This time last year, Virginia Tech’s annual “Take Back the Night” event sparked a national conversation on the importance of “safe spaces” for survivors and the role of men in feminist movements.
To facilitate increased awareness of gender-based violence on campus, the university’s football program made the rally and march mandatory for student athletes. The result, however, was that sports culture steered the conversation — several players arrived late, were disruptive and disrespectful throughout, and then left early.
Some argued that this inappropriate behavior precisely demonstrated the need to educate and be inclusive of those who are not as aware of rape culture, while others argued that requiring these voices to be present was not only ineffective, but dangerously hypocritical — invasive to the safe space and the movement.
Movements like “Take Back the Night,” which emerged in the 70s to protest blaming female victims of sexual violence who had walked without a man through a public space at night, had historically been exclusive of males — even if they had been victims themselves.
Certainly, requiring those who do not respect an event and its cause to attend can cause problems, as evidenced by what occurred at Virginia Tech, but negative consequences also arise when men are excluded from conversations surrounding sexual assault.
On Wake Forest’s own campus, for example, a Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) course is offered only to women. This is necessary because of the gendered nature of the crime, even if it may seem more productive to include men. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), nine of every 1- rape victims are female, so those who are most at risk need to be provided with safe spaces, awareness and means of self-defense.
In fact, according to the RAD webpage, “one in three women can expect to be sexually assaulted” during their lifetime.
The use of “expect” is terrifying in that context. But what’s the alternative?
Readings for the RAD class use the term “awareness” to describe learning about defense and safety, in lieu of the term “prevention,” in order to deter victim-blaming and reject a dangerous misconception that those who actively make all the right choices will not be assaulted.
However, if women can’t prevent one-third of them from being assaulted, it feels as though there is nothing left to do but access the indispensable resources available and “PREPARE.”
An excerpt from a dating guidebook, May I Kiss You, is one of the readings used for RAD, but its recommendations seem oddly reminiscent of those that sparked “Take Back the Night.”
It explains that the perpetrator of sexual violence will often be someone the victim knows, but then emphasizes rules for first dates — including that women should not accept a ride to them, and that they should not go to movie theaters at night or alone. By what date can these rules be broken?
And shouldn’t taking precautions when meeting a stranger be important for both men and women?
“Awareness” also seems to mean abstinence. The book calls a woman who chooses to abstain from sexual activity someone “who has the discipline to say ‘No’ to an attractive opportunity [and who] acts with strength when most people act with weakness.” This is not only sexist; it reinforces a dangerous and extremely fallacious association between consensual sex and crimes of sexual violence.
Additionally, the view that men are aggressors and women are victims is a dynamic that reinforces itself and makes reporting sexual violence more difficult for LGBTQ identities and men.
Overall, the immediate importance of resources like RAD far outweigh the need to be cautious in implementing them, but something more needs to be done to actually reduce the number of assaults that occur, and the implications of a women’s-only class should be considered.