Coverage of the Rio 2016 Olympics touched on more than the athletic wins and losses. Among the inspirational stories of the competitors’ lives, domestic and sexual abuse survivorship received a good bit of attention.
End the Silence
On one hand, it’s great how much awareness about abuse was promoted during the Olympic games. I wholeheartedly stand behind the rally call to “end the silence.” Headlines touted the fact that gold medal winners Claressa Shields  and Simone Biles  had overcome abuse or neglect as children, or (as in the case of Kayla Harrison ) sexual assault from a trainer.
I do think it is good for “the cause” in general to have awareness in the public about how common domestic violence is and about how being a survivor of domestic violence doesn’t have to break someone forever. The selective appearance, however, of domestic abuse and sexual violence in the sports arena perpetuates some unhelpful notions about the circumstances and dynamics of abuse.
She and She Alone
First of all, association of survivorship with exclusively female athletes can fuel the belief that domestic violence is something that happens only to women. This places the burden of being an example to others of what an abuse survivor can achieve solely on the shoulders of women athletes. At a time they deserve to celebrate the joys of their victories, of being literal world champions, they are asked also to relive personal traumas on a global stage.
I did not see any mention of a single male athlete as an abuse survivor in headlines that came through my various feeds. I later made an effort to find news stories relating a male athlete’s status as an abuse survivor and came up with nothing.
One in Four
Second, this dynamic is not just unfair to the female athletes. It is also unfair to men in general. If we are to have public discussion about any social problems, that discussion must be a complete one. Men do suffer from abuse. National rates put a woman’s statistical chance of being (physically) abused at 1 in 3 and a man’s chance at 1 in 4 -- 1 in 4. That’s 25% of men living with, or with a history of, abuse. (Rates of “severe” physical abuse are 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 7 for men.)  While I am glad that work is being done to de-stigmatize female victims of abuse, I do think the blind eye turned to male survivors can serve to deepen the stigma they carry.
Inspirational or Triggering?
Do you see yourself reflected in the stories of Olympians who have overcome trauma and abuse? If so, do you find the coverage helpful? If not, did you find yourself questioning whether or not survivors like you could thrive as well?
Rebecca encourages survivors of domestic to speak about their experiences and to lean on each other for support.