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Self-defense training should be part of a college’s sexual assault prevention and education programs, professor says

BOONE—If colleges want to effectively change their campus culture regarding rape, they should also focus on self-defense training for women rather than just improving their policies and training bystanders to intervene, according to an Appalachian State University professor who has been researching the women’s self-defense movement since 1993.

“A lot of people assume that self-defense training only helps individual women, one-by-one, prevent sexual assault,” said Professor Martha McCaughey, speaking in response to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. “But self-defense goes much further than that.”

McCaughey, a sociology professor at Appalachian, believes the 23-page White House report released April 29 should have broadened its focus on resources related to reporting sexual assault and training bystanders to include ways to empower women as a way to prevent assaults from occurring.

“Telling universities to collect better data, adopt better policies, and protect the confidentiality of victims isn’t enough, she said. “Of course we all want to change the broader culture that supports sexual assault, and self-defense is a part of that effort.”

“I think people push self-defense training to the side because they are afraid it will be perceived as victim-blaming,” McCaughey said. “But we don’t seem to be worried that we are blaming victims when we tell people to learn to swim or get regular breast or prostate exams.”

McCaughey and Jill Cermele, a psychology professor at Drew University, recently were guest editors of a special issue of the journal Violence Against Women titled “Self-Defense Against Sexual Assault,” which focuses on the evidenced-based effectiveness of self-defense against sexual assault.

The articles published in the special issue report that multiple studies have shown that a woman’s resistance reduces the likelihood of a completed assault while creating no risk of additional injury for the woman, the editors wrote in the journal’s introduction.

“Self-defense is part of a broad prevention and education effort,” McCaughey said. “When women learn that their bodies are more capable than our culture has given them credit for and learn the tactics that can help them get out of a dangerous situation, they not only stand a good chance of thwarting the attack, but they send a message to others that women are not objects for men’s abuse.”

McCaughey is the author of the book “Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women’s Self-Defense” published by New York University Press in 1997 and numerous journal articles about rape education and women’s self-defense training. She also has presented on the topic at multiple universities.

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