Women and young girls often feel unsafe in our society because of internalized misogyny and rape culture. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to combat these ingrained societal problems, leaving women completely responsible for protecting themselves against harassment, assault or rape. In a recent tweet, Geneseo’s University Police Department advertised Rape Aggression Defense training classes—sponsored by UPD—with three sessions held in in Schrader Hall. R.A.D. programs teach basic self-defense to men, women and senior citizens. The program offered by UPD, however, is open only to women.
Annoying high school dress codes, corrupt national university sexual assault policies and the UPD-sponsored program all have one thing in common: they force the responsibility and—ultimately—the blame on female victims. Rape and assault education that sponsors self-defense classes only teach women that they must always be fearful and expect to be attacked at any point in time.
While UPD undoubtedly has the best intentions in sponsoring this program, defense-only education unintentionally welcomes victim blaming and victim erasing. While rape victims are often asked, “How short was your skirt?” or told, “You shouldn’t have worn that,” they may also be face sentiments such as, “Did you go to the R.A.D. program?” or, “You should’ve been prepared.” This often leads to victims facing ridicule for not being able to protect themselves during an assault—or for not preventing one.
By restricting the program to women only, UPD is additionally erasing a vulnerable community: gay and transgender students. While statistics about transgender people are limited, research indicates that 64 percent of transgender people have experienced sexual assault.
Likewise, 40.2 percent of gay men report experiencing sexual violence other than rape, while 20.8 percent of straight men report the same. While women are most likely to be assaulted, male victims are often ridiculed or are unable to get people to believe them because they are men. It is ignorant to exclude all other groups of students from a defense-only class that could be useful for anyone.
Rape and assault on college campuses are specifically unique, as 90 percent of aggressors are people the victim knows and trusts. Situations can escalate quickly—especially since alcohol is a common factor—and a victim can feel safe with an aggressor for a while without realizing what is happening.
Defense-only education has a specific connotation that women will be randomly attacked by a stranger on the street and will need to defend themselves. It is unfair to assume that women will be confident enough and mentally prepared to fight off one of their friends, especially if they are drunk or drugged.
I do not expect UPD to completely eliminate misogyny and rape culture on our campus; that is not their job. But while well-intentioned programs like R.A.D. may be helpful and comforting for some individuals, we must analyze why our society needs to enact these programs. We need to discuss if they actually help people or if they contribute to problematic ideologies.
Defense-only education is easier to implement and could help someone stop an attacker, but it does not permeate the surface of our problems. Offense-elimination education—teaching not to rape instead of teaching to prevent rape—must start at an early age. Basic feminist ideas that combat misogyny and rape culture should be taught as well.
The only true ways we can prevent rape and assault are by eliminating societal misogyny and by teaching respect for all people regardless of race, gender identity or sexuality.