The Quiet In the Dark – Heidi J. MacDonald

The state of our world now, in the wake of Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo has been tense and politically charged, to say the least. Over the past several months, we have seen scores of women step forward and for the first time, publicly discuss in great detail their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, traumatizing sexual assaults, and overall discriminatory behavior by their male counterparts.

The backlash since then, has been both positive and negative. Habitual predators such as Weinstein and Spacey, among many names, are now under investigation for criminal sexual assaults. Inappropriate behaviour is no longer being excused as “boys being boys”, and even those in esteemed positions, such as Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, have been terminated from their posts.

Corporate America and Silicon Valley has been recently forced to review their inadequate sexual harassment policies and predominantly biased male culture after a female employee posted a rather extensive blog post, detailing a rather uncomfortable year at Uber. The result of this, and other bad behaviour made public, forced the CEO of Uber to step down.1

The results of all of this, as well as the sobering statistics on sexual assault 2, has encouraged social media dialogues, on the path that perhaps these recent scandals could used as a catalyst to further encourage women’s self defense courses, on a broader scale.

Do I believe that there should be more women in self-defense and martial arts school? Certainly. But my take on #MeToo is from a different angle.

You see, I have been involved in self defense and martial arts since I was 22 years old. But, I will be as transparent as possible, and inform you that it did not completely insulate me from violence. I was raped by an ex-boyfriend who is also involved in the SD and MA community, only a few years ago.

I am also profoundly deaf, and rely on a cochlear implant to process sound.

So as much as I am encouraged by the #MeToo Movement, I am also acutely aware of the fact that it is not just one particular gender who are vulnerable and seeking solutions to end gender violence, but also this: that those who are disabled must be part of the conversation to find solutions.

Governor Baxter School for the Deaf underwent an investigation in the 1980s, that revealed decades of physical and sexual abuse inflicted upon the deaf children who resided in the residential facilities on Mackworth Island, outside of Portland, Maine.3

Sadly, this was not the only school for the deaf, where young deaf children were physically and sexually exploited.

  • There was the Washington School for the Deaf. 4
  • The Manitoba School for the Deaf. 5
  • Even Gallaudet University, an institution that has prided itself on serving higher education to the deaf community, has struggled with creating best practices to assist students who have been sexually assaulted.6

There are so many articles and research pieces that I came across while researching sexual violence against disabled populations. Too many, to be honest. It shocked even me. Why isn’t this discussed more in the SD and MA communities? Why aren’t we assisting this population more?

There’s no denying the fact that deaf women and children are at a higher risk of sexual assault and abuse. If the study at Rochester Institute of Technology in 2011 is to be believed, it is more than 25 percent higher than their hearing counterparts.7

Think about this carefully: the deaf community is very small, and often times the schools for the deaf, are THE center of the community’s culture. Rochester Institute of Technology and Gallaudet are certainly proof of that. Ask yourself, how do you go about reporting your own abuse or rape, if everyone in your community knows your assailant?  Also take into consideration that in such a close knit community, your identity as the victim, will NOT be a confidential matter.

Everyone will know who you are. As the victim, you have just given yourself an unfairly heavy mantle of causing a rift, unwanted trouble within a community bonded by its own culture and language.

You could be very much dependent on your abuser/assailant for your basic care and communication with the world, at large. By going public, you are placing yourself at a great physical risk, and the possibility of being cut off from communicating with others.

If you think you can’t live without texting, just think of how valuable text messaging on a smartphone must be for a deaf person.

If you do make the brave decision to report sexual assault, there is still the matter of whether the police in the community have appropriate training, or the resources to fully communicate with you via an ASL interpreter.

I was particularly disturbed by reading of one female Gallaudet University student identified as deaf/blind, and her difficulties with gaining assistance from the University’s Title XI Coordinator, who took two months to respond to her emails, and identified her during the course of a meeting with her assailant. When she finally made a complaint with the University’s Department of Public Safety, the police response was woefully inadequate.8

Female victims have often faced the perils of being called unreliable or a liar in court, so consider the additional hurdle if you are deaf, the questions you must face by police and legal professionals:

  • How capable are you of identifying your assailant if you are unable to hear? Even worse, how credible are you at identifying your assailant if you are a legally blind individual?
  • What’s your mental facility? Keep in mind that it wasn’t that long ago that deaf individuals were routinely considered “deaf and dumb.”

I strongly and passionately believe that self defense and martial arts instructors need to take into consideration not just women’s vulnerabilities as being smaller than their male counterparts, but also the very real vulnerabilities of those with physical and mental limitations. This is a segment of the population that is very much at a higher risk.

But, we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we claim that our self defense and MA schools are true fortresses of safety. It’s not true. We need to be realistic and acknowledge that sexual predators exist everywhere: our homes, our workplaces, churches, and yes – even our schools.

Considering that most self defense and MA schools do not face any sort of regulations or oversight committees (never mind background checks when hiring prospective teachers), we do need to be cautious and look twice at who we hire in our self defense schools. Here’s a few examples:

  • A jiu-jitsu instructor in Winnipeg last fall was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault. 9
  • A photo of Rickson Gracie with a man identified as David Arnebeck, made the rounds on social media. The photo of the smiling men sparked an outrage as it was determined that Arnebeck had been convicted of molesting a minor in 2013, and yet still continued to teach, receive belt rank promotions. Since then, it’s been revealed that two more prominent members within the organization also had convictions.

Should there be more self-defense courses, and more women in the halls of our martial arts dojos? Yes.

But in the process of promoting our programs, I advocate that we have a  responsibility to ideally, create 2 things:

  1. Take more responsibility and do more background checks and research into the instructors we potentially hire. Because we are not just teaching self defense, but we also have a moral obligation to have instructors who will not further harm students in a sexually abusive or harassing manner;
  1. We must discuss and craft comprehensive self defense and safety programs that includes those who are at a higher risk than their more physically capable counterparts.

If we’re going to advocate changes in the wake of #MeToo, and actively help those individuals who have difficulty advocating for themselves, then we also cannot ignore the fact that we need some form of oversight with regards to our instructors.

We owe it to ourselves to ensure that the potentially vulnerable, do not face, yet another predator on the training mat.

1 Fowler, Susan J. (Feb. 19, 2017) Reflecting On One Very Strange Year at Uber. Retrieved from:


3 Shattuck, John. Bangor Daily News (April 14, 2013). Lessons Learned After Sexual Exploitation of Deaf Students in Maine. Retrieved from:

4 Teichroeb, Ruth. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (April 24, 2001) Decades of Sex Abuse Plague Deaf School. Retrieved from:

5 CBC News (October 6, 2009) Deaf Students put in Dog Cages, Suit Claims. Retrieved from:

6 Khan, Azmat. (February 2, 2015) The Hidden Victims of Campus Sexual Assault: Students with Disabilities. Retrieved from:

7 Dube, William. RIT News. (January 8, 2011) Study: Abuse Rates Higher Among Deaf Children and Hard of Hearing Children Compared to Hearing Youth. Retrieved from:

8 Khab, Azmat. (February 2, 2015) The Hidden Victims of Campus Sexual Assault: Students With Disabilities. Retrieved from:

9 Bissell, Tim. (September 25, 2017). Martial Arts Instructor Accused of Sexual Assault and Child Abuse at Winnipeg Jiu Jitsu Studio. Retrieved from:


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