Seven Things Self-Defense Advocates Are Tired of Hearing
- “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.
An Open Letter to Dan Turner, father of convicted rapist Brock Turner: Here’s What’s Unfortunate
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