Dear Rape Prevention Educators,
As rape prevention educators, you emphasize “primary prevention,” but do not include self-defense or resistance as such. Self-defense, you say, is “secondary prevention”–along with providing counseling and medical care to victims of completed rape. As we have already argued, this is not a data-driven approach because the data show that self-defense is an effective sexual assault prevention strategy, and it is ultimately fueling a disempowered status for women on campus.
Why wouldn’t you tell people that training in self-defense is possible and that research shows that active resistance to attack, with or without prior training, usually works to thwart an assault?
Some of you think it’s violent, and therefore it counters your program “against violence”. If that’s the case, there’s an easy solution. How about you clarify that you’re against sexual assault? You’ll be glad to learn that data show that women learning how to resist violence perpetrated against them results in an overall reduction in such violence. Self-defense is part of the effort to stop oppressive violence.
Some of you object to women having to do anything for their own health and safety. Well, except when it comes to the importance of preventing pregnancy and STI’s, or when it comes to smoking cessation, or when it comes to curbing one’s risk for breast and cervical cancer. In fact, most of you are all about checking your breasts, getting route health screenings, and stopping life-shortening and life-threatening habits like smoking tobacco. We’ve never heard any of you declare, “I shouldn’t even have to get a pap smear!” or “I should be able to smoke all the cigarettes I want!” or “I mean, if a woman wants to use protection against pregnancy or STIs while she is having sex with multiple partners whose sexual history is unknown to her, that’s up to her–but I’m not going to suggest that anyone do that!” So clearly, if you are in favor of women acting to promote and protect their own health and safety, you can support self-defense and self-defense training.
Some of you think talking about women’s ability to resist attack is victim-blaming. But teaching women to be proactive about their own health and safety, and to take their own bodily boundaries seriously, is not blaming anyone who becomes the victim of attack–attempted or completed. In fact, self-defense is often taken by survivors of sexual violence, and it does not make them blame themselves for what happened. It gives them new options for responding and helps them take some of their power back. It’s therapeutic. It’s therapeutic for others who take it, too, because they learn boundary setting, taking themselves seriously, and yes, the physical stuff and the yelling can be really cathartic and fun. Besides, we’d rather risk a few women feeling bad or blamed than risk lots of women becoming victims because everyone was more worried about women feeling blamed than about women getting raped.
If we’re going to teach people to stop a guy who is about to rape someone, and call that primary prevention, and also not call it violence (even though, um, let’s just remember that the heroized bystanders who intervened during the rape being committed at Stanford used physical force to intervene), then teaching those who are targeted for rape how to stop someone who’s about to rape them is no less primary, and no more violent, than what we’re already teaching.
We still don’t know the difference between the whip and the nay-nay, but we do know the difference between primary and secondary prevention. Do you?
You can make Obama say anything you want thanks to techie geeks who invent cool apps. Don’t you wish he had really said this in connection with his Task Force on campus sexual violence?
Thanks, Talk Obama to Me! You said it–er, we said it, and wish he’d said it……
I’m a Harry Potter fan. I’ve read the books (many times), seen the movies (many times), been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (twice – the new and improved version is, in fact, new and improved; worth the trip), and even did the Watson Adventures Harry Potter scavenger hunt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC (I had to hurry my son and his friends along when they tried to stop to look at the art; “We’re not here for the art!” may have crossed my lips at some point). And here at SJFB, we have no doubt that some of our favorite female characters in the series would be totally on board with self-defense against sexual assault. See for yourselves:
Open Letter to Prof. Tal Peretz
Dear Prof. Peretz,
We value your work in the areas of men’s anti-sexist and anti-violence activism. As a sociology professor at Auburn, you were quoted in the LiveScience article about the science of preventing campus sexual assault. We admire your work advocating that we teach children about consensual behaviors on the playgrounds and in their homes.
However, we were very disappointed to read the quote from you, just after the reporter describes the incredible results that Charlene Senn’s empowerment self-defense training has, that
“We have far too much ‘here’s how you protect yourself’ [programs], when it’s not women’s job and not their fault. That whole way of talking about it really places the blame on women, when it should be on the rapists.”
Training women in how to set boundaries is just as important as your work training boys and men in how to honor boundaries others set. So don’t worry, you will not lose your job if you also endorse women’s self-defense training. As we have said to the late Kurt Cobain, both-and! You can both insist that we train men not to rape AND train women to resist any men who missed our memo.
Self-defense training does not place any blame for assault on women. If you really want to support feminism and fight for gender equality, please re-examine your belief that there are too many self-defense/self-protection programs out there.
Profs. Martha & Jill
This great piece by Susan Schorn, “Fear, Inc.,” published on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, is worth reading. While Schorn here focuses on the marketing of emergency preparedness supplies and gadgets–you know, like the ones for the zombie apocalypse–we are reminded of the many who have attempted to market self-defense devices to women simply by harnessing that culture of fear, attempting to make women feel even more afraid of male violence and even more vulnerable than they already do, and then selling them their product based to assuage the fear they just sparked. Those hairy legs tights never really did take off, did they?
