Abstract: An Exploration of Feminist Self-Defense Programs As a Strategy to Prevent Sexual Violence on College Campuses: A Systematic Review (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

359P An Exploration of Feminist Self-Defense Programs As a Strategy to Prevent Sexual Violence on College Campuses: A Systematic Review

Friday, January 12, 2018
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Brieanne Beaujolais, MA, Doctoral Student and Graduate Research Associate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Michelle Hand, MSW, LSW, Doctoral Student and Lecturer, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Background: Sexual violence continues to be a prevalent problem on college campuses—approximately one in five college women experience sexual assault. Colleges and universities are compelled by federal mandates and legislation to reduce violence and promote student safety. Two prevalent approaches intended to reduce sexually aggressive behavior on college campuses include (a) primary prevention programs directed at potential perpetrators, and (b) bystander intervention programs that promote skills to help individuals intervene when witnessing risky behaviors.  Evaluations of primary prevention and bystander intervention programs show little evidence supporting the long-term effects of reducing sexually aggressive behavior and reducing sexual assaults. A third strategy to sexual violence prevention is a feminist approach to self-defense which uniquely recognizes how women experience violence and, consequently, applies appropriate risk-reduction strategies. These strategies include both verbal and physical strategies that may be either forceful or non-forceful. A feminist approach to self-defense has been shown to be an effective strategy for resistance to sexual assault, yet it continues to be overlooked as a viable prevention strategy. The purpose of this systematic review was to explore the strengths and limitations of feminist self-defense as a strategy for preventing sexual assault on college campuses.

Methods: A systematic review of scholarly, peer-reviewed literature was conducted using the search words “feminist,” “self-defense,” “sexual-assault,” “prevention,” “resistance,” and “empowerment.” Seven major databases were searched. The screening process included reviewing article abstracts. Articles were considered eligible if their focus related to the application or impact of feminist self-defense and resistance techniques as a prevention strategy for sexual violence. Nine articles were identified.

Results: There are many strengths to applying feminist self-defense as a prevention strategy. Empirical studies show that self-defense programming reduces rates of both victimization and re-victimization. Whereas traditional strategies emphasize avoidance strategies, a feminist approach provides women with agency and empowers women to rely on themselves rather than others to protect themselves. Many scholars emphasize the importance of framing self-defense within the context of gender socialization. Traditional gender-role socialization engenders women to be passive, quiet, and unassertive. These deeply engrained ideals not only make women more vulnerable, but they create psychological barriers that are difficult to overcome when presented with uncomfortable and threatening situations. Additional findings suggest that trauma-informed self-defense programs have the potential to decrease the psychological distress related to victimization.

There are also several limitations related to feminist self-defense as a prevention strategy. The literature suggests that universities are inexplicably reluctant to adopt feminist self-defense programming as a primary strategy for reducing sexual violence. The literature also omits discussion related to diverse populations. What are scholars doing to make this intervention culturally accessible to diverse populations?

Conclusions: Results suggest that self-defense programs grounded in a feminist approach may be effective strategies for reducing sexual violence, particularly on college campuses. Additional research is needed to evaluate (a) the reluctance of colleges and universities to implement feminist self-defense prevention programming, (b) long-term impacts of self-defense training on behavior change, and (b) accessibility of self-defense interventions to diverse populations.