The Importance of the #SpeakingOut Movement
The first half of 2020 has been difficult; outside of the COVID-19 pandemic that took over the world and declared an official pandemic in April by the World Health Organization, we have seen the epic resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the racially motivated systemic violence by law enforcement against people of color, with the most horrific being the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd. Calls into domestic violence shelters/hotlines and sexual assault advocates have increased exponentially during the pandemic because many victims are forced to stay in close contact living arrangements with their abusers during shelter-in-place orders. Needless to say, many people have been negatively impacted and triggered by the status of our world today.
Another movement that began in June 2020, one that may not be on the “radar” of mainstream America, was the movement known as #SpeakingOut. This movement was created by female performers within pro-wrestling out of their anger and unwillingness to be abused by other performers, male and female, within their industry. Truth be told, I have been personally waiting a long time for something like this to happen. I am saddened, however, that certain things within this industry have not changed over the course of the 13 years I have been away from the ring as a performer with my husband, TWN Vice President Chris Dallaire a/k/a Derik Destiny. I am more saddened, and incredibly angry, that it took a person mentally breaking to speak out on the widespread abuse performers, mostly female, endure while working in this industry.
There have been terrible stories all over the world about this abuse; one female star in the UK was raped by her mentor and trainer in a clear situation of “abuse of power”; countless accusations against various male performers worldwide regarding alleged sexually abusive behavior, such as stalking, inappropriate/unwanted advances, and sexual assault (depending upon jurisdiction); and even male performers extending stories of outright bullying during training and female performers exhibiting predatory behavior towards underage male trainees. These stories, unfortunately, are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
I can attest to some of the abusive behavior myself; during my time performing on the independent circuit, I was first subjected to body-shaming (“you’re too fat for wrestling; nobody will ever want to see you do this because you’re ugly”), to verbal abuse when my husband and I began dating (“you’re nothing but a glorified ring-rat,” “slut,” “whore,” and my personal favorite “you’re only looking to train so you can hook up with guys and you’re going to ruin his career”), to blatant sexual harassment during matches where my chest was groped and blamed on a hand slipping during a move set. Whenever the “boys” in the locker room would corner me and say something like this to me, their attitude would instantly change the minute my husband walked in the room. Suddenly they were our biggest fans, “what a great couple you two make” and “we’re so happy for you,” but as soon as he left the room, I was told to keep my mouth shut for fear of not being booked on another show. The final straw was when a promoter cornered my husband before a show one Saturday afternoon and asked him if he knew “what you’re getting into with that girl” (I still can’t figure out, 13 years later, what that meant). Chris knew something was not right when I expressed a desire to stop going to bookings, so when he thought about my remark with my accounts of verbal abuse, he decided to retire and never speak to anyone he worked with in independent pro-wrestling ever again. He gave up something he loved so much for me because he believed me and was disgusted by how I was treated by people he considered to be his friends.
During the time I was training and working within the independent promotions, I was receiving therapy from the trauma of my rape and sexual abuse, in conjunction with treatment for alcohol and opiate addiction, so hearing these comments constantly from people I was supposed to be learning from was not only unpleasant, but felt like I was being re-violated constantly. I didn’t want to speak up to anybody within these promotions about what I was experiencing because it was reiterated that if I said anything, I would face repercussions that often include being “black balled,” where promoters would refuse to hire us to work their shows. I felt like I was constantly walking on egg shells, which of course, increases stress levels exponentially. When stress levels are increased for someone going through the beginning stages of the healing process, we often relapse with self-abusive behavior, up to and including self-harm and relapse into addiction. The stress from the constant barrage of abuse caused me to relapse with alcohol twice, which in turn triggered my flashback event that I spoke about in my previous blog post.
I expressed a desire over the prevailing years that I wanted to speak out to wrestling promotions, not only about sexual violence in general, but also about the abuse I experienced while working in pro-wrestling. Those of us that have been victimized have an increased likelihood of revictimization later in life, most of the time by someone we know, trust, and even love. I feared that individuals who may have experienced abuse at the hands of other performers were constantly being revictimized because its reasonable to believe that many of them have already survived terrible trauma from sexual violence, including childhood molestation and rape. I have had more doors shut in my face from wrestling promotions because of the need to keep their “dirty little secret” of abuse and sexually abusive behavior behind those slammed doors. Veterans in the industry do not want to see a change because to them, it’s easy to justify bad behavior if its something that one has always done, with excuses of “it’s just the way it is, so live with it.” I thought this was something I needed to resign myself to, and up until the #SpeakingOut movement, I had accepted it and instead told anybody that may need help that I and other resources are standing by in case they were ever ready to talk. This resignation felt so defeating; that is, until now.
I cannot express my gratitude to the brave men and women that have spoken up and had the courage to tell their stories. They have helped reach so many people worldwide to discuss such an uncomfortable and triggering topic. They are all working very hard to change the industry standard, not just on a pro-wrestling level, but also on a human level. Talking about being victimized is not easy, especially when speaking up about their own abuse at the hands of abusive colleagues, but I can assure you that because you all have spoken up so bravely, your stories will undoubtedly help others affected by sexual violence within their company, and by extension, those who are close to folks who have decided to begin to heal by talking openly and without fear about the abuse they may have suffered at the hands of others in the industry. It only takes one person to get the conversation started, and only then can things start to change.