Campus Sexual Violence Strategy Lacks Important Prevention Program: Self-Defense Training May 5, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Gun Control/Violence, Women.
Tags: campus sexual violence, jocelyn hollander, roger hollander, self-defense, self-defense classes, sexual assault, sexual assault prevention
Published: 12:00 a.m., May 5, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon
Two weeks ago, an undergraduate woman at the University of Oregon was sexually assaulted. She wasn’t the only one: Statistically, on a campus of 20,000 students, it’s likely that at least 10 women were sexually assaulted that week, and 2,175 of the women currently enrolled will have been assaulted before graduation.
They are assaulted by friends they trusted, by acquaintances, by classmates, by partners, and, rarely, by strangers. Most of these assaults are not reported to any authority, and most perpetrators suffer no penalties.
In January, President Obama appointed a task force to begin to address the problem of campus sexual violence, and the task force released their report last week. The report highlights four action items: collecting better data on the extent of the problem, evidence-based prevention programs such as bystander intervention, improved institutional responses, and more effective enforcement. These are all excellent and much-needed steps.
However, the task force’s suggestions leave out an important prevention strategy, and I believe that by doing so they do women a grave disservice. Here is the problem: What is a woman to do when her friend, acquaintance, date or partner begins to assault her? Is she to sit and wait for a bystander to intervene, or for data to be collected? Or is there something she can do in that moment, or perhaps even earlier, to prevent the assault?
There actually is something she can do, and it is very effective: She could learn basic skills to prevent and respond to assault. Self-defense classes have been taught in the United States since the 1970s, developed by feminists who saw rape and other forms of violence against women as a key source of social inequality. The best classes are holistic, teaching awareness and verbal self-defense as well as physical self-defense.
Emerging research on self-defense training is finding that these classes are very effective in preventing sexual assault. They don’t just teach women how to stop assault once they happen — they actually prevent assaults from happening in the first place. In addition to reducing women’s risk of violence, these classes are also extraordinarily empowering, increasing women’s self-confidence and decreasing their fear throughout their lives. Self-defense training may also have mental health benefits, such as decreasing depression and anxiety.
So why not include self-defense training in our portfolio of prevention strategies? Some people simply don’t believe that women can be strong enough to effectively fight back against violence. However, women defend themselves from violence all the time, even without self-defense training, and their resistance often stops assault.
One recent study found that when women used physical resistance strategies during an attack, there was an 85 percent decrease in the odds of being raped.
Other critics argue that advocating self-defense implies that women bear responsibility for stopping assault. But regardless of whether they defend themselves or not, victims are never responsible for assault. Indeed, every self-defense teacher I’ve ever seen has taken great pains to make clear that the only ones responsible for violence are perpetrators, and that women should not be blamed if they choose not to resist or if they are unsuccessful in doing so.
In addition to the important strategies suggested by the task force, college campuses should make self-defense training available to all women. Learning self-defense doesn’t replace these other strategies — but it ensures that until the other strategies begin to work, women have the backup skills to protect themselves, rather than waiting for someone else to intervene.
We know that learning self-defense reduces women’s risk of assault. To leave this important strategy out of our college sexual assault plan is to deny women access to information that may protect them from assault — right now, not at some vague time in the future.
Jocelyn Hollander is an associate professor and head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Oregon.