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What Miss USA Got Wrong About College Sexual Assaults

What Miss USA Got Wrong About College Sexual Assaults

This Miss USA beauty pageant is a relic from the days when men at the office could just slap a woman’s ass without fear of a lawsuit. That is, hopelessly dated. And yet people still take it seriously. It’s because people still take it seriously that I wish the winners wouldn’t undermine other women.

Last weekend, Nia Sanchez of Nevada was crowned Miss USA. Congratulations. But really, Nia. Did you have to throw women who are fighting every day to end sexual assault under the bus?

Sanchez addressed the issue of sexual assault on college campuses in her question-and-answer portion. It’s a topic that has gotten a lot of attention as of late. However, the answer Sanchez gave was more than a little disappointing. According to Reuters:

Sanchez said she felt some colleges, fearing a bad reputation, might sweep the problem under the rug, and that “More awareness (of the issue) is very important so that women can learn to protect themselves.”

She added that as a 4th degree black belt, she learned “you need to be confident and be able to defend yourself … That’s something we need to start to implement for a lot of women.”

Oh boy. This is a problem.

I’m not against learning self-defense. In fact, as a general matter, it’s probably not a bad idea. But, as Amanda Marcotte points out, there are reasons to think that simply knowing how to physically defend yourself won’t fix the problem. Not the least of which being that a lot of rapists will use alcohol as a weapon. You don’t need a knife if your victim is passed out.

Anecdotally, I often hear people say that advice like this is just practical. If we know this is a problem, why shouldn’t we advise the people most at risk to take precautions? The problem with this is that way more often than not this is the only lesson anyone wants to learn from the sexual assault epidemic. It seems just as feasible to teach men the value of consent.

Socially, we’ve put the onus for avoiding sexual assault on women. This is wrong. It’s 2014 and I can’t believe I have to keep saying this. Decisions made by the victim are not the cause of rape. Decisions made by rapists cause rape. Self-defense training should not be a prerequisite to getting an education.

There is something else Sanchez gets wrong about the glut of college sexual assault stories. Yes, it is good that these stories are coming to light. But it’s not so women know to be more careful out in public. It’s important because people need to know how bad it is. People need to know that sexual assault isn’t something that happens to others. It happens to people you sit next to on the bus. It happens to people who do everything “right,” whatever that means. And, perhaps most importantly of all, people need to know how unseriously colleges and universities have taken sexual assault for decades. Knowing about the problem is the first, painful step to getting it fixed.

Being Miss USA is a big deal. Girls will look up to Nia Sanchez. She may not have meant to, but with her answer Sanchez is perpetuating a culture that tells girls that she is responsible for others’ bad behavior. That’s not acceptable. Sanchez has a year of speaking engagements ahead of her. Maybe she’ll use her status to bus sexual assault myths. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Photo Credit: Miss Universe

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188 comments

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9:27PM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

“you need to be confident and be able to defend yourself … That’s something we need to start to implement for a lot of women.”
No, Ms. Sanchez, we need men to be able to interact with women without seeing us as sex objects. We need colleges and universities to begin dealing with rape as a CRIME. Our new Miss USA doesn’t realize how many confident women are raped.
Don’t put the onus on the victim. Put it squarely where it belongs: on men who want to dominate women and educational institutions that refuse to take responsibility for their inaction.

9:29AM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

ty

9:21AM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

sexual assaults are wrong full stop

9:12AM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

I suppose any country that still subscribes to "beauty pageants", and all those other pageants you have in the US for girls of all ages, objectifying the female of the species and judging on looks and body shape, is going to have a serious problem with rape.

This is an industry built on parental stupidity, misogyny and lasciviousness.

Unfortunately we still have these pageants in the UK as well - fortunately they get virtually no media coverage

12:52AM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

I personally don't believe in beauty pageants, in my opinion it's just setting ladies up against each other and placing an unhealthy obsession on perceived ideas of 'beauty' (which I think comes from the heart, not from appearance).

But victims (of either gender to be honest) should not be blamed for the actions of perpetrators. Although since things probably won't clear right now, maybe self-defense isn't such a bad idea? But things should be done to stop these things in the first place rather than relying on victims having adequate skills to defend themselves.

9:19PM PDT on Jun 12, 2014

Hmmm, that is not how I interpreted her comments.

7:24PM PDT on Jun 12, 2014

thanks

7:23PM PDT on Jun 12, 2014

thanks

7:23PM PDT on Jun 12, 2014

thanks

7:23PM PDT on Jun 12, 2014

thanks

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