Monthly Archives: March, 2015

Joe, please read this email —

Dear Vice-President Biden,

Forgive us for calling you Joe, but when you sent Martha this email, you used her first name, and it was such a nice, personal touch, we thought you wouldn’t mind.  We did read your email, and we found it compelling and clear, in intent and request.  So we’re sending you one back (okay, this isn’t exactly an email, but you get the idea), and we borrowed the format (yours is on the left, and ours is on the right).  We hope you don’t mind.

We read your email, Joe.  Please, read ours:

Martha — What do you want out of the next two years?Me? I want to finish President Obama’s second term strong and elect Democratic leaders who will champion priorities like increasing the minimum wage and strengthening Social Security.Barack and I are committed to advancing these priorities. But if we as Democrats don’t start working right now to make it happen, we’re in for a much bleaker future. One in which the Republicans in power serve only the ultra-wealthy, ignore the reality of climate change, and turn Medicare and Social Security into something unrecognizable.

Whether we can achieve success depends on what you do, right now.

Will you help us fight for Democratic values and elect the progressive champions oftomorrow? Pitch in to the DSCC’s Back to Blue campaign by the FEC deadline in 96 hours.

If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:

There’s a choice to be made: We can have strong Democratic leaders who fight for a progressive agenda — or a Republican president like Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz, with a GOP Senate that rubber-stamps each reckless decision.

What’ll it be? Your actions right now will determine the outcome.
Want to make sure our Democratic values win the fight? Then pitch in now to the DSCC’s Back to Blue campaign. 

Thank you,
Joe Biden












Joe – What do you want out of the next two years?  [or actually, forever?]

Me?  I want all girls and women to have the opportunity to be trained in self-defense, by instructors who will remind them that they have the right to defend themselves and teach them how to do it.

Self-defense advocates and scholars world-wide are committed to advancing these goals.  But if we as concerned citizens don’t start working right now to make it happen, we’re in for a much bleaker future.  One in which those who benefit from the rape culture will continue to perpetrate violence, and rob them of their basic human rights.

Whether we can achieve success depends on what you do, right now.

Will you help us fight for equal rights for women and girls by supporting self-defense training? Pitch in to start by including self-defense training in the recommendations of the White House Task Force on Sexual Assault on College Campuses.

[Okay, here, you ask for donations.  If you are interested in donating money in support of women’s and girls’ self-defense training, we will happily direct you to a number of excellent organizations.]

There’s a choice to be made: We can empower girls and women, remind them they have selves worth fighting for and give them the skills and tools they need so self-defense is an option when they are faced with rape and sexual assault – or we can continue, however inadvertently, to perpetuate the rape culture that says that women and girls are there for men’s taking, that men and not women are the ones with power.

What’ll it be? Your actions right now can help determine the outcome.

Want to make sure that women and girls have the same rights as men and boys to? Then offer women the same rights to securing their own safety that you have suggested in other interviews that men should enforce for women – the right to “kick the living crap” out of someone who is trying to rape them. Because you’re right, Vice President Biden.  It’s on all of us.  

Thank you,
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey



How to Think Bigger to End Campus Rape

Jennifer S. Hirsch argues in Time (March 11, 2015) that colleges need to “think bigger to end campus rape” and this means taking a public health approach to preventing sexual assault. We agree with Hirsch that campus administrators and activists alike seem too wedded to reporting procedures and services for sexual assault victims and not focused enough on the prevention of sexual assault.  However, we disagree strongly with Hirsch’s claim that we don’t know what is effective for preventing sexual assault. There is actually no “real gap in science” on this.

Multiple empirical studies have shown that women’s training in and use of verbal and physical self-defense techniques makes them much more likely to thwart an attack and not to be (re)victimized in the first place. But despite that, campus authorities and activists, as well as policy-making and advocacy groups, believe self-defense is either ineffective or dangerously victim-blaming. This is not simply not true; there is significant data demonstrating that self-defense is effective, and no data we have seen that suggests it is experienced as victim-blaming.

We also take issue with Hirsch’s implicit argument that training women in self-defense is a simple “educational message” and as such not true prevention.  Self-defense training challenges the rape culture that makes sexual assault both easy to accomplish and easy to rationalize.  In offering women self-defense training, then, we challenge the embodied ethos of rape culture that defines defenseless women sexy and sexually aggressive guys manly.

Hirsch rightly points out that major public health achievements did not come solely by exhorting people to act differently. But it’s also true that we would never hope to reduce fatal traffic accidents without exhorting people to wear their seatbelts, reduce teen pregnancy without teaching teens how to use condoms, or combat unhealthy tobacco use without offering smoking cessation classes. Moreover, self-defense training does not exhort people to act differently – it teaches them a new set of skills, both physical and verbal, that can be used effectively to maintain one’s physical and psychological integrity.

