Throughout May’s campaign for Sexual Assault Prevention Month, I have been approached by several women requesting that we host self-defence classes. Some women have even offered their skills and training to facilitate such a class, often for free.
I politely thank them for their suggestion, but decline.
Self-defence comes with the premise that women need to be prepared to face a violent offender; that we can’t expect safety in our community. (I refer to offenders as men and victims as women because the statistics tell us that 97 per cent of offenders are male and 87 per cent of victims are women.)
Self-defence gives us the message that the offender of sexualized assault will confront us in a violent attack, usually in a back alley.
Self-defence tells us that it is women’s responsibility to stop sexualized assault, when the reality is exactly the opposite.
Men can – and should –
stop sexualized assault: 97 per cent of offenders are male. But thankfully, not all men are offenders. Men have an inordinate amount of power to end violence themselves, or to call out their peers and colleagues for behavior that is disrespectful or violent.
Contrary to what the media may tell us, in 85 per cent of cases of sexualized assault, the offender is not a stranger in a back alley; the offender is known to the victim: an acquaintance, a friend, a family member, or a co-worker. Most sexualized assault happens in the home, at a party, at work, at school, or another environment where the woman is most likely comfortable. Self-defence might not be the first response if your rapist is your boyfriend. Or your coach. Or your boss.
Yes, sexualized assault is a reality that one in four women will – unfortunately – have to confront. And yes, we should talk about it. But the best way to end rape is for offenders (of whom 97 per cent are male) to stop raping women.
For those women who take self-defence classes because it gives you confidence, makes you feel more comfortable, or gives you a better sense of safety, I respect your actions and honour your decision. But this is an individualized response to a societal problem. And as countless social movements have shown us (in their success or failure), that will never take us far enough.
During our prevention and awareness campaigns, Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre and other women’s organizations in the Yukon have stopped telling women to watch our drinks, stay with a buddy, avoid dark alleys, and carry a rape whistle. Because here’s the reality: we can do all of that, and still, one quarter of us will be sexually assaulted in our lives. Women are assaulted no matter what we are wearing, what we are doing, and where we are living.
No matter what our resistance looks like. This will only change when there is a unified shift towards greater gender equality, away from a culture that defines masculinity based on control, dominance, and violence. It will change when men take action.
We need to turn the tables on sexualized assault prevention. It’s not just a ‘women’s issue’. Men should be stepping up to take action. Thank you to those who are.
To those men who would like to learn more about ending violence against women, contact White Ribbon Yukon at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (867) 668-2663 ext 830.
Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre