On Wednesday, the MTSU faculty announced a series of female-only self defense classes to be offered in the fall. The classes will be sponsored by R.A.D (Rape Aggression Defense) and offered to all female MTSU faculty, students, staff and the general public.
To preface my opinion, let me first say that I’m sure the school meant well. The last thing MTSU, or any university, wants is to perpetuate the campus rape culture. While I have a hard time questioning the motives of the university, I’ll be the first to question their methods. So please, if you’re faculty, hear me out.
Simply put: Our current sexual assault prevention method is archaic and likely doing more harm than good. There are three major factors in sexual assault prevention that we need to address before we can have an impact on sexual assault, and doing anything contrary will likely perpetuates the narrow-minded and unsuccessful angles currently used to fight this serious issue.
Who’s being victimized?
The first, and most obvious, problem with this course it is limited it to females. Let’s say that self-defense courses were some how the magical cure for the campus rape culture. Are we supposed to only protect one demographic? While women between the ages of 16-24 are statistically the most frequent victims, RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network) reports that 1/6 men are sexually abused even before adulthood, and the Office for Victims of Crimes reports that in 2011 12% of transgendered individuals had been victims of sexual assault before graduating highschool.
The numbers prove this isn’t just a young woman’s problem, so why only address them? Why only open what little preventative education we have to women? Until we recognize who is being victimized, we can’t help them. The first and arguably easiest step to combating the rape culture is making sure to include the entire culture in our efforts. It’s not just freshmen; it’s not just girls.
Who’s being held accountable?
Ugh. This is painfully clear, but still seems to be trumped by the ol’ stick up for yourself mantra: WHY IS THE BURDEN OF PREVENTION BEING STUCK TO THE VICTIM?!
Self defense classes are just fine and dandy. Honestly, I’ll probably take the course because there is a lot of great preventative technique to be learned. The problem isn’t that we offer self defense; it’s that we only offer self defense.
R.A.D’s class was pitched by MTSU News as “a comprehensive program of realistic defense tactics and techniques for women that emphasizes awareness, prevention, risk reduction and avoidance and progresses to the basics of hands-on defense training.”
Cool. Women (and men) should totally know how to defend themselves if they get attacked. That’s awesome; I completely support it. Unfortunately, that’s a very small part of the battle.
If MTSU gave us all fire extinguishers and told us how to use them, sure, we could probably put out a fire. But wouldn’t it be silly if, just because we could potentially (not necessarily, depending on the circumstances and the size/number of fires) put out a fire, the school made no efforts to prevent them? Even if we all had a fire extinguisher, would we not also teach against arson?
So, why not also teach against sexual assault? Now, I’ll give credit where it’s due. The fraternities do a notable job of teaching against sexual assault amongst themselves. But what about literally everyone else on campus? The most honorable preventative effort the school has provided in my time at MTSU was last fall’s “A Call to Men” lecture. This lecture was done by motivational speaker Tony Porter who, remarkably sincerely, tried to promote manhood as something other than a dominate role.
The lecture, which seemed to resonate well with attendees, was allegedly catalyzed by one fraternity’s disruptive and disrespectful commentary at a prior sexual assault lecture for Greeks. This, the most impressive display of prevention on our campus, was only offered to counteract a fraternity’s bad behavior and still didn’t cover all the bases.
Just as we can’t address just one demographic of victims, we can’t just accuse or address male assailants. Contrary to the popular assault narrative, not all males are assailants; not all assailants are males. So, just like self defense, prevention should be taught across the board. Men, women, faculty, students and anyone who wants to know should be taught both prevention and self defense.
Who’s going to fix it?
Our campus. Our faculty. Us.
Sexual assault doesn’t just happen to women, it’s not just an issue among men and it certainly doesn’t fall on the victim to prevent it from happening. We need to fix these misconceptions before we can fight the assaults.
While MTSU did nothing wrong by offering a self defense class, it sure seems like a half-hearted and minimally inclusive swing at the ever pervasive and relevant issue of the campus rape culture. Let’s not write off or accept the (nominal) efforts put forth by the school, but rather build on them.
Personally, I’d like to thank the faculty for offering the course, but also challenge them to open it up. Not next semester, not next year. Now. I don’t want to go to a school with a poor sexual assault etiquette and I certainly don’t want to have to read about another sexual assault that could have been prevented.
Student affairs and all other capable faculty, the ball is in your court, so what’s it going to be? Are we going to be a progressive and informed university, or are we going to skim by, offering a less than fundamental and quite frankly discriminatory sexual assault prevention program?
To contact Editor-in-Chief Meagan White, email firstname.lastname@example.org.