Let’s talk about Sex (harassment)

By Marlise Richter

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Let’s talk about you and me

Let’s talk about all the good things

And the bad things that may be

Let’s talk about sex

Let’s talk about sex

Let’s talk about sex

Let’s talk about sex

Salt-N-Pepa ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ (1991)

This article is not about sex.

Sex should (ideally) be about pleasure.  About consent. And involving enthusiastic adults.

This article is, in many ways, the direct opposite of this.  It is about the misuse of power and influence. It is about unwanted and inappropriate behaviour.  And it is about not listening when a person says No.

The broad description of the unsavoury collection of elements above is ‘sexual harassment’ or just plain ‘harassment’ or ‘bullying’.  And because Ultimate Frisbee is part of Life in South Africa, it – sadly and regrettably – also has people who do not respect boundaries, impose themselves onto others, or feel a sense of sexual entitlement.   While people from any gender or sexual orientation can be the victim or the perpetrator of sexual harassment, most cases of sexual harassment happen to women, perpetuated by men.

The Cape Town Ultimate community recently had a range of informal discussions about harassment, sexual harassment and bullying, and the Cape Town Flying Disc Association (CTFDA) initiated an anonymous survey to understand what possible problems might exist within the community, and to be proactive in preventing inappropriate behaviour.

In CTFDA’s survey, the following useful definitions were employed.

  • Harassment covers a wide range of behaviours of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour that disturbs or upsets, and it is characteristically repetitive.
  • Sexual harassment refers to persistent and unwanted sexual advances (physical, verbal, non-verbal.)
  • Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

The report can be accessed here.  Of importance is that 40% of survey respondents reported personally experiencing or witnessing either an episode of harassment, sexual harassment or bullying or behaviour within the Ultimate context that has made them feel uncomfortable in relation to the above categories of behaviour. This unsavoury behaviour has happened on and off the field.

Players were asked to share some recommendations on preventing and responding to harassment, sexual harassment and bullying, and these included

–          Sports bodies passing a sexual harassment policy and a Child Protection Policy (see CTFDA’s draft Anti-Harassment policy here)

–          Disseminating information and initiating discussions about consentPro-Consent Culture, and about predatory behaviour, which includes coaches and captains pre-season training; and

–          Having a dedicated position within the Association to deal with cases of harassment

So, what does sexual harassment look like in the Ultimate context? The case study of the ‘Naked Game’

Aside from its range of enchanting qualities and virtues, many people are attracted to Ultimate because it is a mixed-gender sport.  Many mixed teams’ culture and camaraderie are built on banter and easy, fluid relationships between men and women – often where traditional gender roles in a heterosexual context are challenged.

Does raising awareness about sexual harassment mean that any talk of sex should be taboo, and one is never allowed to ask someone on your team on a date? Most certainly not .

Might this well signal the death of the showcase ‘Naked Game’ – a game of Ultimate, usually played late at ‘Party Night’ during tournaments, often in the dark, where most, or all, forms of clothes are eschewed?

The definition of sexual harassment is key here, and “persistent” and “unwanted” behaviour is the touchstone.  Sexual harassment policies often talk about the creation of a hostile environment and is defined as “Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive working or learning environment or is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it affects a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from a […] activity”.  Some players might celebrate the audacity, free expression and humour of ‘Naked Games’, while other players might feel deeply uncomfortable and offended by the same.  The litmus test would lie whether anyone is coerced or pressurised into participating or watching a Naked Game, or in fact, any other activity that goes against their own personal convictions or ethics.

This example suggests that team discussions about what is acceptable or not within the team context are important here.  It might well include open-ended discussions about “Fines Nights” (is strong-arming people to consume alcohol as a form of punishment, a constructive team bonding exercise, or should there be alternatives on offer?), team socials and rituals, and what banter within Huddles or Whatsapp groups are unacceptable within the team’s ethos, and what is ok. Some additional questions to be considered include: Is everyone’s voice heard in these discussions, or only the loud, extroverted ones? Are there channels of communication set up within teams where players could confidentially raise issues of concern as they arise, and have confidence that they will be addressed? Setting up a Team Ombud might be useful here.

What, then, are examples of outright sexual harassment, harassment, bullying or humiliating behaviour within the broad Ultimate context that should be avoided, and challenged when it is possible?

–          Uninvited touching or fondling another players’ private parts, and could also include long, uncomfortable hugs

–          Coaches or captains insisting on sex or a date for a position on the team

–          Repeatedly making romantic or sexual advances to another player and not taking ‘No’ for an answer

–          Pulling down another player’s pants in an effort to humiliate them

–          Applying undue peer pressure to ensure that everyone joins in team joviality that includes sexually suggestive actions, or exposing body parts (see case study discussion above)

–          Making a ‘rape joke’ of any kind; and/or

–          Secretly videotaping  your team mates while they are getting undressed or having sex.

Comedian Ann Victoria Clark designed the Rock Test for sexual harassment in the workplace, that is here adapted for the Ultimate context:  “treat all Ultimate players as you would treat Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.  On-and-off the field”

If you see one of your team mates failing to apply the test, it is time to have a conversation with them about their behaviour.  And perhaps it signals an opportunity for your team to have an open and frank discussion about what is acceptable and respectful behaviour in the team, and what is not.


One thought on “Let’s talk about Sex (harassment)

  1. Thanks for writing on this important issue, Marlise. Indeed it is necessary to interrogate certain practices and events in the community that may cause discomfort for others. Thanks also for writing so elaborately about what constitutes sexual harrassment! I hope the conversation continues even beyond the draft policy (which in itself is a step in the right direction).


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