A Call for Self-Defense Against Victim-Blaming AND Against Rape

As feminists working to stop sexual violence, we must challenge media outlets and individuals that scrutinize the actions of survivors to find reasons why the rape is their fault. The importance of vigilance against victim-blaming is illustrated by a recent BBC poll that found that a majority of respondents believe women are partially responsible for acquaintance rapes if they got into bed with the perpetrator and by inflammatory comments in response to editorials about rape policies.

For  feminist writers and anti-rape activists and advocates, coming out against victim-blaming often means challenging “advice” women get–sometimes from law enforcement–about what we can do to keep ourselves from getting raped. Ridiculous advice about not walking through cities alone or talking to strangers (when most rapes are perpetrated by people close to us) or not wearing short skirts (when no evidence exists to support a correlation between rape and short hemlines) needs to be called out for what it is: limiting women’s personal and public freedoms in the name safety. On the other hand, effective steps women can take to reduce our risk–most notably self-defense–don’t belong on that laundry list of ineffective advice.

Self-defense training with a social justice perspective should be embraced, not dismissed, for three main reasons:

1. It Works

In a recent review of the state of research on strategies that are effective at stopping rape, the Violence Against Women Network (VAWnet) identified self-defense as one of the most promising practices. More than ten years of data collected by people of multiple political persuasions (or no apparent political persuasion) shows that women who forcefully resist attempted rapes can stop them effectively and can do so without increasing their risk of injury.

2. Instant Accountability

The ability to protect our bodily integrity gives women and others targeted by rapists the opportunity to right an injustice as it is happening. It means not having to depend on others (men) to keep us safe.

3. It Doesn’t Require Women to Diminish Our Lives.

Most advice women get about how to reduce our risk of rape is also advice about how to reduce ourselves. It’s about places we shouldn’t go, clothes we shouldn’t wear, times we shouldn’t be alone. The message of feminist self-defense is just the opposite: Use common sense, sure, but if you have the skills to verbally and physically protect yourself, you can live your life fully and safely in a rape culture.

Photo courtesy of IMPACT Boston.


Meg Stone is the executive director of IMPACT Boston, an abuse prevention and self-defense training program. She also leads IMPACT:Ability, a program that empowers people with disabilities and communities to prevent abuse. Her writing has been published in The Patriot Ledger, The Huffington Post and Cognoscenti, the opinion page of the Boston NPR station.