Monday, April 14, 2014

What is Trauma-Sensitive Prevention?

Susan Schorn, Austin TX (with many thanks to Lynne Marie Wanamaker, Northampton MA, for her input)

Remarks to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, March 2014

I'm a university administrator in Austin, Texas and I also teach empowerment-based self-defense for a local non-profit. I want to speak briefly on the neurobiology of trauma, a topic that I'm sure has come up already, but perhaps not in terms of prevention efforts. Researchers like Dr. Rebecca Campbell at the University of Michigan have made great strides in increasing awareness of the unique neurobiological effects of sexual assault, how the brain processes memories during and after an attack. We know that law enforcement officials need to be better educated about these effects in order to avoid re-traumatizing assault survivors during the reporting and investigation period. But we also need to take the neurobiological effects of trauma into account when we plan sexual assault prevention efforts. Here's why.

The CDC's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2010 found that 30% of rape victims are between the ages of 11-17. This means that a substantial number of incoming college students have already survived assaults. Thus anything that we call "prevention" must also be trauma sensitive, in order to avoid secondary victimization of assault survivors. In other words, there's really is no strictly "primary" prevention of sexual assault possible for adult populations, because so many of us are victimized as children or adolescents.

I spoke on an earlier listening session about how empowerment-based self-defense instruction furthers both the long- and short-term goals of this task force, by providing concrete tools for immediate disruption of assault, and by fostering cultural change. I want to point out that recent research also shows empowerment self-defense is especially effective in reducing RE-victimization, and it is affirmatively trauma-aware. We have assault survivors in our classes all the time, and our methods are designed to support and empower them. In the population we're talking about here, young people around the age of 17 and up, we know there will be a substantial number of survivors, and our prevention efforts need to reflect that fact. Empowerment self-defense reduces the risk of future assault while actually helping survivors process past trauma.

So again, this instructional approach, typified by the teaching of organizations like IMPACT and the National Women's Martial Arts Federation, reduces the harm of assault in multiple ways. It's a very efficient approach, and there is a good evidentiary base out there to support its use. I'd like to urge the Task Force to foreground empowerment self-defense instruction as a way to immediately reduce risk for students, change the campus culture surrounding assault, avoid re-traumatizing survivors, and provide affirmative, trauma-aware support. Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. While I agree from both a women's self defense training and psychotherapy perspective, it's not entirely fair to suggest, as I think this piece does, that IMPACT and NWMAF are alone in empowering women and reducing re-victimization nor alone in being trauma aware. As the stats show, and you point out, so many women and girls HAVE already been victimized and or have experienced trauma by the time they come to SD or MA for that matter...and many types of training in the end, perhaps simply by teaching powerful methods, help in reducing re-victimization.

    While increasing the awareness of the effects of trauma for all in self defense and law enforcement has obvious benefits, to be frank, I've also seen over the years some IMPACT orgs and / or individual trainers make terrible 'blunders" for lack of better words by pushing women TOO HARD into traumatic places...and in some cases, by coddling trauma survivors too much.

    My own POV is that unless one is psychotherapy trained, at least to some reasonable capacity, one should not be quick to claim "trauma informed." (And what exactly does this mean ...?) This has also become very trendy verbiage.

    I also know women who trained in traditional MA- no particular sensitivities or psychology implied- whose training has greatly expedited healing and not created re-victimization. Ditto for women who've trained in self defense methods or systems with instructors NOT affiliated with Impact or NWMAF, yet who possess some knowledge and innate maturity in appreciating and working with residual and current trauma--and the anxieties that so many women and girls live with, day to day. And I include male trainers and teachers.

    In my opinion, the SKILL of the individual instructors/ trainers is most impt- and that should be assessed.

    In the end I just think we ALL need to be careful, thoughtful in terms of preaching- for lack of better words- about approaches or SD organizations. Not to deny what's true about any group's or individual's particular strengths, but more importantly not to come off as or insinuate "the only ones who..."

    Even the term "empowerment self defense" is a little unclear. For example Krav Maga and other systems could also lay claim to 'empowerment'...and I personally know teens who've been trained by ex military / combatives peoples who had remarkable healing and experienced the 'power of prevention' as a result of their training.