SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)…
NXT UK wrestler and former Progress World Champion Travis Banks has responded to comments made by Millie McKenzie. In the statement, he confirmed that he had a sexual relationship with McKenzie.
McKenzie, age 20, is one of the most acclaimed young pro wrestlers in Britain, as well as competing overseas in promotions such as Westside Xtreme Wrestling, Sendai Girls, and Melbourne City Wrestling. At the age of 14, she began her career with Coventry’s Ironfist Wrestling, at which her trainer, a local pro wrestler called Killian Jacobs, said he would leave his wife for her. He was 11 years older than her.
From the age of 16 she trained in Wolverhampton’s Fight Club: PRO Dojo, ultimately debuting for the promotion against Kay Lee Ray a few days after her 17th birthday. Banks, age 33, was the Head Trainer, a position he had held shortly after arriving in the UK from New Zealand in 2015.
Shortly thereafter, McKenzie and Banks would begin a sexual relationship. According to McKenzie, Banks insisted that the relationship be kept a secret. It was, however, an open secret, with many within the local wrestling scene having known about the relationship before McKenzie released her statement on Thursday. Indeed, after being repeatedly asked why they weren’t commentating on the accusations made, the Schadenfreude (Chris Brookes et al) corporate account claimed that they had previously suggested Banks be removed from his training position, due to his relationship with McKenzie.
It must be stressed that while Banks has not denied he had this sexual relationship, that does not mean his behavior isn’t disgraceful. As McKenzie herself said, “Regardless if the relationship was good or bad… He was my trainer and abused his position of power.”
The legal situation when it comes to 16 and 17 year olds in England and Wales having sex is a slightly complicated double-step. Despite still being recognized as children, 16 and 17 year olds can legally have sex. However because they are children, the law recognizes that they are incapable of providing informed consent to sex with people who are in a “position of trust” i.e. teachers or care workers. This is because the power imbalance between the adult and the child provides the former with the ability to manipulate or intimidate the child.
Despite working for a company that was being paid by McKenzie and her family to teach her how to wrestle, Banks’ role is not one that would typically be considered a “position of trust” by the police. This seemingly illogical legal distinction is all that is saving Banks from being charged with a crime.
Coincidentally, Tracey Crouch MP, a former Minister of Sport, just this week moved a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons to formally recognize that sports coaches are in a “position of trust.” This is part of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)’s campaign to Close the Loophole. However, there’s a good argument that a change in the law is not necessary, and it just requires the Government to change the interpretative guidelines it issues the police and courts, given what is actually written down in the Sex Offences Act 2003.
McKenzie went further. “[Banks] cheated on me multiple times in front of my face, and was horrible to me,” she said. When people online defended Banks, she referenced a specific incident. “There was one occasion where he found out which hotel I was in, then found my room and stood outside my hotel door knocking for hours while I continuously messaged him to leave.” She later provided screenshots that demonstrated a drunken Banks pleading with her to let her into the hotel room whilst McKenzie repeatedly asked him to leave. Furthermore, other women have come forward to allege that Banks manipulated them so they would have sex with him.
In a carefully-worded statement, Banks would not dispute anything that McKenzie had claimed, instead trying to define the relationship as one between consenting adults that ultimately failed. It cannot be stressed enough that in England and Wales, McKenzie was not an adult when the relationship began. She was still a minor. McKenzie put it starkly: “This man destroyed the last years of my childhood.” She also went further in response to his statement. “[The relationship with Banks] had a massive effect on my mental health and self-confidence,” she said. “I hated wrestling and the person I became when I was with him.” Without referring to Banks, she actually spoke about the mental health problems she suffered last year in a recent podcast with James Musslewhite and how they affected her career.
There has been an avalanche of pro wrestlers coming out over the past few days to speak about their experiences of sexual abuse within the British pro wrestling scene. The example of Banks grooming McKenzie fits two disturbing patterns.
The first is that everyone in “BritWres” have been too complacent about adult men having sexual relationships with their teenage trainees. Rather than being treated as a gross dereliction of their duty as a trainer, it has at most been seen as an unfortunate moral failing that requires bystanders do no more than silently disapprove. Several other men, most notably NXT’s Ligero, have also been exposed as having abused their position as a trainer to have sex with teenagers. A clear standard must be set that trainers don’t have sex with their trainees as part of a broader rethinking about safeguarding in pro wrestling. Indeed, British pro wrestling needs to consider whether children training and performing alongside adults is fundamentally misguided.
The second pattern is the frequency and severity of problems centered on Fight Club: Pro. Fight Club is a promotion I’ve long championed as Britain’s PWG. Its “raucous” aftershow parties at the Giffard pub became a huge part of its appeal for many people. With the benefit of hindsight, it is not particularly surprising that such a promotion has been host to so many tales of abuse.
The former co-owner Martin Zaki was removed from the promotion on Friday after it was revealed that he had repeatedly sexually harassed young women he had interacted with through though the promotion. Furthermore, two women have come forward, one being McKenzie’s tag team partner Charli Evans, to recount horrific acts of sexual assault that occurred after Fight Club: PRO shows involving violence and drugging respectively.
Meanwhile the promotion’s now solitary owner, Trent Seven, has had to forcefully deny allegations that he was trying to get three female fans who were too young to legally drink in Orlando, Florida drunk so he could have sex with them. Even those of us who were fans of Fight Club: PRO cannot deny that it had a toxic culture which caused tremendous harm to the women who were a part of it. The question must now be whether it should continue to exist, rather than whether it can.
As for Travis Banks, on Friday he was suspended by Progress, who then on Saturday said he would never wrestle for the company again. He is still employed by WWE to be part of their NXT UK brand, a brand largely run by the former and current owners of Progress.
Will Cooling hosts the British Wrestling Report podcast, part of the PWTorch VIP Podcast line-up.
CATCH UP: British wrestling promoters react to accusations of sexual assaults and misconduct in the #SpeakingOut movement on social media