Of course, empowerment-based feminist self-defense might cost some money (instructors do have to be paid), but it’s not about inducing fear or making women feel more vulnerable. Perhaps some of the resistance to advocating women’s self-defense training has to do with it seeming like too close a cousin to the prepper movement.
- “Women shouldn’t have to defend themselves against sexual assault.” Sigh. Of course not, folks, if what you mean by that is “no one should sexually assault a woman, or anyone else, ever”, or “women shouldn’t be held responsible for sexual assault if they cannot/did not engage in self-defense, because the perpetrator is always to blame and responsible for sexual assault”. Right. But to say “women shouldn’t have to defend themselves” ala the Kurt Cobain meme is really just an excuse to deny women the right to defend themselves. And they do have the right to defend themselves, if that is the choice they make for themselves because of the risk of assault or in the face of assault. Period.
- “Self-defense isn’t primary prevention.” Um. Yes, it is, as we have explained countless times. Primary prevention, according to the CDC, stops an assault before it happens, and impacts social and cultural norms that permeate and perpetuate rape culture. Self-defense training, and women’s use of self-defense, has been demonstrated to effectively prevent and thwart assault, and to change our views of men as all-powerful and ever successful in sexual violence and women as inherently powerless and rapeable. Self-defense is as much a primary prevention strategy as bystander intervention programs and Red Flag trainings.
- “Self-defense is/leads to victim-blaming.” This critique is leveled at self-defense all the time. Why? Because we live in a rape culture. People blame victims and excuse perpetrators in all kinds of ways. Like when they say the victim is too pretty/not pretty enough, or too sexy/not sexually available, or on the street/in their own home/in a friend’s home, or too dark/too light/too white, or…right. Like that. The fact that people may perceive training more women in self-defense as inviting victim blame doesn’t make it victim-blaming, any more than people perceiving a woman in a short skirt as inviting rape means that her short skirt invites rape. Duh. Not all women want, or have the opportunity, to learn self-defense, for a variety of reasons. But that doesn’t mean that self-defense training should be denied to other women.
- “Self-defense doesn’t work/escalates violence.” Well, it does work, in many, many situations, as the data indicate. And because of that, it rarely makes things worse, despite multiple episodes of Law & Order to the contrary (still available as professional consultants, L&O!) You don’t have to believe that for it to be true. Just like evolution and global warming.
- “Bystander training is better.” Better for whom? (That’s grammatically correct, folks; check it out.) And that is a fair question. Bystanders intervening is great, as the Stanford rape case recently demonstrated, and we encourage everyone to act as upstanders and find ways to safely intervene when they witness a sexual assault impending or in progress. But it’s not better; it’s different, and to be clear, only potentially effective when an assault is public or happened upon. And to suggest that it’s better is to put forth the belief that those targeted for assault (typically women) are not capable of engaging in active, effective resistance. You might as well say, “Bystander training is better because women can’t defend themselves, so don’t bother trying or learning how.” What a terrible, and false, message to propagate.
- “Some women training in self-defense puts other women at risk.” A close cousin to the concern about victim-blaming, this statement reflects two fears. The first fear is that when a woman defends herself successfully against a rape, that rapist will simply seek out another target. Not only is their no data to support that belief, but it suggests that women, in protecting themselves, are then responsible for other women being raped. Hogwash. And, quite frankly, misogynistic. The only person responsible for a rape is the rapist. The second fear is that the women who do not train in self-defense will be blamed for the assault once our culture, led by a bunch of bad-ass women, embrace the empowering self-defense approach. We don’t want to force all women, or any woman, to train in self-defense; but neither do we want to ignore the benefits of self-defense simply because some women, for a variety of reasons, may not engage in it. If a small percentage of people are allergic to eggs and thus can’t get the flu shot, should public health officials stop telling people to get their flu shot? In fact, just like with flu vaccinations, the greater percentage of people who’ve gotten them, the better off everyone is – even those who could not or did not get the flu shot. Imagine if an entire industry had developed around serving only those who get the flu, rather than taking care of those who had the flu and working tirelessly to defend against the flu virus. That would be unethical.
- “The idea of a woman being able to overpower a man is just…
uncomfortable/unattractive/unfeminine/unsexy/inappropriate.” Seriously? Seriously? In the face of an imminent sexual assault or a rape in progress, the biggest concern shouldn’t be “Does this knee-to-the-groin make my butt look big?” It doesn’t. And for those who don’t like it – too bad. Get over it.
Dear Mr. Turner,
Your son, Brock Turner, is a convicted rapist. The facts of his crime are not in dispute: Brock sexually assaulted an intoxicated woman behind a dumpster. He was caught by two men who realized that a crime was taking place and who thus not only intervened but held your son until police arrived to take him into custody.
Despite your assertion to the contrary, Brock Turner was, in fact, violent to another human being on January 17, 2015. He was convicted of 3 felonies. Your response? To hold up as a role model for other college students. You are quoted in multiple media outlets saying that “…having people like Brock educate others on college campuses is how society can begin to break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results.”
