Dealing with abuse.

Robert Barton

             As martial arts instructors we come into contact with many people. It is an unfortunate fact that people often hurt themselves and one another. We see it and we must deal with it.  Generally what comes to mind when we discuss abuse is child abuse but there are many types of abuse that we may see. Abuse is not always physical and can easily be financial, emotional, social, mental or verbal or any combination of these. Many of these types of abuse are not covered under statue to protect victims. Often, verbal, mental, financial, social and emotional abuse cannot be stopped by the authorities.

In some states we may be considered a mandated reporter since we work with children. No matter what the local laws and ordinances may be all Shorin Goju instructors are to consider themselves to be mandated reporters where possible child abuse may be seen. This is simple and easy to understand, if you are teaching and you believe that there is a reasonable possibility that a child is being abused, neglected or endangered you have a responsibility to that child to notify the appropriate authority with your suspicions and reasons.

Another variety of abuse that we may see is physical domestic abuse and this too can be reported to authorities. One can also bring the matter up with the victim stating your concerns and why you are concerned based on what you are seeing and what information is available to you. Domestic physical abuse is not just limited to married people and can take place in dating and even roommate situation. It can also be against non-spousal members of a family, such is the case with elder abuse. Domestic abuse is not limited to just heterosexual relationships and can be seen in same sex relationships. No matter the nature of the relationship abuse should not be allowed or accepted. A good rule of thumb for an instructor to use is to work within the definitions of family and of relationship that the people involved use.

A few other categories of abuse may be actionable and identified by statute and may have some authority designed to address it. These include elder abuse and the abuse of the mentally and physically challenged and in some cases victims of hate crimes and bigotry. Addressing these forms of abuse is clear in that there is a specific authority that can be notified.

Self abuse is another category entirely because generally a person who is self abusing really isn’t covered by any particular designated authority just for self abuse. So unless a person is endangering his or her life directly often nothing official can be done. So the person who cuts or has an eating disorder or abuses drugs can do so with little chance of official actions being taken. It is here that the course of action becomes gray. We as teachers often hold a position of respect and so we can be honest with our students about our concerns and we may be listened to. We can work toward building self respect and then self esteem in a student to help them understand that they do not deserve being hurt. We can also recommend therapy and medical treatment when we are concerned.

Social abuse is also problematic because often this sort of bullying and harm can continue unchecked by officials even in schools where there are rules against it.  Again we must endeavor to teach our students to have self respect and then self esteem that convinces them that they do not deserve this for any reason. Next we should help our students to understand that bullies and social abusers are doing it based on their own needs and insecurities and it is more about the bully than the bullied. We should also make clear that student understand where social abuse crosses the legal line and where action me be taken. A student may not be able to report being called a name but can report being threatened. Verbal self defense skills may come in here also.

There are many possible varieties of abuse and some of them are perfectly legal and so we have to act on them in a different way. First we identify the type of abuse and let the abused know what it is and that it is not acceptable and that he or she does not deserve it. Then we can help the abused find answers to stopping the abuse or managing the effects. Another course of action that some people can take is to address it directly with the abuser but individual comfort level and situations vary greatly and should be carefully considered.

We also see abuse of authority. The pushy cop, the nasty teacher, the unpleasant hard line principle, the boss or instructor who uses rewards or punishments to coerce underlings or the clergy person who coerces others. People who are in some position of authority and responsibility and who lose sight of responsibility and only maintain a sense of authority over another. We must make sure that we ourselves do not fall into this category and if we realize that we have become that thing that we should guard against we have to address this immediately.

There is another abuse issue that we may have to deal with as instructors which can be unpleasant and that is what we do when we realize that our student is an abuser of some sort. If it is a type of abuse that is covered by statute we should act on it according to legal requirements. Sending an abusive student away is a temptation and occasionally is the answer. But when we send an abuser away we are just pushing the person away from us and he or she will still be abusive and hurtful to others. There is the option that we can as teachers address the issue with the abuser who is a student and voice our concerns. We can also place requirements on that person in order to continue his or her studies with us. We can urge the person to see a therapist or other professional.

Abuse comes in many varieties and different levels of intensity. I cannot in this short space and within the context of a martial arts program train a person to deal with abuse as an instructor in any but the most basic ways. This paper serves only to introduce the subject and to make instructors aware of the issues. I urge every instructor to research the subject and explore different kinds of abuse and different response modalities. If you are faced with a situation of abuse to or by a student I recommend that you quickly research some basic information on that type of abuse in order to better understand that with which you will deal. I also recommend that you act on the issue in an appropriate way according you your comfort and ability. Also react in away appropriate to your training and back ground. If you are not trained as a therapist then don’t try to be one simply act as a guide to safely get a person into a helpful therapeutic process. The biggest mistake that can be made in cases of abuse is to ignore it and hope that it goes away.

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