to a minor as well as a post on his facebook about how “grabbing women is so natural now, so not PC but in derby it’s ok”. All that just added to the case against him.
But still I was being singled out for discriminating against by him by my league because he was old. I was fighting against the heads of our league, a league they swore was for women and the protection of them. They were not protecting me, was it only certain women they would protect? I began to lose faith in it. But my friends rallied me on. They supported me, went to the investigation meetings when called. It helped to remember, our league was ours. Not the heads. They were wrong. and they were protecting this man. while it was going on they actually tried to cut ties with our sponsor. The ones supporting us, fighting for us. Fortunately it wasn’t as easy as thay. We had a contract. It took a year but I won. They found the allegations to be true.
The head were told to remove him from the club by the sponsors, he was banned from all games and training. He responded to this by claiming he was going to hurt himself. That he was going to come to training and he would confront me. This only confirmed to me that he knew exactly what he had been doing, he knew who he was picking on, he named the other girls he also harassed, how else could he have known, they weren’tto name the accuser. The heads then contacted me to make me feel bad that I drove him to hurting himself, that I wasn’t concerned about his mental health. and what a bad person I was!! What about my mental health? the other girls? Why was his more improtant? Why wasn’t he dealt with at the start so that it would never have gotten this far for either of us? It was never about me, it was about all the women in our league. And they failed us. They failed me. Not all of them, but the ones important enough to do something.
In the end he was removed but he still is able to attend rival games. Everytime see him I feel sick. I know there is nothing I can do other than make this a police matter, which I was adviced to do. But my mental health would not allow me to do that, I would not be able to cope with the pressure. I’m disapointed in myself about that but I believe I have done enough and continue to always support other women.
I’m grateful for those who did believe me, who spoke out even though it was hard. Its was embarrassing. And I’m proud of myself for sticking it out ’til the end. For the good of us all. For the good of my league. I’m proud of the men in our league who did not stand for it, who supported us. Who reiterated it was not appropriate.