Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why Taekwondo Won't Save Girls From Date Rape

When asked what should be done about the high rate of sexual assaults on U.S. college campuses, the winner of this year's Miss USA pageant responded that women need to take it upon themselves to learn self-defense. The pageant winner, Nia Sanchez, is a fourth-degree black belt in Taekwondo. Having lived briefly as a young girl in a woman's shelter with her mother, Miss Sanchez learned Taekwondo to increase her sense of security and self-confidence. She intends to promote the art of self-defense for women in her position as Miss USA 2014.

Although women's self-defense is a noble goal, it may do little to cut down the incidence of rape on U.S. college campuses. 1 in 4 of U.S. women of college age have been raped, according to statistics from here. Other estimates put the rate as 1 in 5, but well-known columnist George Will has argued that even a 20 percent assault rate is preposterously high. Part of the confusion is in the definition of rape and particularly date rape, or acquaintance rape as it is sometimes called.

Date rape is defined as "the crime of forcing someone you know to have sex with you especially while on a date." The term did not even come into use until 1975. The existence of such an offense was questioned because date rapes typically involve threatened rather than actual force, and the threat is frequently in the eye of the beholder. According to some statistics, 84% of men who have committed date rape do not recognize that their actions constituted rape. In contrast, 27% of female victims of date rapes do not realize that what happened was legally rape.

Precisely because date rape frequently lacks explicit violence, self-defense measures like hand-to-hand combat may not provide any protection. In addition, approximately 90% of date rapes involve alcohol. The impaired mental and physical function that results from over-drinking makes it difficult to use self-defense techniques effectively. Women who know their attackers may also feel reluctant to use violence against them or make a scene.

The psychological pressure and manipulation used by the date rapist may completely undercut the woman's motivation to use the self-defense techniques she knows. The man may call her a tease or accuse her of leading him on. He may ply her with alcohol. He may tell her he's through with her or not interested in pursuing a relationship with her unless she succumbs. She may be unwilling to provoke a confrontation that would lead to violence.

A woman may find herself in the middle of an internal war -- should she focus more on protecting herself or on sparing the feelings of her date? If a woman agrees to go out on a date, a basic level of trust has already been established and a woman may expect that her wishes will be honored. The website of one U.S. university has found it necessary to tutor women in the art of rejection:
Don't smile. Sometimes when we are uncomfortable or don't want to hurt someone's feelings we smile when we say no and this does not communicate clearly how we are really feeling.
The website further recommends that women shout the word "Stop!" or cause a scene. The underlying implication is that many young women are reluctant to take even these mild measures to protect themselves. Self-defense classes might not replace an instinctual desire to salvage a relationship with the equally innate response of a punch to the nose. Strength of will in that circumstance matters more than knowledge of the martial arts.

While Miss USA 2014's assertion of female power is laudable, I predict that more martial arts training for women will not adequately stem the tide of campus sexual assault. What more, then, can be done? The White House has launched an initiative to encourage women to file complaints against their schools. Carolyn Moynihan, deputy editor of MercatorNet, has put the onus on parents rather than schools or the government, arguing that the best prevention method is for parents to train boys and girls in chastity from an early age.

In addition, parents of university-age children might want to consider the following:
  • sending their child to an urban commuter college, such as those in the New York City area, and allowing their child to continue living at home
  • choosing a religious school, such as a private Christian or Catholic university, that takes the good behavior of its students extremely seriously
  • at a minimum, choosing to house your son or daughter in a single-sex dormitory
The basic rule of self-protection for young women should be don't be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That includes a man's room, his apartment, an alcohol-laden fraternity party, or even a well-known "party school." Staying far out of harm's way is the best form of self-defense.

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Photo Credit: rolleh via Compfight cc


  1. You are absolutely correct! Especially the daughters you know are more of a risk! Keep them home, or in a more safe college environment at least. Don't give them the opportunity to mess up their bodies and their heads, or you'll be heartbroken later. It's hard to buck the going-away culture, but, unfortunately, even most Catholic colleges are not great environments nowadays. Many don't respect the Church's teachings and have coed housing so girls can never have a break. Do your homework.

    1. It disturbed me to find Catholic University on the list of schools under investigation by the federal government in this regard. But a lot of schools like Franciscan University, Christendom, etc., were not on the list, which gave me hope!

  2. Karee - Great article. We need to teach self-worth, confidence, real respect for all, love, and chastity. As a survivor of child abuse, these are not traits I grew up with, and when I headed for college I was unaware that I had a right to stick up for myself. Taekwondo would not have helped me (unless perhaps it gave the confidence I lacked at the time) when I found myself in a bad situation. I went to a small Catholic university and never reported anything, blaming myself instead (Still hard to admit or talk about and definitely a confusing issue). Worse, a few years later, I sat in my college dorm room crying as the student radio interviewed a girl who "claimed" she had been date raped. I say "claimed" because campus security's response was: things like that don't happen on campuses like ours. Not sticking up for that girl or seeking her out and supporting her almost makes me feel worse now than what actually happened.

    As Anonymous said, we need to go back to real Catholic values on our Catholic campuses and stop pretending that some Catholic colleges are Catholic in any more than name only (My Catholic college also invited Planned Parenthood in to speak, and we were required to go to the lecture). Cardinal Newman Society helps provide some insight for Catholic colleges.

    Topping it all off, I have wondered over the years how much of those experiences led to my marrying my husband and not recognizing that abuse means more than physically harming someone and also how much of my dealing badly with memories contributed to the breakup of our marriage. There are times I must not have been easy to deal with! I also wonder what my life and the lives of my five boys would have been like if I'd known about where self-worth truly comes from while I was growing up. I think I was 40 before I even began to figure it out and what a difference it makes! Despite the pain, I am truly beginning to enjoy life and want to encourage anyone who has been through difficult situations that there is Hope and Joy and Love! :)

    In the next few years, I would love to write a book on Revictimization, and I'd love to hear any additional input you've got!

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It takes courage to talk about these issues, and you've brought up some good points! God Bless...

    1. How amazing that you've found hope, joy, and love after all you've been through, Strahlen! Some hurts take a very long time to heal, and our present can be so influenced by our past. Beautiful that you are breaking out of that cycle.

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