Dear Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN):
Hello! First, we hope it’s ok that we call you RAINN. Second, happy 25th birthday! In keeping with the third wave of the feminist movement, we’ve all been emphasizing the importance of women’s being free from coercive defilement–whether that is by family members, dates, acquaintances, coworkers, intimate partners, exes, or strangers. It’s hard to believe we’ve all been at this for so long.
We were so pleased when we saw that you have an entire page on your website devoted to “Steps You Can Take to Prevent Sexual Assault.” For we here at See Jane Fight Back have been reviewing the scholarship that shows how self-defense–training in it and/or doing it when threatened–is tremendously empowering for many women, changes the scripts of our rape culture, and helps prevent sexual assault.
So imagine our disappointment, RAINN, when we realized that you say nothing about women resisting sexual assault (which is, after all, a key step they can take to prevent it). Turns out you only talk about how someone can help prevent the assault of someone else, as a bystander. This is not even data-driven advice.
While we hate to rain on your 25th birthday parade, we are deeply concerned that you are providing information informed more by some ideology about how it’s men’s job to change, not women’s, and that it would be victim-blame-y to share with anyone the research that verbal and physical resistance (self-defense) works to thwart assaults in individual situations and at a norms-changing societal level. (By the way, we do not think advocating self-defense is victim-blame-y.)
Your page for college students on preventing sexual assault also omits any mention of physical and verbal resistance, even though on this page you do risk blaming victims by telling them to be sure they have their smart phones set in certain ways to avoid attack, to have people they can contact at the ready, to have cash on hand, and also to keep their drinks covered so no one can drug it. Obviously, we should be teaching men not to drug our drinks, too, but we agree with you that it makes good sense to alert women of the things they can do given that, currently, there are people drugging drinks. For this same reason, we believe in telling women they can yell, kick, poke, push, and punch.
Sadly, RAINN, you tell women a variety of protective measures they can engage in but never tell women they can, and have a legal right to, resist an attacker verbally or physically. They can, and they do.
RAINN, please consider what the CDC has said about data-driven prevention advice and programs. You are robbing women of the information that could truly empower them and prevent assaults. And you’re old enough to know better.
Martha & Jill
Dear “Power of One” Campaign,
Your Power of One social marketing campaign at the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) tells people that one person can make a difference, can do their part to stop sexual assault. We applaud the fact that you’re not worried that this approach individualizes the problem of sexual violence. You frame this strategy as primary prevention because it can stop sexual assault before it begins. You say that people “have options when it comes to stopping sexual violence.” In fact, you say that “even when it is hard, there is always something you can do. By taking a stand, you can help stop sexual violence in your community. ” To this end, you use the Green Dot Program’s framework to say that people have “the Three D’s”: They can be Direct, Distract, and Delegate. These are quoted below so people can see how you frame these three Ds.
1. You can be DIRECT.
Walk up and intervene. Respectfully ask that the offender stop the behavior and explain to them why it’s wrong.
2. You can DISTRACT.
Use a diversion to stop the behavior. Walk up and ask for directions or ask for the time. If it’s someone you know, talk about something you have in common with them.
3. You can DELEGATE.
Ask a friend, use the buddy system or call your local authorities to stop the behavior.
We agree that if everyone does their small part, we can help prevent sexual violence of any kind! We just want to add a very crucial fourth D.
4. You can DEFEND yourself.
Move, shove, state “NO” firmly, shout “STOP!”, kick the groin or head, and resist the attacker with the goal of stopping the attacker and getting yourself to safety. You can get help with these strategies by taking a self-defense training course, which emphasizes awareness, taking yourself seriously, verbal boundary setting and, finally, physical techniques for enforcing boundaries.
We love that you want people to be engaged bystanders. But of course we can be bystanders on our own behalves, too. Women have historically been the caretakers of partners, children, and their communities. It’s time we care for ourselves, too, and stand up for ourselves. Bring in the bystander? Sure. But be your own bystander, too. Be your own number one advocate. Yeah, bring it!
Jill & Martha
April 25, 2017
To: RAD Instructional Team From: I. D. Claire, RAD Instructional Team Re: Misfire with that Self-Defense Training Poster
Well folks, the votes are in. People on campus–especially the feminists!–have been complaining about our poster that promotes RAD self-defense classes with the Susan B. Anthony quote, “Woman must not depend upon the protection of a man, but must be taught to protect herself.”
I told the development team to get someone hotter, and preferably nonwhite, on that poster. But you didn’t listen. Sure, most of what passes for “rape prevention” on our campus is victim services and an attempt to get victims to report offenders. It’s up to us to promote the importance of self-defense training on campus. We sure as hell know the sexual assault prevention office and the women’s center aren’t going to do it. And the CDC still doesn’t want to embrace the data on the effectiveness of self-defense. We also know RAD self-defense classes play a special role in offering something that is truly preventative, and empowering to boot.
