BOONE—In 2014, a White House task force issued a number of recommendations to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
The list includes providing bystander intervention and victim advocate training, developing sexual misconduct policies and hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator to investigate dating and domestic violence and other instances of student-related sexual misconduct.
Appalachian State University sociology professor Martha McCaughey and psychology professor Jill Cermele from Drew University believe a vital evidence-based prevention method is missing from the list – resistance or self-defense training.
Their paper “Changing the Hidden Curriculum of Campus Rape Prevention and Education: Women’s Self-Defense as a Key Protective Factor for a Public Health Model of Prevention” has been published in the October issue of the peer-reviewed journal Trauma, Violence & Abuse.
“Now that sexual assault prevention education is mandatory for new students, faculty and staff at universities receiving federal funds,” McCaughey said, “we asked the question, what counts as sexual assault prevention?”
McCaughey believes campuses should look more broadly at their definition of sexual assault prevention. “Usually, self-defense has been relegated to a safety category, like having blue light phones and card-access residence halls, and is therefore excluded from the ‘primary prevention’ campuses are offering,” McCaughey said.
“We don’t argue that self-defense training should replace those other prevention efforts,” she said. “Our work shows that self-defense training changes broader social norms and fits the criteria for what counts as a ‘primary prevention’ method. However, self-defense is excluded from universities’ good faith efforts to comply with the federal regulations. To me it’s a key time to ask why we are excluding self-defense from the mandatory training.”
The White House report lists the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health model for implementation of evidence-based prevention training programming. The CDC does not include self-defense training on its list, even though data show the effectiveness of self-defense (both enacting it and training in it) for thwarting attacks and changing cultural norms that support interpersonal violence.
“The CDC’s list relies on third-party intervention, such as bystander training, or programs to critique the rape culture,” McCaughey said.
The CDC list includes programs such as “Safe Dates,” aimed at eighth and ninth graders, “Shifting Boundaries,” aimed at middle school students, “Coaching Boys Into Men” and “Bringing in the Bystander” as methods for the primary prevention of sexual violence.
“These are great methods, but there is an unintended message that women are too weak or otherwise incapable of defending themselves and therefore must rely on a third party to intervene,” she said. “We argue that self-defense is every bit as much of a primary prevention strategy in that public health model that universities have adopted from the CDC.”
While many campuses offer self-defense or rape aggression training (RAD) through their university police departments, that training is not usually found on campus sexual assault prevention websites or listed as one of the ways a campus engages in primary prevention.
“It does women a tremendous disservice if we don’t teach women to think about what the female body is capable of. Women are a lot stronger than they have been taught,” she said. “It’s OK to reinforce your boundaries and legal rights not to be assaulted. That’s the message that self-defense training offers that challenges the rape culture.”
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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