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.