We want people to realize that self-defense is in line with feminism, not against it. How did Susan B. Anthony take us off message here? Time for a gut check. Susan B. Anthony is not hot. And she is associated with white feminism– in a time when we all have the vote already. (Post-feminism, anyone?) Plus, that old gal had no birth control so in order to stay free and have a lifelong career as a public speaker and feminist activist, she never got with a man. That sends the wrong message in today’s era of birth control and hooking up.
They’re also saying our poster promotes victim blaming. Certainly college campuses display posters that say if you don’t lock your dorm doors then you almost deserve to have your laptop stolen, and people don’t go hollering to the Dean of Students that this message is victim-blaming. Maybe the campus feminists are just looking for a reason to dismiss self-defense. Still, could we do more?
Let’s be sure our posters show images of women fending off known assailants in the most likely ways. No more street scenes where the money shot is the woman getting the thug in a headlock. We’re teaching boundary setting, verbal self-defense and, when those fail, physical resistance tactics. dare, can you turn that into a graphic? Ditto: the most likely places we teach women they’ll defend themselves– their dorm room, on a couch, floor, or bed, at a party, &etc. Rhyanna, for now, change the image of Susan B. Anthony to bell hooks (a young bell hooks!!). Find a quote that captures feminism being pro-self-defense, but also pro-sex, pro-drinking, pro-choice, and pro-football. Jessica, for a longer-term strategy, look through recent issues of Cosmo and Glamour for current celebrities who might have said something great about kicking ass. Maybe Beyoncé.
Open Letter to the Author of Thank You for Arguing.
Dear Jay Heinrichs:
We read your book, Thank You for Arguing, a national bestseller, to learn how we might use the techniques of persuasion in order to convince those who do not see the value of self-defense training to women. And we’re ready, as you say, to “move our audience to action”. Beyond ready. As self-defense scholars and advocates, we know that the data show that women’s use of self-defense to thwart sexual assault is likely to be effective and safe. The challenge has been to get people to embrace that data and move to the actions of funding, learning, and advocating women’s self-defense training. Your strategies can help us do that – let us know how we’re doing!
First we thought we’d try your tactic of starting with the opposition’s view and then showing how your own position better suits their view. For example, rape prevention educators say that “holding rapists accountable” is preventative. So how about taking that view — that “we must hold rapists accountable”– and then reframing it to say that a woman who shouts at, kicks at, or otherwise stops a man from carrying out his plans to rape is holding rapists accountable.
We also liked your approach of creating effective statements that blend parts of the opposition’s view with one’s own position, such as the highly effective statement, “Abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.” Perhaps we could say, Self-defense should be empowering, effective, and rare.
Another way we might be able to use your technique is to come up with a memorable soundbite expressing our position–something like: Securing funding from the CDC shouldn’t go against women’s security. Or: Self-Defense: Because We’re Worth It.
Perhaps our blog readers can help, too. Let us know your ideas for the best persuasive statements for self-defense advocacy!
Martha & Jill
Resistance Is Not Futile.
Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.
We put up a good fight. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, needed it to. We lost. Did the fight matter?
Resistance, in any form, to any kind of assault or violation, does not guarantee a particular outcome. And when the outcome is unwanted and scary and painful and wrong, and violates our individual and collective rights to freedom and empowerment and self-determination and safety, it can feel like the resistance was futile.
It was not futile. As Hillary Clinton reminded us in her moving concession speech this morning, it is not futile.
As scholars who advocate self-defense, we want to remind you of an important lesson from the data on self-defense: that the process of resistance is critical and empowering and positive, even when the outcome is negative. In the face of assault, women who knew resistance was an option and who made the best choice for themselves in that moment – whether that was verbal resistance or physical resistance or simply the determination to survive – had better physical and psychological outcomes following an assault than women who believed they had no choices.
We do not fight solely because we want a particular outcome. We fight because we are worth fighting for. And the fight is important on all levels – for individual people, for what it communicates to our families and friends and communities, for how it changes rules and norms and structures and policies and laws. We fight for what the fight says about and means to us.
What is the next step? There is no “right” answer to that, because resistance is multi-faceted, broadly defined, and individually determined. Yes, we will have successes and setbacks. But we know we will, as Hillary implores us to, go on fighting. Because, as Hillary said, “fighting for what’s right is worth it.”
An Open Letter to Donald Trump
Dear Mr. Trump,
We are not writing to express our surprise that recent tapes revealed your proudly describing how you go up to women and start kissing them without even waiting (for consent) and how you “grab ’em by the pussy.” This does not shock us at all, given your relative power as a rich white man living in a rape culture.
But what does that mean, rape culture? Rape culture refers to that set of attitudes and beliefs about men, women, and sex that presume that men are going to aggress against women and that women will, at best, be OK with it or, at worst, don’t matter anyway. Rape culture includes the way we speak about men and women.
When we describe someone brave and assertive, we say that person has “got balls.” If we want someone to be more courageous, we say they really ought to “grow a pair.” This makes logical sense in a culture that associates manhood with the ability to assert one’s will. When we describe someone who is weak, fearful, or otherwise wimpy (you know, “not man enough”), we say they are a “pussy.” This is not at all coincidentally also a slang word for female sex organs.
These associations were in full play in the sign carried by one of Trump’s supporters, which declared “Better to grab a pussy than be one!”
The issue, as many have pointed out, is not the use of the term “pussy” to describe women’s genitalia, or even the use of the word “pussy” as a pejorative and emasculating slur. The issue is Trump’s assertion that pussies, and by association the human beings who have them, are there for his taking. Yet they, and we, are not.
Self-defense training teaches women that there is nothing about having a pussy that makes us pussies of the Trumps of this world. And self-defense training teaches us that resistance comes in many forms, and that there is not just one moment in time for resistance. Resistance can happen when we see the threat coming a mile away, when the threat is right in front of us, and any time after an assault, be that minutes or decades. In fact, the willful act of standing up to the Trumps of the world, verbally and/or physically, courageously telling one’s story about these Trumps, and civil disobedience are all forms of resistance to the rape culture. We only fully challenge the rape culture when we challenge the belief that women have no power to resist men, and the accompanying belief that men can, because of either social or physical power, just waltz up to women and grab ’em by the pussy.
Because you can’t, Mr. Trump. And this is what resistance looks like.
Read more about this image at http://www.wnyc.org/story/pussy-grabs-back-movement/
Dear Mr. Splashy Pants,
Congratulations on being an amazing Internet meme. How’d you do it? You stand for a great cause–GreenPeace wanted to make people more aware of the whales that were threatened in Japan–and you emerged as the people’s choice for icons in this movement.
But you were the underdog (underwhale? underwear?). Most of the names for the representative whale were serious, symbolic, ethereal names like Anahi and Kaimana. And yet you prevailed, because GreenPeace left it up to a vote over social media. When you won, GreenPeace pulled the old “we’re going to keep the contest open a while longer” trick, at which point your supporters only became more emboldened, determined to see their beloved Mr. Splashy Pants the name of the GreenPeace whale.
That’s why we’re writing you for advice, Mr. Pants, in hopes that we could make the kind of splash on social media that you have. We’ve blogged serious stuff. We’ve blogged silly stuff. We’ve submitted a video in response to the one that the CDC did. We just don’t have your supporters or your success. But we know, Splashy, that you understand the importance of self-preservation, and fighting back against those who would perpetrate violence. We know you get it, Splashy.
Please write with any suggestions as to contests &etc. Thank you.
Jill & Martha
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?
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
CDC Frames Changing Interactions Between Two People as a Prevention Strategy (but not for Sexual Assault)
OPEN LETTER TO THE CDC
Dear Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
Your recently released report on fatal abusive head trauma in children under 5 embraces a range of prevention strategies (your words, not ours) to combat a type of violence that parents or caregivers perpetrate against children. You remind us of the need for collecting good data, for shifting cultural norms around parenting, and for strengthening economic support for families through a variety of policy changes.
And then, CDC (may we call you CDC?), you say this:
“There is growing evidence that child maltreatment prevention strategies, such as those that change interactions, including those between parents and children, parents and other caregivers, and parents and health care providers are effective interventions (7). [The CDC] resource [is]…based on decades of research about effectively promoting positive parenting and preventing child maltreatment, using various approaches, including videos and interactive practice exercises, to help caregivers build healthy relationships with their children aged >3 years.” [emphasis ours].
We wholeheartedly agree – using interactive practice exercises that change interactions between people is an effective prevention strategy supported by decades of research.
Not just in the prevention of child maltreatment. Also in the prevention of sexual assault.
But you should know this, CDC. We’ve told you before. But instead you continue to frame self-defense as a “risk-reduction” strategy instead of as primary prevention.
On the bright side, your Sexual Violence Prevention Package (pages 19-22) lists empowerment-based self-defense among the skills-building strategies we should be teaching.
We applaud your recognition that, with respect to abusive head trauma in children, prevention is a multi-faceted approach, and that changing interactions between caregivers and children is an important aspect of that prevention model.
Let’s have those same standards apply to preventing sexual assault, and recognize that empowerment self-defense training IS part of a comprehensive prevention model; it creates population-level change by challenging rape myths and the dynamics around gender, in addition to teaching people a range of verbal and physical personal safety strategies to prevent sexual assault.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey