What is Vanderbilt doing to help women avoid sexual assault

Women in today’s world are told, “Don’t get raped” on a daily basis.  Various products like color changing nail polish, pepper spray, and tear resistant anti-rape clothing are sold to women under the assumption that it is their responsibility to not get raped and these products will aid in that pursuit.  Unfortunately, most of these products are impractical, difficult to access, or very expensive.  Additionally, none of these products work unless you buy and constantly use them. If a woman is unable to purchase these items, or are incapable to use these products constantly, what shall a woman do? One available resource that can help women avoid being raped is, Self Defense Classes.

According to Eliza Gray in, “The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses,” college campuses are dangerous places for women.  She claims that 1 in 5 women become the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault during college.  Because of this terrifying statistic as well as federal investigations into Universities and Colleges across the nation, many schools are providing students with various training programs from bystander awareness to self-defense training courses.

In reply to Eliza Gray’s numbers, Vanderbilt University offers a free self-defense class to students and other women in the Nashville area. These classes are only offered to women on and off of campus.  Rape Aggression Defense Systems of Self-Defense (RAD) is a 12-hour long self-defense course designed to train women to avoid and escape from “abductive encounters.”  As stated in their manual, the primary reason for this emphasis is that “an initial abduction must occur prior to crimes of rape or forcible sodomy.” Their ultimate goal is “to develop and enhance the options of self-defense, so they may become viable considerations to the woman who is attacked.”

My partner Destiny attended the RAD programs and stated, “While RAD is a wonderful self-defense training program, it does not seem to be very relevant to the current dangers college women face.”  According to Gray, most sexual assaults are not perpetrated by strangers.  Instead, it is much more common for a woman to be assaulted by an acquaintance or a friend. Gray then goes on to focus on some of the dangers women encounter while drinking especially within the hook-up culture on college campuses.  Therefore, the RAD program, which heavily focuses on aspects of “stranger danger”, seems very out of touch with the reality college women face. If this program is for college women why don’t they suggest every possible situation that can happen on college campuses, especially college parties?

It happens to be that the instructors of this program believes that rape is usually perpetrated by strangers only. While avoiding dangerous situations is important, by teaching avoidance as primary method of protection, they are carelessly feeding into the false stereotypes about rape.  For example, “Avoid walking alone at night, Cross the street if there is a strange man, and do not be distracted by phone.”  This is useful information, but how should a woman protect herself if she’s getting assaulted in a fraternity party? How does she respond in a situation where a friend is taking too much sexual permission, when she has only been trained to injure her assailant and then run away and call the police?

After attending the class Destiny claimed that, “Even the small section which discusses “Date Rape” is extremely out of touch.”  The instructors advise women to “Ask for his phone number instead of giving yours out” and “Be cautious of sharing personal info via the internet and ‘the Facebook’”.  Also, they suggest that, as was required in the training sessions, women should always wear non-restrictive clothing and be sure to carry two pair of shoes so that, if necessary, they can comfortably protect themselves and run away from attackers.  The truth is, women are not going to always wear the “right” clothing for being attacked.  Likewise, it is out dated and stupid to assume that college women are going to drive themselves to dates, especially after reading hooking up According to Kathleen Bogle college students do not go on dates anymore.  Instead, they hook up at parties and at campus social events.

Vanderbilt RAD program would be much more effective if it focused on how to recognize when a situation with an acquaintance was transitioning from safe to dangerous.  While the physical techniques teach in this program will work on anyone, stranger or friend, it is very important to teach women how to identify a dangerous situation and to recognize that friends and acquaintances can and will hurt them.  Additional bystander training techniques such as those suggested by Eliza Gray could also be useful in this course, if the goal is to help reduce the incidence of sexual assault on and off campus.  Gray suggests teaching realistic strategies such as employing distraction techniques to stop a potential perpetrator. She goes on and explains that, “You can’t go up to a group of frat members and say, ‘Next time you see your buddy taking a drunk girl upstairs, you better say, Stop! No! Real men don’t take drunk girls upstairs!’ A more realistic strategy would be, ‘Hey, dude, your car’s getting towed.’” After the guy comes down to check, invite him to play beer pong as a distraction. A woman can also distract the potential perpetrator by spilling a drink on someone or initiating a group activity. Personally I believe that Vanderbilt’s RAD program is not helpful and this could lead to more women getting raped. So how can we make RAD a more useful program for women on Vanderbilt’s campus?

Here is a brief description of Vanderbilt RAD program.