Yoga is a practice that students are drawn towards to build strength and flexibility while finding peace and relaxation. It is typically a solo activity, but many students choose to attend classes for the community feel and expect instructors. Your yoga studio should feel like a safe space for students to practice their skills and enjoy the workout. Unfortunately, there have been reported cases of sexual harassment in yoga studios.
How do you prevent sexual harassment in your yoga studio? First and foremost, education and training are imperative for keeping your studio a safe space for your students. There should be protocols in place for staff members and clear rules for students. Additionally, accountability for inappropriate actions needs to be handled quickly.
Sexual harassment can look many different ways. It can occur between students, from a student to a teacher, a teacher to a student, or between teachers. Harassment can also be physical, verbal, or emotional. Each situation can look different and that is why education is so important.
Ways To Prevent Sexual Harassment in Your Yoga Studio
As a business owner, it is your job to maintain a safe space for your members to practice yoga. These are the ways that you can help your business and members to prevent sexual harassment.
Education and Training
I recommend hiring a sexual harassment training company to educate your team. These professionals have the tools and knowledge to get your staff up to speed on what to look for and what to do in cases of sexual harassment. If you cannot find in-person training in your area, there are also virtual training options available.
Professional training will explain to your staff what behaviors are considered sexual harassment. They will also learn how to recognize and handle situations swiftly and effectively. Most importantly, sexual harassment education and training build confidence in your team. They will then know to make the right decisions in uncomfortable situations.
Create Protocols and Rules
Company protocols describe how your staff is expected to act with each other and with students. Sexual harassment behaviors should be clearly defined and prohibited.
Many gyms and studios have a “hands-off” policy for coaches or instructors. This means that they will not use their hands to adjust a member’s form unless the member specifically asks for a physical adjustment. Alternatively, teachers can be required to ask a student if they are okay with the teacher touching a specific body part to help adjust a pose.
The physical nature of fitness makes that the most obvious form of sexual harassment. Staff should also be aware of what comments and behaviors are also off-limits. Sometimes, seemingly harmless comments can make members feel uncomfortable.
There should also be protocols in place for appropriate behaviors among staff. As the studio owner, it is up to you if you want to allow romantic relationships among staff members. Many companies do not allow romantic relationships among coworkers because they can lead to inappropriate work behavior (especially if a sour break-up occurs).
Rules for Members
When someone signs up for a membership or signs a waiver, they should be presented with the rules of the studio. Within this document, include rules in place for preventing sexual harassment. This can include things like keeping a respectable distance from other students before, during, and after classes.
Make sure the rules are posted and easily available for all students to find. Post them in a visible location in your gym, include them in the member portal of your gym software, or hand out a copy with your welcome packets. These rules should also include the repercussions for unwanted behaviors, like sexual harassment. Repercussions could include dismissal from class for singular incidents or being banned from the studio for repeated indiscretions.
Set the rules that make sense for your studio and your students. Just make sure that you are following through with your written repercussions if any incidents occur.
Regularly Assess Protocols
Just like with any portion of your business, it is important to regularly reevaluate your sexual harassment protocols and rules. Make sure they are up-to-date and clearly expressed. A professional sexual harassment consultant can make recommendations or updates to your protocols.
Create a Safe Space
When you clearly express behavioral expectations to both staff and members, everyone is aware of how people should be acting. It is easier to identify inappropriate behavior or comments when everyone has the same education.
If a student or staff member expresses a concern or reports sexual harassment, your business should take these comments seriously. Believe the victim. In many cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault, victims do not feel like their stories are heard or taken seriously. To truly create a safe space where your members feel comfortable, you must listen to and address concerns quickly and appropriately.
One important topic to touch on is clothing. Many yoga practitioners choose to wear tight clothing or minimal clothing so it doesn’t interfere with their poses and movements. Uncomfortably, these outfits can bring in unwanted attention and customers with inappropriate intentions. It should be noted that students should feel free to wear whatever clothing they are comfortable in during their workouts. Any inappropriate behaviors are the fault of a perpetrator, not the victim or their clothing choices.
Install Security Cameras
Having security cameras cannot explicitly prevent sexual harassment, but it can help to dissuade any from happening. Cameras are an accountability measure. It lets staff and members know that there is evidence of their behaviors. Being able to review video can also prevent “he said-she said” arguments.
Your security cameras should be able to be accessed by just anyone. Unfortunately, watching the footage with inappropriate intentions can also be a form of sexual harassment. Owners, upper management, or a hired security firm should be the only ones with access to the cameras.
How To Handle a Sexual Harassment Situation
Of course, we all hope that a sexual harassment situation will never arise in our own studio. If that day comes, you must know how to handle the situation and move forward. Professional sexual harassment training can help you create your steps for handling such an event.
Follow Established Protocols
One of the reasons you work with a sexual harassment consultant to create your protocols is so that your staff knows what to do in the case of an incident. For staff members, this can include additional training, suspension, or dismissal from the job. Students may be asked to leave a certain class or banned from the studio altogether.
Support the Victim
Depending on the severity of the incident, the victim may need varying levels of support. Appropriate repercussions for the perpetrator are the best way to support the victim. From there, you can ask them what they need or offer some options. Maybe they would feel more comfortable in private classes or setting up in a different part of the room.
Yoga classes are a place of peace and healing. For victims of sexual harassment, they may need more support than your yoga studio can provide. You can help your student or staff member find a therapist or other support system.
Report to the Authorities
Depending on the severity of the sexual harassment, you should contact local authorities to report the incident. Even if the victim does not want to press charges, a police report can be filed. This can help prevent a perpetrator from repeatedly engaging inappropriate behavior at other gyms or studios.
Sexual harassment is a serious topic that can be uncomfortable to discuss with your staff or members. It is important to have difficult conversations so that the staff are well educated on the topic and your members feel comfortable knowing that the studio is looking out for them. The best form of prevention is accountability and when everyone has the same education and training, it is easier to identify and address inappropriate behaviors.