A Deadly Double Standard

06/18/2015 03:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2016
Mark Goddard via Getty Images

Breaking News! The Centers for Disease Control [CDC] Announces Primary Prevention Method For Female-Based Water Safety -- "In order to reduce incidents of water-related injuries, shark attacks, and aquatic-based death for females, the CDC today announced they will focus all their studies, funding and education on providing male lifeguards at pools and beaches. The spokesperson said they will not study or fund swimming lessons for females just in case they drown, or sustain swimming-related trauma. Since there continue to be drownings, the CDC has deemed swimming lessons for females an 'ineffective' and not primary methodology. They do not want female swimmers who sustain injuries and/or who drown to bear the onus for not knowing how to swim, or not swimming well enough to save themselves. The CDC also advises women who do know how to swim to keep it to themselves and -- if possible -- to swim in private, lest they give other women ideas that could ultimately harm them."

Patronizing much? Or in this case, matronizing much? I hope the "spoof" news release above made your eyes roll.

Swapping the word "swimming" for "rape" or "sexual assault" will give you some context regarding the official CDC response to a breakthrough study published in the June 11th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), entitled The Efficacy of a Sexual Assault Resistance Program for University Women. The study, led by researcher Charlene Y. Senn, is based on a year-long training protocol for college women. It convincingly shows the significant efficacy of rape resistance training for first-year co-eds. In response, two CDC spokespersons, Kathryn C. Basile and Sarah de Grue, made public statements diminishing the results in favor of programs that focus on changing the behavior of attackers. Which is fine, but why does it have to be one approach or the other?

In a counter editorial, published in response to NEJM, Dr. Basile -- minimizing the Senn report's findings -- said that individual self-defense training for women could possibly work, but "...places the onus for prevention on potential victims, possibly obscuring the responsibility of perpetrators and others." WHAT?! So Basile is actually using what some people might think to determine which projects the CDC funds? And isn't Basile's attitude reminiscent of cultures that scapegoat women for the criminal behavior of men? Just sayin'.

I'm a rape survivor. I have no onus. I didn't fight back. I do gag however, 40 years later, every time I smell wine and cigarette breath, the odor of my rapist's breath. The onus is on the rapist. ALWAYS. Maybe other people blame me behind my back but that's their problem, not mine. It is not the CDC's purview to worry about the antiquated views of sexism. It is their job to find and implement programs that are effective for ending the epidemic of violence against women and vulnerable populations that self-identify in various ways beyond traditional gender roles.

Regarding the same Canadian study, the CDC's Sarah de Grue is quoted in the June 11th issue of the New York Times: "It's possible that potential perpetrators could encounter individuals who have received training and just move on to more vulnerable individuals." What does that have to do with anything?

If a lifeguard stops a drowning, it's also "possible" they won't be around the next time, or for the next person. The shark moves on, even with a lifeguard around. Since the woman is always with herself, doesn't teaching her the basics of swimming or, in the sexual assault context, verbal, emotional and physical self-defense, makes a lot of sense?

Both de Grue and Basile give lip service to multi-faceted approaches to ending sexual violence. However, in practice, de Grue and Basile have a huge platform and their opinions inform what gets studied, funded, and which programs receive vital financial support. Training women to resist rapes gets a financial backseat to programs teaching men to not rape. Unequal funding for the physical education of females in favor of focusing on men -- that's a new one! NOT. Title IX funding for women's self-defense makes a lot of sense, given the uneven playing field of life, not just sports.

I doubt these CDC social scientists would ever suggest a man should wait for a savior, or for the pool of assailants to change. Given these CDC women are highly placed and highly educated, they must have at core a fundamental belief that women are inherently incapable of learning how to be their own protectors. They have seen way too many action movies.

We agree that men should stop raping! We agree there needs to be a systemic challenge to culture. We are squarely behind third party interveners, female and male. However, sexual predators are canny about attacking when no "good guys or gals" are around. What then?

Write the CDC and tell them to stop their either/or thinking and funding. We want our daughters to have the same freedoms our sons do, and to swim confidently... even though there are sharks. The days of keeping women out of the water are over! Let's teach them how to be safe, confident swimmers while other programs work on the riptides and the sharks.

NOTE: Check out the teaser for my upcoming documentary version of Beauty Bites Beast by clicking here.