At CCASA, we have taken the time to ask around the web world about what people think about sexual violence. One of the questions in our survey was, “What, if any, tips would you suggest to prevent sexual assault?” Based on the results that were complied, we discovered a rather popular belief. “To prevent sexual assault, you should enroll yourself in a self defense class of some sort.” This prevention suggestion didn’t surprise me since it was, at one point, one of my own beliefs. I always thought that if I knew how to physically fight off an offender, then I would never have to worry about being assaulted because I would be prepared and skilled enough to defend myself.
After all of CCASA’s education and information about sexual violence, I have learned that no matter how strong or skilled you are, sexual assault can still happen. This doesn’t mean that taking a self defense course is wrong, but rather it’s important to understand that an assault can still occur whether you are trained or not. It seems today there are more prevention tools than there are stereotypical clichés, but this self defense tool seems to be growing on an exponential rate. There are many variations of martial arts in the world; Judo, Boxing, Hapkido, Karate, Fencing… the list goes on. Although there is a new addition to the group; Woman’s self defense. Yes, there are now classes where women go to learn how to defend themselves in confrontational situations and learn how to escape. But I have a question for you: Do you think these classes would help if you’re assaulted by your best friend who’s driving you home after work, or your brother’s friend who is staying the night? These are situations where trust is already in place and a person’s reaction to an assault can be unpredictable. You wouldn’t expect a child to take self defense classes, because adults feel that it is their duty to protect the child; so why do we suggest that if a person doesn’t want to be assaulted, they should learn self defense? Is it because they are adults and should hold the responsibility of their own protection, or is it because we hold a belief that self defense will ensure that our loved ones won’t get hurt?
According to the Calgary Police Department approximately 76% of all reported sexual assault cases are done by someone the survivor knows. What does this mean? Most assaults are not executed by the “creep in the bushes” and these attacks do not always involve violence or physical conflict. So how can these prevention classes prepare someone if it isn’t an encounter where punches and kicks are expected? It is important to know that sexual assault is an assault, but it’s even more important to know that it can be an assault that doesn’t involve brute force or fighting. This is why, as a society, we have to accept that every time we create a prevention technique, we are pushing the blame on the victims rather than the offenders.
I have another concern about this self defense mentality. How often do we actually encounter (in real life) these confrontational scenarios? Probably not a whole lot. When a person is placed in these situations, society believes in fight or flight. But what people don’t consider is “freeze”. Sometimes in threatening situations, a human’s instinct is to freeze and not fight back. So does this mean that if someone is being sexually assaulted and doesn’t physically fight back, this person is responsible for their attacker’s actions and the assault itself? NO! Every person on this planet will handle situations in different ways, whether that be fighting back or freezing. It is important to remember that we have to keep the blame where it belongs; on the offender.
Again, I am not stating that self defense is bad (I do Muay Thai kickboxing myself and love it); just that if a person is assaulted, and whether they have self defense or not, we can never put the blame on the survivor. It is an offender’s decision to act on this crime, so it’s important to let them face the full force of the consequences.