An Open Letter to Campus Rape Prevention Training Videos

Dear Campus Rape Prevention Training Videos,

You’re so slick with your semi-pro actors and your use of hip language. We think the companies that made you will really get a lot of mileage out of you. You’ll prove profitable long-term investments now that universities across the country are anxious to comply with federal mandates to offer all incoming students some kind of rape prevention education.

You do a great job explaining what consent looks like. For example, one of you has this whole “can I use your cell phone” analogy. Powerful. I mean, you really get to the heart of the matter when you show the difference between coming up to a guy who’s sleeping and pulling his cell phone out of his pocket versus sitting down next to a guy and asking to use his phone, followed by a back-and-forth about which things on the phone he’s ok with another person playing with. That’s exactly like sexual assault versus affirmative consent.

Also cutting edge are the culture-changing bystander interventions you espouse. Watch how we stop a guy who’s about to go rape a girl. “Uh, Joe, that’s, um, not cool. Let’s get something to eat instead.” We totally get how getting a guy something to eat will fundamentally change the rape culture. And we totally totally agree that committing a felony is “not cool.” Fer sure.

We all want young people to go to school, party, and have sex in an environment that is free from coercion. The problem is, videos, you mostly seem to think that the only way that can happen is if some men step in when other men are coercive and violent, right? Like, “Don’t worry, baby, if someone is trying to rape you; some knight in shining armor will come along and…um…ask the potential rapist if he wants a snack.”

How do you think the women viewing you now feel, as they hope that the cell phone analogy is powerful enough to stop rapists, as they hold their breaths wondering if Joe will, in fact, decide to have a burger or shoot some pool or play beer pong instead of assaulting the woman he’s been targeting all night?

The real question is, videos, what do you have to say when bystanders did not intervene on behalf of the girl? Pretty much nothing, that’s what.

Is there some reason you are so averse to telling a woman what she can do to intervene on her own behalf?

As videos, you could easily show what it looks and sounds like to shout “NOOOOOO!” and “BACK THE FUCK OFF!” and (because not all guys listen in such circumstances) to grab the testicles and twist them, and how a guy typically reacts to that kind of pain. You could show exactly how to land a kick to the groin or head, and how to make a sharp beak with five fingers to poke the eye of one’s assailant.

Oh, feeling squeamish? Imagining the men viewing you now saying “oooooch” and grabbing their crotches protectively? They probably would do that when they watch you. And getting men to imagine THAT might be an effective rape prevention strategy.

Indeed, that would be a whole lot more effective and specific than the clip of the local campus police specialist at the University of Montana who says you can “come and see him in his office to talk about the self-defense courses that he offers.”   (Although a step in the right direction, University of Montana video! Now, show us a knee to the groin.)

What do you imagine women would feel and do if they had the opportunity to watch women like themselves respond powerfully and effectively to enforce their bodily boundaries? We’re women and as we watch you we’ve been feeling frustrated that we only see women as damsels in distress.

Campus rape prevention training videos, it’s time to change your tune. By all means, stay slick, stay hip (although know that if you’re actually thinking things like “slick” and “hip”, you might be stuck in 1974) – just get it right.

Sincerely yours,

Martha McCaughey & Jill Cermele


One response

  1. I’m so glad you guys are out there doing this so eloquently.

    As I work on an online course for college students and administrators I am trying to find out whether colleges will pick up the course if I include physical self defense. Do I add it in, or include it as an optional sidebar? This is one of the big questions I’m contending with as I build this course.

    Just to put in my two cents with regards to the knee to the groin and eye gouging techniques, I do have some issues with those. There are issues of accessibility – eyes are often hard to get to due to highly evolved reflexes to protect them, and the groin is often a very well guarded area since men have eyes down there and practice protecting that area from an early age.

    Actually fighting someone off who is determined to hold you down and even willing to hurt you has more do with getting angry, embrassing your inner animal and executing an unrelenting barrage of attacks than with any single technique.

    Also, though relatively unmotivated attackers who think they’ve captured an easy target are likely to back off at the slightest inkling of fiestiness, a motivated attacker, or one hyped up on some substance or other will need to be subdued with more than a groin grab,

    As an aside, groin grabs and kicks are hard for anyone to do if under the influence or drugged, though the videos mostly cover that, if poorly and with more finger pointing than understanding of peer pressure and party culture.

    There is certainly a lot to take into account, and I’m glad you guys are out there keeping us all honest.

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