A Women’s Collective member’s reaction to a triggering self defence seminar held on IWD on campus. Trigger Warning for references to sexual abuse, assault and victim blaming.
I am not a woman. I am also not a man and as a non-binary gendered person, I went to the self defence course, held at the University of Queensland for International Women’s Day 2012, prepared that they would not necessarily be dealing with my gender in a respectful manner. I was okay with that. However, I still expected to find a safer space based on respect for women and women’s experiences, especially because self defence can be a triggering issue. As a person who’s done seven years of martial arts training, including a year and a half of instruction, I was curious to see how an expert would structure a course as compared to how I might choose to.
There were small numbers of people there and the tutor was aggressive from the start. She informed us exactly how she felt about the people who had not turned up. The woman who said she would have to leave early received a very dirty look. The tutor introduced herself, her organisation (Suzanne Daley’s Violence Minimization Alliance Incorporated, or SDVMA) and her apparent involvement with some free self defence courses run by the Brisbane City Council. The first red flag came when she announced that she was not going to be ‘politically correct’ and that for our purposes ‘women’ were the good guys and ‘men’ were the rapists.
That is not how our world works. People can violate your consent regardless of their gender or yours. I’ve been sexually abused by a woman and raped by a man. And I can tell you, I don’t give a flying fuck about their gender. Choosing to represent sexual assault in this manner is to silence the experiences of people like myself. It makes our already difficult task of moving on, even more difficult by adding these stigmas.
Her structure for a self defence course involved no physical self defence tactics, instead it was structured around ‘proactive’ and ‘reactive’ safety, with a section on fear as caused by the media and social conditioning. It was at this point she began to toss around the word ‘rape’ as if no one in the room could have possibly been affected by it. I was upset and I wanted to leave, but didn’t feel like I could without being called out on it by this aggressive woman.
She talked a lot about how women are socially conditioned to be afraid of sexual assault. In one example she outlined how a newspaper might read ‘Woman Sexually Assaulted on St Lucia Campus’ and that we would assume someone was raped when it might have been a range of activities that constitute sexual assault. Here she went into graphic detail that caused me to flash back to some of the worst experiences of my life. At this point I was no longer capable of eye contact and was starting to hyperventilate.
She then talked about how your perception of danger could be reinforced by multiple mentions of one incident. Please let me make clear RIGHT NOW that language choices like ’200 times the rape’ and even ’400 times the rape’ are never acceptable. Ever. In any circumstance.
One of her many disrespectful comments was to tell us that we had to be aware of the possibility of assault, because we weren’t twelve years old anymore. Well, not everyone was privileged to have a safe childhood. As a twelve-year-old kid I was going through emotional, physical and sexual abuse from the people in my life. I was neither safe nor was I capable of understanding what was happening to me.
And you know what? It is NOT okay for an ‘expert’ to be making these kinds of statements. Saying this kind of thing is harmful to people like myself and to ANYONE whose life doesn’t fit into this woman’s narrowed minded view of women’s experiences. By this stage of the course, I was staring at a wall and waiting for the break so I could leave without making a fuss. Apparently unaware of my distress, the tutor pointed to me and demanded that I respond to something she was saying. I could only manage a nod.
And then she insinuated that the majority of women are responsible for their own sexual assaults.
While talking about women’s fear surrounding ‘rape’ she said that women shouldn’t be so afraid because statistically 80% of sexual assaults on women are committed by someone she knows. Therefore, since there’s no way you’d have someone in your life who was capable of sexual assault, you should be 80% less afraid.
Way to put all the responsibility on the victim. Sometimes there’s people in your life that you’re not capable of removing for one reason or another. As a kid I didn’t understand that what was happening to me wasn’t normal, and any adult I tried to talk to about it dismissed me offhand. Besides, rapists don’t go around with flashing signs that say ‘rapist.’ They can be your parents, lovers, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, best friends and partners and it can be very difficult to know in advance.
That was the last straw for me. I stood up. Apologised. And left. And that was how I ended up crying and hyperventilating in the women’s bathroom. I only lasted thirty minutes into the 2 1/2 hour course.
If you need to talk to someone without judgement and with understanding, you can contact Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource Centre’s experienced counsellors on (07) 3843 1823 and at www.zigzag.org.au. Zig Zag is located at 575 Old Cleveland Rd, Camp Hill.