By Rona Amiri
It seems like regardless of intentions, we can’t seem to get away from making girls and women responsible for not getting raped.
Canadian researchers found that a new “rape resistance” program lowered first-year female college students’ likelihood of being sexually assaulted. Their program is the first program of its kind to show a significant reduction in victimization. They are attributing the success to “more hours of programming, a greater number of interactive and practice exercises, less focus on ‘assertive communication’ and more on escalation of resistance in response to a perpetrator’s perseverance, and the addition of positive sexuality content.”
While it can be empowering for women to learn about safety it’s also insidious because, like always, it puts all the emphasis on girls and women being responsible for not getting raped. Even the researchers admitted that the participants who completed the program could have internalized victim-blaming which could have impacted the findings in the study: “Differential reporting between the groups is possible. Women in the resistance group might have underreported sexual assaults (perhaps believing that they should have been able to resist them).”
This idea that if girls and women just learn to protect themselves they can avoid sexual violence reiterates the idea that sexual violence is an individual issue and not part of a larger societal problem of rape culture. If the instances of victimization lowered with women who completed the program, what about the rest of the campus? The problem is not that some women are raped on one campus. The problem is that young women all over campuses in North America are raped at a high rate. Individualizing the issue will not solve the problem of sexual assaults against young women. I don’t want to live in a world that expects girls and women to avoid rape, if this resistance program is added to Universities across Canada it will be one more thing that society can use to blame survivors- “if you haven’t taken the resistance program then it was your fault”.
The researchers proposed that the program would be completed by all first-year university students; this means that Canadians would be paying taxes that would go towards perpetuating victim blaming programs for young women. I propose that to prevent rape culture we need to move away from new variations on women’s self defense programs and turn our attention back to the perpetrators of sexual violence. I think a more pressing problem to address is the fact that 60% of Canadian college-aged males indicated that they would commit a sexual assault if they knew they would not get caught. While girls and women are disproportionately the victims of sexual offences, males are disproportionately the perpetrators. According to Statistics Canada, in 2007, 97% of persons accused of sexual offences were male, higher than the representation of males among persons accused of all other types of violent crime. Moreover, rates of sexual offending were highest among boys aged 12 to 17, followed by young men 18 to 34 year olds. The logical thing would be to focus on educating boys before they attend high school or university.
Let’s end violence against girls and women by shifting the culture and focusing on perpetrators rather than on survivors.
Rona Amiri is the Violence Prevention Coordinator at Battered Women’s Support Services. She is a passionate youth advocate and supports youth in their empowerment process to become active agents for social change and help end violence against girls and women.