Monthly Archives: February, 2016

What’s Wrong with the CDC’s Public Health Model for Rape Prevention

Also on the Gender & Society blog  (copyright 2016 Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey)

The 2014 White House Task Force on Sexual Assault on College Campuses has mandated that in order to continue to receive federal funding, colleges and universities must step up their game, including providing rape prevention education. The 2014 “Not Alone” report outlines the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) public health model of sexual assault prevention, and reiterates the need for evidenced-based programming to combat rape and sexual assault. The CDC’s public health model defines the terms and levels of prevention, and articulates what “counts” as primary prevention – namely, bystander intervention training and psychoeducation to shift rape-supportive attitudes. As we describe in detail elsewhere (see McCaughey & Cermele, 2015), despite the overwhelming evidence that self-defense (training and enacting it) works both to stop rape and to shift rape-supportive attitudes, the CDC does not discuss or recommend self-defense training in its public health model.

On the surface, the omission of self-defense training from the category of primary prevention is perplexing, considering the CDC’s own definition. Primary prevention is defined as thwarting violence before it happens, while secondary prevention includes strategies and responses that immediately follow victimization, such as counseling or medical care, to address the short-term effects. The CDC has consistently and openly argued that while teaching (often male) bystanders to intervene in and thwart sexual assault is an established primary prevention tactic, teaching women to intervene in and thwart sexual assault targeted against themselves is not.

This stance is flawed for two main reasons. First, both self-defense training and bystander intervention training target sexual violence at the same point in time – when a sexual assault is imminent or in progress. So while both meet the criteria for primary prevention, they differ on one important dimension: who is encouraged to intervene. Bystander training requires the presence of a (presumably) benevolent and engaged third party to thwart rape, contributing to the erroneous belief that the woman targeted for sexual violence cannot, or should not, intervene on her own behalf.

Self-defense training, on the other hand, disrupts the script of sexual violence by offering women a range of verbal and physical strategies to thwart rape, which, although it can include soliciting bystander intervention, does not require the presence of a bystander in order to prevent assault. Given that both methods of rape prevention education target sexual violence at the same point in time, with the same goal and even potentially similar methods, it stands to reason that they must be in the same category – they are either both primary prevention, or neither are.

Second, only one of these meets the CDC’s second criteria, that rape prevention education be demonstrably effective – and that is self-defense training. The data are clear—and reviewed in our article (McCaughey & Cermele, 2015)—that self-defense is effective in thwarting sexual assault. In addition, numerous empirical studies have documented that self-defense training is what the CDC calls a protective factor, and that women who have taken self-defense training are at less risk for sexual assault than those who have not, reducing risk of sexual assault by as much as 40%. Furthermore, self-defense training creates positive behavior and attitude change, including feelings of empowerment in women. Finally, women’s participation in self-defense training and the enactment of effective resistance strategies directly challenge the attitudes that permeate rape culture: that the safety and integrity of women’s bodies exists at the whim of men’s bodies. Women who learn to defend themselves learn to take themselves and their safety seriously in realistic ways, rather than simply following an unsubstantiated list of “don’ts” – don’t wear this, don’t go there, don’t be alone. Instead, they assess situations better than they did before their training, are more likely to identify situations that could be dangerous, and have the skills to respond if necessary.

We also reviewed the data on bystander intervention training (see McCaughey & Cermele, 2015), which are much less promising. There is some research demonstrating that participants in bystander intervention rape prevention education reported positive changes in attitudes and increased intent to intervene or increased self-reports of intervention. However, there is as yet no empirical data to suggest that bystander intervention programs are effective in actually thwarting rape and sexual assault. And yet, the CDC maintains its stance that bystander intervention training meets the criteria for primary prevention, and self-defense training does not.

This cannot continue. By the CDC’s own criteria, training women in self-defense is a demonstrably effective primary-prevention strategy in preventing rape and sexual assault, and is entirely consistent with the goals of a public health model in combatting the crisis of sexual assault on college campuses. At a time when so many organizations and task forces are looking to the CDC’s public health model for combating sexual assault, the CDC must begin to pay attention to the data and acknowledge women’s capacity for and right to resist sexual assault. Self-defense training belongs at the forefront of their recommendations for sexual assault prevention on college campuses.


