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.
Photo Credit: Miss Universe