Open Letter to the American Association of University Women

Dear American Association of University Women (AAUW),

You have championed women’s equal rights to and in education for over a century. You were the organization that challenged bogus ideas back in the day, like that zinger about women being unable to go to medical school because it would compromise their fertility.

We were so glad to see that your website offers “10 Ways to Fight against Sexual Assault on Campus” but sad that self-defense—training in it or doing it when assaulted–is never mentioned. Precisely because research shows that self-defense training is often an effective and empowering way to thwart sexual assault, we take your concept of “fighting against sexual assault” a bit more literally, and so suggest here a modification or addition to each of your 10 action tips for fighting against sexual assault on campus.

  1. Share resources and groups that help survivors. One such resource is self-defense training. Research has shown that good self-defense programs have been developed for trauma survivors and that those programs lead to increased feelings of empowerment, reduction in psychological symptoms, and reduction in self-blame for survivors.
  2. Know your rights.  You not only have the right under Title IX to equal access to education but you have the legal right to defend yourself from someone attacking you.
  3. Take action on the Campus SaVE Act. Push your campus administrators to comply with the Campus SaVE Act in a way that includes self-defense training for college women.
  4. Write an op-ed. Include the importance of self-defense training in the op-ed piece you write, and include stories about women’s and girls’ successful resistance to violence to broaden our narratives about women and sexual assault.
  5. Use social media. Spread awareness of the power and potential of teaching college women the empowering practice of self-defense, and share stories about how college women fight back in the face of assault.
  6. Start a conversation on victim-blaming and how to stop it. Advocating self-defense should never be construed as victim-blaming. Self-defense helps women hold perpetrators accountable for their violent actions, and women who have taken self-defense training, including women who have been raped or sexually assaulted, report that they feel more empathy, not more blame, for victims and survivors.
  7. Hold a bystander intervention session. Bystanders can help stop a sexual assault in their midst by intervening in a situation. If a bystander doesn’t catch such a situation and stop it, a woman can very likely use self-defense skills to do so. So, hold a self-defense training session as well. Self-defense training will empower everyone to act, whether they are the targets of sexual assault or the bystanders to it.
  8. Get involved in national campaigns. In addition to the Clothesline Project, V-Day, and Take Back the Night, there are national campaigns and organizations such as the American Women’s Self-Defense Association, Rape Aggression Defense, and the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation, which support women’s self-defense training. Get involved, and while you’re at it, demand that the Clothesline Project add a new color T-shirt for women who thwarted their attackers, and that V-Day channel some of its millions of dollars to women’s self-defense training.
  9. Volunteer. In addition to helping out at your local rape crisis center, learn self-defense and get certified to teach it to more women. Wouldn’t it be great if women needed rape crisis centers less often?
  10. Apply for Funding. AAUW branch members can apply for funding, but don’t expect most major organizations that give out money to service victims, prosecute perpetrators, and educate bystanders to intervene to give you any money to get women trained in self-defense… unless major gender equity organizations like the AAUW legitimize self-defense as an important component of sexual assault prevention on college campuses.

 The AAUW has always challenged the idea that women were not capable. Please make a point of challenging the idea that women aren’t capable of stopping most campus sexual assailants.

Yours truly,

Martha McCaughey and Jill Cermele


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