We should not hold sexual assault prevention programs to a higher theoretical standard (is this primary prevention? Or “just” risk reduction?) than we would other types of public health prevention programs, particularly when they work.  For example, if we took the approach to stopping teen pregnancy that campuses have been taking to stopping sexual assaults (even those campuses saying they follow the public health model), we’d have been telling teens the definition of pregnancy; giving them the frightening statistics on how many teens experience unwanted pregnancies; telling them how it will ruin their lives; telling them to abstain from reproductive sexual encounters; training other people to stop them from engaging in those encounters or showing up just in the nick of time with a condom; and then offering to help them, telling them we care about them and aren’t judging them after they become pregnant, and keeping track of their numbers. It would be treating teens as if there is nothing they themselves can do if and when they are sexually active. In the case of preventing teen pregnancy, the CDC would never have failed to provide teens with the tools they needed to prevent the outcome of impregnation at any point along the process that leads to it–and would never have been so successful in reducing teen pregnancy if it had. Nor would the CDC have regarded the use of birth control to stop an egg and sperm from meeting to create a pregnancy as secondary or tertiary prevention rather than as primary prevention of teen pregnancy. The CDC has not advocated that we prevent teen pregnancy only by telling teens not to have sex. The CDC acknowledges that the consistent and correct use of birth control among sexually active teens helps prevent teen pregnancy. Teaching self-defense is the equivalent of teaching birth control. It’s putting the condom on.

Dr. Hirsch is correct – we need to ask the hard questions, drawing on data from across academic disciplines.  The data on the efficacy of self-defense and self-defense training come from psychology, sociology, gender studies, feminist studies, and criminology.  The hard question, perhaps, is why scholars, practitioners, universities, public health advocates, and sexual assault prevention workers continue to assert the futility of self-defense for women, or ignore the possibility altogether.

We do have the power to transform – to transform the experiences of individual women and men, and to transform a culture that believes in the inherent rapeability of women’s bodies and the inherent superiority of men’s.  So yes, let’s think big: self-defense training must be understood to be an important part of sexual assault prevention in the public health model.

Training for Active Shooters but not for Sexual Assailants?

Although it’s not very likely, someone could appear on a college campus and start shooting.  University police departments are increasingly preparing for that sort of crisis in a number of ways, for instance by forming early intervention teams and educating members of the campus.  One such initiative is the “Shots Fired” training program.   The gist of the program is that you must respond to an active shooter with a “survival mindset”–determined to take responsibility for your personal safety.  The goal is not to scare students and staff but to help them prepare for a violent situation with shots being fired.

While we have nothing against such a program, we find it interesting–yes, let’s say interesting–that a similar awareness, safety, and preparation strategy is not offered for the threat of sexual violence on campus.  It’s equally interesting that we don’t hear feminists or others arguing that such programs are victim blaming.  We’ve heard no one quip, “How about we teach the active shooters not to shoot?” or “Why should we have to learn how to take down a shooter?”  It is pretty creepy and tragic when you think about it, especially since some of the college students have remarked that they already received similar training in high school.

Sexual violence is not only the far more common threat but it’s also usually easier to stop with some training.  If we can go to classrooms and post to campus websites telling students that if a shooter enters the room they must do whatever it takes to survive, including yelling and fighting to overtake the shooter, then why aren’t we teaching women that if they are in a room with someone who’s attempting sexual activity against their will that they can and should do what it takes to stop the assailant, including yelling and fighting?  And, we’d love to hear female college students one day say, “I already got this training in high school.”

An Open Letter to the BBC News Magazine, Regarding the Article Entitled “New Dehli Rapist Says Victim Shouldn’t Have Fought Back”.

Dear BBC News Magazine,

On March 2, 2015, you published an article covering an interview with one of the rapists/murders of the young Indian woman who was raped on a bus in New Dehli in 2012, and who died as a result of fatal internal injuries these rapists perpetrated against her.  It is a terrific article about misogyny and rape culture, about gender inequality and those with the courage to speak out and fight against it, and the vicarious trauma many of us experience when we listen and give voice to these stories.  The story is situated in Indian culture, but we are hard-pressed to think of a society and culture today where this could not happen, where these views and this violence against women and girls are not present.

That’s what your article is about, and we’re glad we read beyond the title.  Because your title is not a statement about deep-seated culture acceptance of violence against women and girls.  Instead, it is a warning to women and girls everywhere:  Don’t Fight Back.  Or Else.

The fact that this young woman died because she was killed by rapists/murders is a travesty to which words cannot do justice.  The rapist/murderer who was interviewed justifies his violence against her the way so, so many others do – by blaming the victim.  It is her fault, he says, that he and his companions raped her, because she was there.  It is her fault, he says, that he and his companions murdered her, because she fought back.

Memory is reconstructive, and self-serving, and of course a rapist/murderer will seek to justify his own actions by saying that his victim made him do it.  That does not make that true, nor does it mean that women and girls who fight back against sexual violence are inviting murder, are making those perpetrating the violence against them step it up a notch.  In fact, research has demonstrated that there are no statistically significant difference in injury rates between women who fight back and women who don’t.  That means that some women who choose to fight back against a sexual assault will sustain additional injuries beyond the sexual violence, just as some women who choose not to fight back, or who are unable to fight back, against a sexual assault will also sustain additional injuries.

You published an important article, but your choice of title, by quoting the rapist rather than accurately framing the real content of your piece, contributed to misogyny and rape culture, rather than taking a stance against it.  He did say that, according to the description of the interview.  That doesn’t make it true.

An article of this caliber deserves a title that matches it.  Try any of these:

Rapist Rationalizes his Murder by Blaming the Victim

Rapists Continue to Blame Their Victims for Assault

Victim-Blame is a Global Problem

New Dehli Murderer Tries to Weasel Out of Death Penalty by Blaming the Victim

Rape Culture Thrives at the Expense of Women’s and Girls’ Lives

Please, don’t retract your article, but do retract your title.  Your article, and women and girls everywhere, deserve better.


Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey

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