Dear athletes, survivors, coaches, parents, and sports administrators,
My name is Kathryn McClain, and I am the Program and Partnerships Director at #WeRideTogether (#WRT). I read, talk, write, and educate daily on the topic of sexual misconduct and abuse, particularly in sport. Before this position, I gained my Master in Social Work and worked in community mental health, as well as earned my Master in Business Administration and acquired entrepreneurial experiences.
But what has really informed my work the most at this nonprofit has been my experience in athletics and my experiences as a woman in this world. As a child, I grew up on the soccer field, ski slopes, volleyball court, in the pool, and rowing across the lake. As an adult, I’ve spent countless hours training and competing in endurance sports including open water swimming, triathlon, running, and cycling. Throughout my life I have also survived numerous and extensive injuries, medical trauma, dating violence, and sexual harassment and assault from sporting and outdoor professionals.
In coping with such experiences individually and communally, I have learned and observed personally and professionally about the impact of traumatic events, the importance of healthy relationships, and what resources and tools are available and actually valuable and helpful.
Here at #WRT, we carefully curate content and material that adequately addresses and creates awareness on the issue of sexual abuse in sport. We know that decreasing stigma and making conversations palatable and approachable is key to meeting people where they are at on the spectrum of comfortability in terms of discussing this difficult and icky topic. Moreover, I deeply value and appreciate the work of other like minded individuals and organizations that promote awareness and provide resources on topics such as boundaries, consent, trauma healing, and education on best practices for sex education, preventative measures, and reporting.
It all makes a difference. And we must start somewhere. Recently, I attended an event in which two organizational leaders in the space discussed healthy relationships and consent. They provided a thoughtful and thorough overview and understanding of the topic at large. They gave general information and take-home advice to listeners. Talks like these are needed and valuable; they are palatable and approachable. But I left wanting more.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the vast majority of content available publicly on the internet, social media, and discussed in the mainstream unfortunately frustrates and irritates me. I find that it just scratches the surface. These platforms make similar efforts as us, providing the content in politically correct ways, avoiding information overload, and treading lightly to not be too assertive or particular for a broad audience. Yet, we need to go deeper. And, another vast majority of people are ready, willing, and need us to go to such depths. We need to be more granular, we need to talk about the specific nuances and nitty gritty of what applying these concepts looks like in real life, in the moment, and the barriers faced by victims, parents, and coaches in real time.
This is what the marketplace–society–is missing. I know from the survivors I have talked to, the women in my life, and from what I have seen and observed from my lived experiences in boarding school, college settings, workplace environments and various sports arenas that more frank, intimate, and dynamic discussions are needed and warranted. This is what would have helped me and other survivors that I know.
For example, let’s really dive into why do people not ask for consent? Why do individuals freeze during sexual interactions and not speak up and say no? Let’s talk about toxic masculinity, let’s talk about people-pleasing. Power and control. True emotional intelligence and empathy. Let us break down how religion can become a barrier to sexual education and the consequences of this for individuals later in life. Let us talk about the layers behind staying in unhealthy and abusive relationships. Let’s hold space to understand why you or someone you know may want to be treated badly, tolerate it, or seek it out. Together, can we connect the dots between self worth and self advocacy. Let us talk about and understand how unsolicited nude pictures are harassment. And, can we discuss how hard it is to not only set boundaries but to hold them, or how the hell to decide what our boundaries are in the first place. Let us talk about the complexity in saying ‘no’ to your married partner, or ‘no’ to a one night stand when your pants are already off…
How about how to cope with the shame, blame, and judgment we may receive for our sexual desires and choices? Can we practice having these hard discussions? Can we talk about how great sex can and should be. What we all deserve in terms of respect and pleasure. Let’s discuss why parents are not filling these gaps, how they are not equipped and positioned to, and why most kids actually can’t and don’t talk to their parents about these things regardless if they have a great open relationship or not. Let us talk about how you want to be a part of your team or frat but are pushed to engage in the horrific tradition of hazing for social acceptance. The list goes on…
We can and should dive deeper. We need more tangible examples. We need nuances explained. We need to have tough and awkward conversations, publicly, communally, broadly. These specifics cannot be reserved for behind therapy walls or in family homes. These are not just personal or domestic issues, but societal woes, cultural concerns, and material we should all have access to. The reality is no one has all the answers and no one can tell you the exact right thing to do in the worst scenarios. Our parents and providers do not know. Organizations do not know. Every situation is deeply complex and different. But we can start having better conversations. Even if we do not get it perfect or complete, it is breaking the ice, it is going there and reminding us all that we are in this together.
This is what I want to talk about, what I want to write about, and what I want to support others with – how to navigate what it is like to be a sexual body in this world today, inclusive of all identities and experiences and cultures. This is what I am ready for and what I believe others are ready for and what we all need. A safe space to explore the depths and confusion, the messy and the uncomfortable, together. Then be able to give, share, and have language and distributable content that is applicable to real life scenarios that we may face each day.
Are you with me? What questions come to your mind? What real life situation do you need support with?
With bravery in full service,
Kathryn McClain, MSW, MBA
Program and Partnerships Director at #WeRideTogether
In commitment to having these nuanced conversations, I will be creating content and materials pertaining to these topics on our blog and socials. To submit a question or topic idea, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.