Recently, the University Police Department at my university advertised self-defense classes for women through the Rape Aggression Defense program. Predictably, there was an article in our student newspaper about how teaching self-defense is victim-blaming. “Letting it go,” as I was encouraged to do, was irresponsible to my fellow students and everyone who has ever felt threatened. It’s time to dismantle the overused mantra of “common sense is victim-blaming!” and actually propose real world solutions to combat rape and sexual assault, be it on a college campus, downtown, or with someone you trust.
Over winter break I participated in four women’s self-defense classes offered by the same R.A.D. training program through my local library, and it was a phenomenal experience. I have always been interested in learning self-defense, but my interest became more pronounced when I studied abroad last year and often found myself walking home late at night in foreign cities. Disconcerted with how vulnerable I was, I jumped at the chance to learn self-defense techniques from trained instructors and police officers. Nothing I had learned or done in my life was more empowering than being able to employ the tools and actions necessary to keep myself safe.
The question of risk reduction and self-defense has become synonymous with victim-blaming in campus culture, which is a dangerous connection to make. Far from holding women responsible for violence against them, self-defense empowers women to escape unharmed from a potential attacker. Feeling unsafe on campus or at your place of residence is a terrible feeling, but fortunately there are ways to be prepared for risky situations. Far from teaching women to be fearful of assault, self-defense education makes sure that women are not helpless in the face of an attacker. Confidence can make all the difference when faced with a dangerous situation, and being informed and educated as to resistance options can only serve women well, as self-defense techniques have been shown to work. A study from the National Institute of Justice in 2005 found that individuals who employed any number of resistance techniques maintained a significantly reduced chance of completed rape.
Teaching self-defense in no way shifts responsibility onto victims for crimes committed against them. Any person who assaults somebody else is the perpetrator of a violent crime and must be held accountable. Being knowledgeable about risk reduction and self-defense hardly contributes to “rape culture,” as the point of self-defense techniques is to prevent a rape or assault from occurring. Self-defense education thus prevents innocent individual from becoming victims. Taking control of a situation through resistance offers a chance of survival and puts power back into the hands of the victim.
Rape, sexual assault and violent attacks are all heinous crimes. While the system designed to deal with such crimes is far from perfect, everybody can agree that preventing rapes from taking place is of top priority. Preventing individuals from becoming statistics is noble, and the University Police must be commended for offering self-defense classes on this campus. Women should not be helpless by any means, and self-defense awareness helps ensure they are more prepared should they find themselves in a dangerous situation. Preventing victimhood is far preferable to the status quo of rejecting any discussion on rape prevention techniques.
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