We have become so desensitized to the occurrence of sexual assault and rape that it can cause even the best of us to fall into the trap of believing that these actions are simply part of the norm, and that females, individuals who are merely doomed to be the predominant victims, must always keep their actions in check to somehow prevent it from happening. This mindset in which the victim is at fault for their own violation is aptly known as victim blaming, and is more subconsciously present than many realize.
From a very young age, women are taught that male violence against them is warranted and inevitable should they fall out of line with an unspoken list of expected behaviors. Young girls are scolded for wearing “skimpy,” “revealing,” and “tight fitting” outfits. Young women are warned to never walk home alone at night, or if they do so, to carry some form of defense with them. They are told to check their words and behaviors should they “lead on” or send mixed signals. Women are told to never leave their drinks unattended, and to never be alone in a room with someone if you don’t “want something to happen.”
They are taught to live in a constant state of fear of not only the possibility of assault, but the consequences regarding the implication of being a victim of sexual assault. It is the victim who is blamed because this mindset and its accompanying rhetoric has subconsciously become the norm. It’s a way of speaking and behaving that society always and unquestionably teaches, therefore desensitizing people, regardless of who they are, to it.
We need to wake up, to become conscious of what we say and how we behave, if we truly believe that sexual assault is the atrocity we claim it to be. Because sexual assault, the act of rape, is not normal. Rape is something that people should not accept as part of a societal norm. It is not something that people should become desensitized to. To become desensitized is to disregard the experiences of those who underwent the trauma and who will live with the memory.
Sexual assaults on college campuses often mean playing by the rules of that institution in terms of the survivor’s care afterwards and the consequences for the alleged assailant.
For many colleges and universities, this means establishing a no-contact order, which is meant to keep the individual at a distance from their accuser while the investigation into the matter is settled and the school decides on an appropriate resolution. This seems to be a good idea – keeping the victim at a safe distance from their attacker to avoid physical altercations or mental/emotional manipulation.
But this method of handling the situation while the investigation is pending has many flaws that these institutions have not bothered to address. This ends up making these schools less safe and leads to the belief, by survivors and advocates alike, that colleges and universities are more preoccupied with any potential loss of incoming funds than with helping their students feel safe and respected on campus.
Some of the flaws included in this no-contact method of dealing with reports of sexual assault:
- When the accused has no shame in violating this no-contact order and continues to intimidate the survivor around campus and there is no consequence to their actions from any administration.
- When institutions feel that the no-contact order is enough of a punishment and the investigation lacks any real effort.
- When institutions treat the survivors as guilty and do not consider any other issues that may lead to violation of the no-contact order – i.e. situations in which the survivor is in an abusive relationship with their assailant and is being manipulated into contact or fears that leaving their partner is too dangerous.
- When the no-contact order feels more like a gag order to keep the survivors quiet and not tarnish any reputations with “nastiness”.
Schools need to have better ways of implementing these no-contact orders as well as providing alternatives for individuals in situations where it may be harder to avoid their assailant.
One way of doing that includes more specific no-contact orders, such as the one outlined by Tyler Kingkade of the Huffington Post, where the school went so far as to dictate that the accused could not be on campus outside of specified hours because of his constant violations of the no-contact order. These no-contact orders may seem overbearing to some, but it allows some survivors to feel more at peace and not fear constant retribution for speaking out.
Another is to provide better resources for the survivors to discuss their emotions, not to stifle them from discussing the “case” when it is so much more personal and traumatizing for them. This leads to the feeling that they are being blamed for what happened to them and the sense that the school just wants to make it all go away, not to give them any justice or sense of security.
One of the biggest things these institutions need to do for the survivors on their campuses is to find alternatives to the general “just leave each other alone” feeling that the current implementation of no-contact orders give to many. Ignoring each other won’t work if the alleged assailant decides to harass their victim for daring to report them and it won’t help the individual who cannot get away from their assailant for whatever emotional or physical reasons. There needs to be more done for the survivor, not just empty gestures that leave these people feeling even more victimized and hurt because they decided to reach out to the administration that was supposed to help them.
Currently colleges and universities don’t do anywhere near what they should be doing for the individuals on campus who report sexual assault. Some schools are starting to learn from their previous mistakes, but it is up to us – the students and the alumni and all the donors that make these institutions work – to tell them that “good enough” isn’t good enough.
Growing up as a young cisgender woman in America, we are raised with every “to-do” list of how to keep from being a victim of sexual assault. The memes are everywhere – “College Move-In Day: you buy your son condoms, and your daughter a rape whistle/pepper spray”. The market for rape prevention tools has grown significantly – from internal devices meant to maim attackers, to nail polish that can detect a roofie in your drink, to specialized clothing that can’t be ripped or cut off.
But in the world that expects women to protect themselves from sexual violence, the idea of physical self-defense seems to lead to the most controversy.
- Women’s self-defense courses are nothing more than victim-blaming disguised as self-empowerment.
This is the main critique of women who seek out self-defense and martial arts in an attempt to feel safe. It does have its merits though; as with anything that can make money, there are organizations out there with dollar-signs in their eyes and lesson plans that don’t surmount to much more than “don’t act like a slut”. But to say that the entire idea of a woman seeking out something to make herself more comfortable in public is wrong because it is abused by big businesses seeking a profit is wrong.
Fix the system, don’t just trash it all.
Make sure that there are strict standards for licensed self-defense programs.
Give women the choice to decide what makes them feel safe.
- The push for women’s self-defense is blaming every woman who couldn’t fight back.
As I mentioned before, there are many people like this – even people leading these courses in self-defense. But it is never the individual’s fault that someone attacked them, regardless of whether they fought back.
It is a valid concern to be afraid that these classes do nothing but ensure that the other girl (who is too drunk or out too late) is the one who is attacked instead. But these classes don’t make their students superhuman. The good courses – such as those approved by the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF) – will give a balance between the physical defense portion of the curriculum and mental/emotional exercises that help to build confidence and awareness. This is where they teach their students how to react to situations, how to remove themselves from a tense situation, and how to diffuse any hostility without violence if at all possible. These courses also have modifications to show women with disabilities how to play to their strengths in hopes of giving some sense of comfort. In these classes there is the emphasis of all choices made by the individual about how to react – to fight or not – are considered equally valid.
These classes give women the strength to trust themselves and their bodies – something many women struggle with.
- Teaching women that they must always be on the defensive is teaching women to be prisoners of rape culture, instead of changing what makes the rapists rape.
I will admit that even I have thought this. But I have also decided that, in my own life, the best way for me to feel safe is to do both. I am a proponent of women having every possible resource available to make her feel safe as we reach out and educate society more about sexual violence and proper consent.
For some women (survivors and women who have never experienced assault alike), self-defense becomes a form of self-care and self-love. In a world where women are constantly fighting their bodies and nitpicking at every flaw or defect, self-defense courses allow them to learn their bodies intimately. They witness their strength growing. These women become more confident and sure of themselves. For some survivors, this can be all the more helpful to their healing experiences when they feel the most beat down.
- Fighting back will just make things worse. (Mostly referring to WOC and trans women of all ethnicities.)
We all read the news and see the headlines that show us people of color are facing serious violence because of their race and because of the belief that no one will care about their pain.
It stands to reason that a woman (more so for a woman of color – especially when facing a white assailant) might feel that she cannot fight back without escalating the situation and raising her chances of being killed. But women of color banded together in the 1960s and 1970s to create a movement within the general feminist movement for women’s self-defense. These women, knowing that society saw them as lesser, decided that they would put their trust in themselves for safety.
As a white Latina, I cannot make any comments on what women of color should do with their bodies – especially with regards to their safety. But I can encourage them to do what they deem best and provide them any support I can.
I know that many of those who are critical of women’s self-defense do so from a place of concern for people’s well-being. But to say that women making the choice to do something for themselves are wrong is to deny women the choice.
It is true, not all women are comfortable with the idea of self-defense – be it martial arts or a weapon.
But, as that is their choice, the choice to learn skills that could help in a violent situation is the right choice for other women. Neither of them are more to blame if someone were to attack them, neither of them are the more sympathetic victim.
So I propose that, instead of policing how women cope with the reality that the world is not a safe place, we strive to make those changes in society. It doesn’t matter whether a woman is carrying pepper spray in her purse or she takes Tae Kwon Do three times a week, the people we need to concern ourselves with are those who prey on these women. We can work on giving women the right tools to feel safe – ensuring that any self-defense is more than just “make the other girl a target instead” – while removing the tools rapists use to terrorize their targets. This is not an “either/or” situation, we can do both.