I write this blog as a sexual assault crisis counselor, a victim advocate, a feminist, an activist, and most of all, as a survivor.
My alma mater has a fantastic tradition shared with other communities and universities around the world: Take Back The Night. In it's eleventh year at my school, it continues to grow and draw tears and hope for many survivors of sexual assault. It is a night for the entire university to draw together support and love, and the overwhelming hope that one day, sexual assault will not be a problem in our or any society. Every year, thousands are inspired by these grassroots events to raise awareness and offering a loving shoulder to cry on, hand to hold, ear to listen. It has become something that I have looked forward to every year and hold dear to my heart.
Now, tonight started in the same vein; it was so wonderful to hear survivors come forward and talk about their stories and start (or rather, continue) their healing process. But, then...
Representatives from campus police came up to give a demonstration of their new program: RAD (Rape Aggression Defense), a physical self-defense course now being offered on campus.
Let's examine why this is a BAD idea, shall we?
A) Instead of talking about sexual assault prevention on a wide scale, a "sexual assault will never end until we recognize that violence is a product of oppression and not respecting choices" kind of approach, it reinforces the idea that women need to be on their guard AT ALL TIMES, be afraid of every dark corner where their rapist could be lurking, not to "put themselves in a bad situation". If I am not mistaken, isn't the whole point of Take Back the Night to actually Take Back our own power, to say we shouldn't have to be afraid to be out at night?
B) It also reinforces the idea that most rapists are those men lurking in dark corners. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network), approximately 76% of rape victims know their assailants. If it's your husband, your boyfriend, your friend, your boss, your family member, your coworker, someone you trust, it's a lot harder to come to terms with trying to incapacitate them and run.
C) Promoting self defense as prevention does not take into account those victims who are incapacitated themselves; those under the influence by their own volition or someone else's. A person who is intoxicated can not fight back physically, and perpetrators often use that to their advantage.
D) Women who fight back physically may aggravate their attackers so much so that they could, in turn, fight back harder, resulting in more physical harm to their victim. The officer in the demonstration said, "This information may save your life someday." But, in reality, it could take it as well. Furthermore, if a woman does fight back and survive, she could then be held liable for assault on her perpetrator. The self-defense claim is not foolproof.
E) Women who are trained in self-defense, whether it's through a mini course such as the one sited before, or whether it's years of practice in a martial art, are still raped. For reasons stated before, such as intoxication, or knowing your perpetrator, or just a basic human response--fear-- years of training can go right out the window. It may be said that those who do have the training may feel more shame about what happened, and blame themselves even more, because they "should have been able to" fight their assailant off. Which brings me to my last, and in my opinion, most important point...
F) Self defense as prevention is victim blaming. It takes the responsibility of prevention off of the perpetrators hands and back into the victim's. "If I had only taken that self defense class," "If I had only fought harder," "If I only hadn't been drunk or trusted him or walked to my car alone or invited him to my room..." Sexual assault is NEVER the victim's fault, no matter the circumstances. A cultural shift is necessary to stop ideas that the victim is to blame for the violation they endure, and that it is our responsibility, as a university, community, and society that perpetration is unacceptable. This last point is a summation of the other points, in that we should have a right to not be afraid to be by ourselves, that we should have a right to trust who we trust, feel what we feel, wear what we want to wear, and do what we want to do in whatever context of our lives. I refuse to abstain from observing my rights out of fear of what may happen to me. This fear gives perpetrators more power, and keeps more victims silent and ashamed.
It is disgusting that this kind of "prevention" is thought of as empowering and a fail-proof way of women to protect themselves. Clearly, this type of training is not appropriate for a Take Back the Night rally, as it is not only ill-conceived, it is completely counterproductive to the goal of the night.