McCaughey, M., & Cermele, J. (2015). Changing the hidden curriculum of campus rape prevention and education: Women’s self-defense as a key protective factor for a public health model of prevention. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, online pre-print, 1-16. DOI: 10.1177/1524838015611674

Jane’s Valentine wish 4 u

Let’s change the conversation (hearts). Make your own candy convo hearts here or just share these for a sweet social media surprise.



An Open Letter to Mr. Grey (Bear) of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company

One year later, and it’s just as relevant.  Seriously, Vermont Teddy Bear Company?

Dear Mr. Grey (Bear),

First, I must confess, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie upon which your marketing turns. But I don’t really need to.  I got the gist from the YouTube clip of Ellen Degeneres reading an excerpt, from Dave Barry’s essay about his wife’s reading of it, and from a college student’s paper on the book, which included choice quotes.  You’re simultaneously the object of lust and desire for the women who read your book and thought it was erotica, and you’re the object of scorn and disgust for the women who read your book and thought it was the story of one man’s fantasy of abuse and domination framed as romance.  The dirtier version of Twilight, if you will.

I don’t know how you became a teddy bear, Mr. Grey (Bear), but apparently someone at the Vermont Teddy Bear Company has a keen sense of how to make a dominating misogynist cute.  You have been trotted out as a marketing ploy by a multi-million dollar company.  (How does it feel to be used, Mr. Grey?  Do you want to willingly surrender yourself to the corporate headquarters, in all things?)

I see you everywhere, Mr. Grey (Bear).  It’s like you’re stalking me, which, clearly, is entirely consistent with your modus operandi.  I can’t get you off my Facebook news feed, I hear you advertised on my local radio station when I’m trying to get information about traffic, and you even infiltrated one of my favorite NPR programs as you forced your way into a limerick on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

Your ad haunts me, Mr. Grey (Bear).  I seem to be in a period of my life where I am particularly vulnerable to advertising.  I just bought Fruity Cheerios after seeing that sweet commercial of the little boy going through his breakfast cereal options with his dad (“My favorite kind of Cheerios are the ones I eat with you, Daddy”); I also bought ginger ale after a couple of weeks’ exposure to that Canada Dry commercial where the woman at the barbeque reaches into the cooler and starts pulling the ginger plants from Jack’s Ginger Farm, and I don’t even understand that ad.

But your ad haunts me for a different reason.  You’re a fucking teddy bear, for god’s sake.  How you even came to be considered an appropriate Valentine’s Day gift for adult women is frankly beyond my comprehension.  But a teddy bear who gets his kinks by being sadistic and abusive?  Really?  Am I supposed to be turned on by your satin mask and teeny tiny…handcuffs, or is that supposed to get my kid’s stuffed frog all hot and bothered?  And really, despite all your plushy machismo and smoldering…um…plastic eyes, you know you’re just a puppet, right?  You are merely the pawn of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company.  And from what I understand, by your own admission, you’re completely fucked up.  Sexy?  Not so much.

So news flash, Mr. Grey (Bear).  I want you gone – gone from my computer screen, gone from my radio, and for god’s sake, gone from my NPR programs.  I know, that’s not what you’re accustomed to hearing.  But get used to it.  And as for your Dominant – the Vermont Teddy Bear Company – how about a teddy bear that symbolizes women’s empowerment rather than the benefits to men of participating in the rape culture?  Rosie the Rive-bear?  Glori-bear Steinem?   The Bear-zillian Jiu-Jitsu Teddy?  How about Thel-bear and Bear-ouise?  In the meantime, I look forward to hearing how much of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s proceeds from your rape-culture-supporting teddy bear self are getting donated to support organizations that fight violence against women or empower women to resist when their partners are controlling and abusive.   I’ll take that as my Valentine’s Day gift.

Oh, and P.S., Mr. Grey (Bear); before you, or the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, or the millions of Fifty Shades of Grey Fans, or the 20-somethings who believe they’ve got a nuanced understanding of the BDSM community, roll your eyes and dismiss this as the uptight vanilla rantings of an over-the-hill feminist, here’s three things to consider: first, members of the BDSM community have already explained how sex depicted in your book violates the accepted standards of mutuality and consent that are explicit in BDSM, so my beef is with abusive relationships, not BDSM; second, if we’re talking about expanding, not constraining, the boundaries on sexuality, then vanilla is as valid a flavor as anything else; and third, and most important, you’re a teddy bear, so if it’s all the same to you, I’ll get my sex ed information from the grown-ups.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

%d bloggers like this: