Yoga and Sexual Assault Survivors’ Justice: #NowWhat

Yoga and Sexual Assault Survivors' Justice: #NowWhat

ColumnWhen people take a yoga class, they expect to practice in a safe place. The keyword here, especially in the case of Bikram Choudhury’s students, is expect.

Chowdhury is known for a few things. He founded Bikram’s Yoga College of India and Bikram yoga, “a rigorous, 90-minute routine performed in a room that can reach more than 100 degrees,” reports NBC News. Bikram has also been accused on several occasions of  harassment— and for allegedly sexually assaulting six female students.

Those last two things kind of cancel out the awesomeness of bringing yoga to millions of students, huh?

You’ve likely heard about Choudhury and his penchant for being a predator and a run-of-the-mill creep. He’s been in the news for a while now for both of those designations.

All the women who have brought sexual assault and rape allegations against Choudhury have said that the Bikram founder betrayed their trust, and preyed on them because they were young and vulnerable. The first sexual assault allegation against Choudhury was filed nearly two years ago, but we’re going to detail what happened to Jill Lawler, a Canadian yogi, who says Choudhury “raped her during a teacher-training in the spring of 2010,” The New York Times reports. Delightful.

Lawler filled her lawsuit against Choudhury on February 13, 2015. The sexual assault took place “during a teacher training session she allegedly shelled out $10,000 for,” The New York Daily News reports. “This alleged attack came after he apologized to her for groping her during massages and promised to ‘make her a champion’ before he lured her back to his hotel room and allegedly sexually assaulted her.”

Now, let’s talk about the news that broke this week. This past Monday, Choudhury was ordered to pay a hefty sum in a harassment lawsuit. Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, the attorney who filled the charges, says Choudhury fired her for “investigating allegations of sexual harassment against the guru” in June 2013, NBC reports. “A Los Angeles jury ordered Bikram Choudhury to pay the attorney $924,500 in compensatory damages after finding he had subjected her to harassment and retaliation.” And this past Tuesday, the Los Angeles County jury ordered Choudhury to pay about $6.4 million in punitive damages to Jafa-Bodden, as well, reports The LA Times.

The harassment Choudhury “subjected” Jafa-Bodden was nothing short of terrifying. It’s reported that he touched her in an inappropriate manner and attempted to get the lawyer to stay with him in a hotel suite.

This news doesn’t bode well for the yoga mogul, especially considering the first sexual assault trial against Choudhury is set for April. Although, Choudhury’s lawyers are trying to discredit the women already by playing the but-it-took-them-too-long-to-come-forward card. We say, who cares? If he has sexually assaulted the six women who have raised allegations against him, we hope Choudhury is sentenced harshly, never allowed to teach yoga again, and is put away for a long, long time. And it doesn’t matter that it took the women a long time to come forward — we’re just happy they did.

Not surprisingly, this isn’t the only big sexual assault news story that broke recently.

A number of women have called out Heathcliff Berru, CEO of Life or Death PR, a popular music promotion agency, on multiple instances of sexual misconduct. Many of the women who experienced abuse from Berru went on Twitter and retold their stories. Luckily, most of them were received positive comments and support. Amber Coffman of the band the Dirty Projectors was just one of the women who told her story. Here’s one of her tweets about Berru:

Was just re-telling/re-remembering a story abt how a very popular music publicist RUBBED my ass and BIT my hair at a bar a couple years ago

The second story concerns multiple women who were groped, grabbed, and in one case, raped, at a Cologne, Germany New Year’s Eve party. While the city was quick to respond to the attacks, Henriette Reker, Cologne’s mayor, said something really dumb about the attacks. She’s “been widely criticized for suggesting that women ‘keep at an arm’s length’ from strangers to avoid sexual harassment,” reports The Guardian.

Reker also suggested that women “stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood.” Cool, thanks.

To combat Reker’s unhelpful advice, female artists who are part of the “all-female exhibition Exquisite Corpse” are using their art to speak out and fight “regressive attitudes” about women, Dazed Digital reports. In general, the show is about “confronting widespread assumptions about how women should appear and behave both IRL and online.”

While it’s great to see that some women are getting justice and more people are taking sexual assault allegations seriously, it’s still disturbing that these attacks are still happening at such a high frequency. But the only way we can stop sexual assault and abuse is with action. Because, whether you tell your story in the form of a lawsuit, tweet, or an act of art, your voice and story definitely  matters.

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image: Stephanie Neil

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.