By CLAIRE PICKARD
I am sure many of you received the email about the R.A.D. Basic Physical Defense Program. How many people read it, I can’t say. Sandwiched between a letter to off-campus students from Residence Life and a College of Education Info Session bulletin, this notice from Brent House might have slipped right by you.
Intrigued by any and all unknown acronyms, I opened it. As it happens, “R.A.D.” stands for “Rape Aggression Defense,” and it is a three-day self-defense course open to female students, faculty and staff. Let it go on the record now that I am entirely in support of women taking self-defense classes, and I am glad the University is offering this opportunity.
That being said, something about the self-described “four basic principles” of the program made me wary: “Risk Awareness, Risk Reduction, Risk Recognition and Risk Avoidance.” In a society where the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and a great many of those are committed with the aid of alcohol or date rape drugs, where is the place for Risk Avoidance? How do unconscious women participate in Risk Recognition?
There seems to be an emphasis, not only in this self-defense class, but in our cultural dialogue as well, on factors that are non-existent in most cases of rape. This contributes to the idea that, when an attack does occur, it could have been prevented if only they had been more aware or cautious. This is rarely true, and it contributes to a dangerous culture of victim-blaming.
The email also mentioned several times that the R.A.D. course is for women only. While I understand their well-meaning desire to create a safe space for female participants, it is notable that there is no corresponding class for men. Contrary to what our societal views on gender would have us believe, men are raped too. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, about 10 percent of all victims are male, which seems significant enough to warrant a place for them in a college self-defense course.
What is perhaps most unnerving about this email is that it is the only email I have ever received about a program addressing sexual assault at the University of Mary Washington. Self-defense courses are a good start, but they should not be the extent of our University’s conversation on rape prevention. By sponsoring programs such as consent workshops and bystander awareness training, the administration could offer a more thorough and well-rounded approach to campus safety. Instead of “Risk Awareness” and “Risk Reduction,” that put the burden on the victim to prevent assault, we could target the source and teach people not to rape.