An Open Letter to Rape Prevention Educators

Dear Rape Prevention Educators,

As rape prevention educators, you emphasize “primary prevention,” but do not include self-defense or resistance as such.  Self-defense, you say, is “secondary prevention”–along with providing counseling and medical care to victims of completed rape.   As we have already argued, this is not a data-driven approach because the data show that self-defense is an effective sexual assault prevention strategy, and it is ultimately fueling a disempowered status for women on campus.

Why wouldn’t you tell people that training in self-defense is possible and that research shows that active resistance to attack, with or without prior training, usually works to thwart an assault?

Some of you think it’s violent, and therefore it counters your program “against violence”.  If that’s the case, there’s an easy solution.  How about you clarify that you’re against sexual assault?  You’ll be glad to learn that data show that women learning how to resist violence perpetrated against them results in an overall reduction in such violence.  Self-defense is part of the effort to stop oppressive violence.

Some of you object to women having to do anything for their own health and safety.  Well, except when it comes to the importance of preventing pregnancy and STI’s, or when it comes to smoking cessation, or when it comes to curbing one’s risk for breast and cervical cancer.  In fact, most of you are all about checking your breasts, getting route health screenings, and stopping life-shortening and life-threatening habits like smoking tobacco.  We’ve never heard any of you declare, “I shouldn’t even have to get a pap smear!” or “I should be able to smoke all the cigarettes I want!” or “I mean, if a woman wants to use protection against pregnancy or STIs while she is having sex with multiple partners whose sexual history is unknown to her, that’s up to her–but I’m not going to suggest that anyone do that!”  So clearly, if you are in favor of women acting to promote and protect their own health and safety, you can support self-defense and self-defense training.

Some of you think talking about women’s ability to resist attack is victim-blaming.  But teaching women to be proactive about their own health and safety, and to take their own bodily boundaries seriously, is not blaming anyone who becomes the victim of attack–attempted or completed.  In fact, self-defense is often taken by survivors of sexual violence, and it does not make them blame themselves for what happened.  It gives them new options for responding and helps them take some of their power back.  It’s therapeutic.  It’s therapeutic for others who take it, too, because they learn boundary setting, taking themselves seriously, and yes, the physical stuff and the yelling can be really cathartic and fun.  Besides, we’d rather risk a few women feeling bad or blamed than risk lots of women becoming victims because everyone was more worried about women feeling blamed than about women getting raped.

If we’re going to teach people to stop a guy who is about to rape someone, and call that primary prevention, and also not call it violence (even though, um, let’s just remember that the heroized bystanders who intervened during the rape being committed at Stanford used physical force to intervene), then teaching those who are targeted for rape how to stop someone who’s about to rape them is no less primary, and no more violent, than what we’re already teaching.

We still don’t know the difference between the whip and the nay-nay, but we do know the difference between primary and secondary prevention.  Do you?

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One response

  1. I generally agree with your comments and I do believe that forceful resistance to any personal attack should be considered a primary goal. Changing the educators view might be a “primary” goal but educators that hail from a self defense background have always viewed physical resistance as a primary tool. Over the past year it has become painfully evident to me that the majority of young women will not make any effort to engage themselves in the process. My own survey (small sample size) clearly shows that more than 60% of the women had been assaulted by the age 35. Less than 10 % of the respondents had taken any kind of self defense course. I call it the reversed percentages, better to see 65% taking self defense courses and 10% experiencing some kind of assault. And as you know the available data dispels the idea that resistance increases the amount of physical injury to the intended victim. I think the real primary goal needs to be changing the priorities of the parents of young women. Everyone, at least most parents I talk to, loves the idea of self defense for women but very few are willing to commit the resources and required personal involvement to make it happen.

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