Rape is not an “unfortunate result” of your son, Brock Turner, having one beer too many, Mr. Turner. Rape is the crime committed by your son against another person, who has painfully and eloquently described the lasting impact of your son’s brutal attack. Your son, Brock Turner, is a convicted rapist who violently attacked another human being, and unless that is what he is going to say to the college students you claim he can “educate”, what they will learn is that sexual violence against women is simply an unfortunate result of boys-being-boys and having a good time at a party. Yes, Brock was drunk. But his victim was unconscious. Unconscious people cannot consent to sex, and that is rape.
What would his message be, Mr. Turner? “My dad said I shouldn’t have gotten jail time!”? “Judge Aaron Persky felt bad sending someone like me to jail <sad emoji>”? “What you call rape, I call sexual promiscuity – but you know what those co-eds are like…”?
Here’s what is truly unfortunate, Mr. Turner: your son is in good company. Recent studies have demonstrated that as many as one third of college men report that they would rape a woman – or force a woman to have sexual intercourse against her will (they are a little unclear sometimes that those are the same thing) if they could do so without consequences. And male college athletes are right there in the mix.
Dan Turner, you, and your enthusiastic endorsement of your son’s right to rape, are the best evidence we could offer that the only thing to be learned from this is that we need a radical response to rape and sexual assault. We need to punish offenders and teach women and girls to defend themselves, both of which send a strong cultural message – that rape and sexual assault will not be tolerated, and that the consequences to the rapists will be severe. Self-defense training might not have helped the woman your son Brock raped, but we know it helps others both defend themselves AND intervene to help others, like the two young men who intervened while Brock was raping that young woman. It reminds women and men that women are entitled to their boundaries – a cultural shift that is, as your statements and the statements of others show, is sorely needed on campus today.
And yes, we need to change people’s attitudes, but, as you so eloquently demonstrate, the goal is not for all of us to see things the way you and your son and Judge Persky do. It’s to get people on board with the fact that rape is a crime, that justice for rape victims should be swift and consequences to rapists severe, that 20 minutes lasts a lifetime.
It’s not just unfortunate that you and Brock Turner and Judge Persky don’t get that, Dan Turner. It’s criminal.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey
CDC Frames Changing Interactions Between Two People as a Prevention Strategy (but not for Sexual Assault)
OPEN LETTER TO THE CDC
Dear Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
Your recently released report on fatal abusive head trauma in children under 5 embraces a range of prevention strategies (your words, not ours) to combat a type of violence that parents or caregivers perpetrate against children. You remind us of the need for collecting good data, for shifting cultural norms around parenting, and for strengthening economic support for families through a variety of policy changes.
And then, CDC (may we call you CDC?), you say this:
“There is growing evidence that child maltreatment prevention strategies, such as those that change interactions, including those between parents and children, parents and other caregivers, and parents and health care providers are effective interventions (7). [The CDC] resource [is]…based on decades of research about effectively promoting positive parenting and preventing child maltreatment, using various approaches, including videos and interactive practice exercises, to help caregivers build healthy relationships with their children aged >3 years.” [emphasis ours].
We wholeheartedly agree – using interactive practice exercises that change interactions between people is an effective prevention strategy supported by decades of research.
Not just in the prevention of child maltreatment. Also in the prevention of sexual assault.
But you should know this, CDC. We’ve told you before. But instead you continue to frame self-defense as a “risk-reduction” strategy instead of as primary prevention.
On the bright side, your Sexual Violence Prevention Package (pages 19-22) lists empowerment-based self-defense among the skills-building strategies we should be teaching.
We applaud your recognition that, with respect to abusive head trauma in children, prevention is a multi-faceted approach, and that changing interactions between caregivers and children is an important aspect of that prevention model.
Let’s have those same standards apply to preventing sexual assault, and recognize that empowerment self-defense training IS part of a comprehensive prevention model; it creates population-level change by challenging rape myths and the dynamics around gender, in addition to teaching people a range of verbal and physical personal safety strategies to prevent sexual assault.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey
Last week all the employees at my workplace were sent an email offering us a service to help us achieve work-life balance. No, it was not a raise, a massage, a paid week off, or a nanny. It was the ability to subscribe to ComPsych Corporation’s GuidanceResources Online Web site. Once you register, you are promised access to useful information, news, interactive materials, and services in your area.
By the company’s own description, “GuidanceResources Online is home to hundreds of articles, assessment tools and multimedia presentations on a wide variety of topics.”
Need a carpenter? On there. Need to find childcare? There. Tips on coming out a work? Yep. Advice on why monogamy is the best and why cheating is a bad idea (and, let’s face it, will make you a less productive employee)? Indeed. It’s as if Oprah had invented this herself!
But no, there is no advice on having a successful and happy polyamorous relationship.
Nor will you find information on self-defense. Through the search function no information on “sexual assault” comes up. But searching on “rape” several articles come up. Here they are.
Gardening? Seriously? And take care of cuts and scrapes but no need for a rape kit…. Of course self-defense training is not listed as one of the prevention efforts to engage in. Let’s quote in full the “Date or Acquaintance Rape” page: