Tag Archives: campus sexual assault

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



Consent Education for K-12 Students: Not Enough

On December 27, the Huffington Post published a piece on the call by California college students for consent education for K-12 students.

That will not solve the crisis of rape on college campuses.  Instead, we call for empowerment self-defense training for all K-12 students.

Because consent education, while valuable, is not enough.  What individuals and institutions mean by “consent” varies, depending on terminology (consent v affirmative consent v effective consent vs mutual consent vs legal consent) and specificity of the definitions.  For example, the White House Task Force on Sexual Assault on College Campuses describes consent as the “voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity”, and posits that silence, lack of resistance, and past consent do not constitute consent as they define it.  Other definitions require active, enthusiastic, uncoerced, and ongoing affirmation that the sexual activity is desired.

The discourse on consent education seems to focus on the use of clear language to communicate exactly what is acceptable, and not acceptable, in mutually desired and consented sexual activity, whether that is by the person “initiating” sexual activity (e.g., “Is it okay if I do ____?”, or “Are you liking this?”), or by the person who is the recipient of someone else initiating sexual activity (e.g., “Yes, I want you to do ___.”, or “I’m not comfortable with this and I want you to stop.”).  These conversations take consent past the legal definition, seeking sexual relationships that are democratic, free, and mutually pleasurable, rather than legal-but-yucky.

Without question, consent to mutually agreed-upon sexual activity, freely given, is critical.  And regardless of the specific definition of consent in play in any particular setting or institution, it is critical to educate people about what we mean by consent, and how to give it or obtain it.

Sex that is democratic, free, and mutually pleasurable is likely to result from affirmative consent.  But neither understanding what consent means, or the language of giving or getting consent, will stop sexual assault.  Because clearly understanding a definition, and having the script to ask or respond, clearly and directly, about sexual intentions and desires, does not mean that someone won’t try to rape someone else.  Rape is not a misunderstanding solved by knowing the right answer on a vocabulary test.

What is required to stop rape and assault is for individuals to understand that they are not entitled to sexual activity with another person just because they want it.

And what is critical in enforcing that understanding is what empowerment self-defense training offers:  the belief that we are entitled to our own sexual agency and bodily integrity, and the skills to enforce that right.

Consent education is a component of an empowerment self-defense model, where women, girls, men and boys are taught, and reminded, through the enactment of physical and verbal boundary setting and self-defense skills, that they – not their partners, their parents, their acquaintances, or strangers – get to say what they will and will not do with their bodies.   It provides the skills to maintain the boundaries they have set when another person is not interested, not informed, or actively seeking to overstep those boundaries.

So yes, by all means, let’s start early.  Let’s teach young girls and boys what rape means, and what consent means.  Let’s teach them the language to communicate clearly and effectively.  But more importantly, let’s teach girls and boys that girls’ bodies are not there for the taking, and that girls are capable of more than just saying that.  Let’s teach girls and women how to protect themselves, to maintain the rights we are telling them they have.


Ten Things Never to Say to a Stegosaurus Training in Self-Defense

  1. “The point really should be to get T-Rex to be more peaceful.”
  2. “What would you do if Triceratops had an Iguanodon with him?”
  3. “What if you’d been eating ferns and conifer all night, and were just too full to be able to defend yourself?”
  4. “Why don’t I just dress up like T-Rex and let you practice on me?”
  5. “If you’d just stay out of T-Rex territory, everything would be fine.”
  6. “Isn’t this just a waste of time? You’re an herbivore, he’s a carnivore…That’s just the way it is.”
  7. “Maybe you should get a nice Brontosaurus to walk you home. Otherwise, you’re just asking for trouble.”
  8. “You know, I’ve always thought it would be a turn-on to be knocked out by a sexy Stegosaurus.”
  9. “When a T-Rex attacks you and feeds on your bloody carcass, it just means he likes you.”
  10.  “Well, all these skills you’re learning are well and good until a giant asteroid hits the Earth.”

An Open Letter to Cory Rosenkranz, Counseling Center, Ramapo College

Dear Ms. Rosenkranz,

We have seen multiple stories now – first in the Ramapo News from Ramapo College, but then in Jezebel, in Addicting Info, in the Telegraph – about how you recommended that female students practice their “anti-rape faces in the mirror”.  Or words to that effect.

That’s not prevention, Ms. Rosenkranz.  That’s victim-blaming.  We don’t need to practice our anti-rape faces.  Any face we make is an anti-rape face.

Prevention is focusing on changing a rape culture that perpetuates the myth that men’s rape of women as inevitable.  Prevention is acting to change social norms about men’s beliefs about their entitlement to women’s bodies, and the eliminating the behaviors that follow those beliefs.  And prevention is teaching women how to physically and verbally thwart an attempted sexual assault.

Women do not invite rape by how they look, or what they wear, or the expression on their faces.  Or by their perceived attractiveness, or their relationship status, or their sexual orientation, or the color of their skin.  Or anything else.

Got that?

We want to reduce women’s risk for assault, Ms. Rosenkranz.  We assume you do, too.  But if you want to make women safer, empower them – don’t blame them.  Encourage your campus to offer self-defense classes that, as the data show, actually reduce the chance that they will be raped and increase women’s feelings of confidence and empowerment.

We assume your goal is to reduce sexual assault on your campus, Ms. Rosenkranz.  But making faces doesn’t make people stop raping.  Action does.  And that’s why we are writing to you, rather than making a “we don’t like what you’re saying” face.

Women’s faces/bodies/clothes/words/behaviors DO NOT invite rape, and rape prevention is not about withdrawing an invitation.  So please – check the data, and get your facts straight.



Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey

An Open Letter to the NPR Weekend Edition Staff and the Parents of College Students You Misled


Dear NPR Weekend Edition Staff and the Parents of College Students You Misled:

The August 24 program “Weekend Edition” produced a story on how some universities are “tackling sexual assault before parties start”, which underscores how important it is for parents, as well as colleges and universities, to prepare students in advance, and to remind them of the risk while offering them strategies to reduce it.  This broadcast featured a clip of a conversation between a father of an incoming University of New Hampshire student, who is a doctor, and his daughter, “Kelly”.  When Kelly asks her father specifically for advice (“What should I know about consent and assault and rape?”), Dad offers Kelly the following advice:

  1. Anticipate a situation before you get into it
  2. Always travel with friends
  3. Have a planned list of activities, night and day
  4. Avoid isolation
  5. Avoid substances

Kelly feels better, and Kelly’s Dad, who is clearly educated, informed, and appropriately concerned about his daughter’s safety and well-being, has done his job.  And yet, what has she been told, really?  Don’t ever be alone, don’t ever drink or use drugs, and keep yourself on a preset busy schedule.  In other (vague) words, avoid, curtail, limit, distract, and then hope for the best.  She might as well live at home and take all her courses online.

The take-home message of that list of rape avoidance strategies — inadvertently offered, perhaps, but communicated nonetheless — is that once danger is imminent, the outcome is a given.  If one’s avoidance measures fail, there is no advice provided, implying that women do not have the option of fighting back.

And yet research has shown that girls and women are capable of safely and effectively resisting rape and sexual assault.  Self-defense training is one critical way to teach, and allow for the practice of, active and clear strategies for things you can say and do in a potentially dangerous situation, where someone is trying to rape or assault you.  And the research tells us that these strategies make women feel safer, make them more empowered to set and assert their boundaries in a range of situations – including social and dating situations – and can effectively prevent an assault or a rape from occurring.

So NPR and parents, please have these conversations, and please include not only a guy’s legal obligation not to attack but a gal’s legal right to defend herself. Here’s our script for daughters:

If someone tries to rape or assault you, one thing you need to know is that you have the right to protect yourself – verbally or physically.  You have the right to tell someone that what they are saying to you, how they are touching you, is not what you want, is not okay, is a crime; you have the right to yell and scream and call for help and make a scene to attract the attention of someone who might be able to help you.  And you also have the right to physically resist – by pushing, shoving, hitting, kicking, with any part of your body that you can use – hands, elbows, hips, knees, feet – and against any part of their body – testicles, face, abdomen, arms, legs.   And, you need to know these are all things you can do, and have the right to do, but that if you are in danger, we trust you to make the best decision for yourself that is going to keep you feeling as safe in the moment as possible.  And that means that while we want you to know that it is okay for you to do these things, it doesn’t mean you have to or you should.  You do what’s best for you, and we will love and trust and support you, no matter what.

Not that anyone asked, but here’s our script for sons:

If you want to do something physically intimate with someone, tell them and ask them. If the person you’re with has been drinking or using drugs, consider them incapable of offering meaningful consent and move on.  If the person is reasonably sober and makes it explicitly clear that the desires are mutual, great. Do not assume you can pick up signals or hints.  Do not ever attempt to impose yourself or your will onto another person.  It’s neither sexy nor legal.  Don’t treat anyone as an “easy lay.”  If you don’t understand these principles, you just might get your ass kicked.

That’s the way to tackle sexual assault before the party starts.


Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey

The Top Five Things You Need to Know Before Heading Off to College

As we head into August, the internet is bursting with advice for the college student.  As college professors, we certainly want students to come to college prepared, and given the news coverage over the last few months about sexual assault on college campuses, we thought, surely, that information about the risk of sexual assault and how to protect oneself, particularly for first-year college women in the first few weeks of the semester, would make it onto these lists.  (Actually, we thought no such thing, but we were hoping, optimistic feminists that we are.)

Sadly, though, we found nary a list that even mentioned assault, let alone one that suggested that the young woman heading off to college might need to know of the risks and therefore offered her valuable information about effective ways to defend herself should someone try to rape or assault her.

But no.  What we found, instead, were suggestions about how to confront the problems of packing, laundry, and the Freshman 5/10/15.

So it’s not that we don’t think that it can be hard to know what to pack when you’re leaving home for 4 months; we certainly encourage you to figure out how to operate a washing machine, and healthy nutrition is always a plus.  In fact, as professors, we’d also encourage you to read your syllabus, do your homework, and proofread your papers.

However, what we really want you to know is that if you are a young woman in college, the risk of someone raping or sexually assaulting you, or trying to, is high; the data (you’re going to hear a lot about data in college, so get used to it) from a lot of different sources says that anywhere from 1 in 5 women to 1 in 3 women will be raped or sexually assaulted during her college years.

What we also want you to know is that there are things you can do to protect yourself.

We trust you’ll figure out what to bring, how to set up your room, and how to declare a major, so we’re not going to give you any advice on how to do that.  Instead, here are (drumroll please)….


  1. RAPISTS ARE NOT ALL STRANGERS. Statistically, a person who tries to rape you is going to be someone you know, and quite possibly someone you know and like – a friend, a date, a partner.  So it is important to be aware of the people you know, not just your surroundings, and to pay attention to how you feel when you are around the people you know.  Go with your gut, and trust your instincts.
  2. ALCOHOL IS TRICKY. Alcohol is implicated in an enormous number of rapes on college campuses, and here’s what we know about drinking alcohol:  intoxication can impair your judgment, slow your reflexes, and leave you more vulnerable to dangerous people and situations.  Yep, there are criminals (yes, rape and attempted rape are CRIMES) that will try to get you drunk in order to more easily commit an assault against you.  Know this:  being intoxicated does NOT, we repeat, NOT, mean you are responsible for someone trying to rape you.  No matter what. However, for a variety of reasons – health, safety, GPA, avoiding the Freshman 5/10/15 – we recommend drinking legally and responsibility, knowing your limits around alcohol and other drugs, and being aware of the risks associated with drinking.
  3. YOU ARE ENTITLED TO HAVE AND SET BOUNDARIES. You – not your date, your roommate, your friends, your family, your professors – YOU get to decide what is safe, comfortable, and desirable for yourself, and those get to get to be different for different people, or different at different times for the same person.  And no one has the right to push or override those.  NO ONE.  And what that means is this:  YOU GET TO SAY NO.  And we know how hard “no” can be to say.  Lots of people, but women and girls in particular, often have trouble saying “no” (“NO!”) because they are worried about appearing mean, rude, hurtful, or (gasp) bitchy.  And as college professors, with over 40 years teaching experience between us, we’re telling you it’s okay to say no, and in fact, it’s okay even if someone thinks you’re mean, rude, hurtful, or (gasp) bitchy.  Here’s our best advice to anyone who tells you otherwise:  Fuck ‘em.  (You may quote us on that.)
  4. THERE ARE THINGS YOU CAN SAY AND DO TO STOP SOMEONE FROM RAPING YOU. You may have heard a lot of (perhaps) well-intentioned but (in our humble, data-informed) opinion, stupid advice on this point that says the opposite, like:  Don’t fight back, it won’t work, you’ll get hurt, you’ll make him mad, you’ll make things worse….  In fact, here’s what we know from the data (are you tired of hearing us say “data” at this point?  Too bad.):
    1. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO RESIST. Self-defense is a human right, and those aren’t just pretty words.  You have the legal right to defend yourself, and that means against a rapist, too.  And it gets even better – keep reading:
    2. RESISTANCE CAN WORK. Resistance means a lot of things:  walking with confidence, telling someone not to touch you, pushing or shoving someone away from you, kneeing someone in the testicles (“Most incapacitating pain EVER,” our male friends tell us), and more.  Fighting back – verbally or physically – against a potential rape or sexual assault makes it LESS likely that the perpetrator will be successful and MORE likely that the perpetrator will fail.  Self-defense can work, even if a perpetrator is male, is larger, is stronger; you can use it to prevent or thwart an assault from happening.
    3. MORE IS MORE. Stronger levels of resistance – both verbal and physical – make it MORE likely that the perpetrator will fail.
    4. YOU CAN’T TRUST LAW AND ORDER SVU AS YOUR SOURCE OF INFORMATION FOR ANYTHING. (We know this seems off-topic, but just hear us out.)  And we say this as huge Law and Order SVU fans, but here’s the sad truth – they just make shit up*.  And one of the things they say that’s not true, which you’ve probably heard before, is that fighting back is a bad idea because you’re more likely to get hurt.    Just not true in most cases – in most cases, there are no difference in injury rates between women who resist and women who can’t or don’t.
  5. YOU ARE THE BEST PERSON TO DECIDE WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE TRIES TO RAPE OR ASSAULT YOU. One of the things that happens when we talk about self-defense is that people say things like, “When you tell women they can fight back, aren’t you telling them it’s their fault if they are raped?”, to which we say, “No, of COURSE NOT!”  (Then we roll our eyes and mutter to ourselves because we’re really tired of hearing that.)  We want women to know what their options are; we are not telling women what they should and shouldn’t do.  Every person and every situation is different, and we trust women to make the best decisions they can for themselves in any given moment.   Self-defense is an option, and if you know all your options, you can better make the best choice for yourself to stay as safe as you can in any situation – whatever that choice may be.  We trust you.

So that should cover it.  College is wonderful, and we want you to be as prepared for it as possible.  This is the best and most important advice we have for you.  Aside from that, we trust you to figure it out.  Although we do think it’s important to tell you that if you overcook microwave popcorn, it will stink up your entire dorm for a week.

Go get ‘em!

Professor Jill and Professor Martha

*If any producers or writers for Law and Order SVU are readings this blog, the authors are totally available for consultation on scripts and dialogue.  Totally.

Obama Creates Task Force on Campus Sexual Assault

Obama Creates Task Force on Campus Sexual Assault

January 2014- Will the Task Force recommend self-defense training?

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