UI cancels rape-defense class

BY DI STAFF | JULY 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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Because of low participation, the University of Iowa police will canceling its long-running Rape Aggression Defense class.

UI Crime-Prevention Specialist Alton Poole said he wasn’t sure how long the class has been running but said it existed when he came to the UI in 1999.

Poole said he believes the low participation might be because of negative reactions toward the class, especially on social media, and perhaps a general shift of culture.

“One time, it’s super popular, and another it’s not, and we’re at a stage right now where it’s not,” he said. “I’m not sure whether it has to do with the culture or education, but people aren’t too interested.”

Jenn Carlson, the executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, said recently the conversation surrounding rape has shifted from what’s known as risk reduction to primary prevention.

Risk reduction, she said, are activities that reduce a potential victim’s risk of experiencing sexual assault. These activities can include not going out late at night, taking a defense or bystander-intervention class, or carrying pepper spray.

Primary prevention, however, focuses on pre-emptive education directed at a potential perpetrator. This can include classes who aim to teach exactly what rape is and is not, and how to avoid committing it.

“As a culture, we’ve been doing risk reduction for the last 40 years,” Carlson said.

However, she said, like all sexual-assault agencies, it advocates for primary prevention as the best practice.

Carlson said while she sees the value in risk reduction for helping people to feel safe, culture often places undue focus on risk reduction while ignoring primary prevention.

“I don’t feel like risk reduction needs to be thrown in the trashcan,” she said. “But I feel like as we address sexual violence, we look at it as a wheel, and risk reduction is a cog in a very big wheel.”

Carlson said there are benefits that come from risk-reduction courses, especially ones that address verbal assertiveness, relationship communication, sexual help and expectation, as well as physical safety, awareness of one’s surroundings, and a sense of self confidence.

The vast majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, and Poole said because of this, people shouldn’t see the class as only useful in a dark alley.

“When someone uses trust to get you to let down your guard and perpetrate the crime, do you have the strength to fight someone you know and trust?” he said, even if the fight is simply a firm “No”?

While the class is currently canceled, Poole said officials will continue to try to find interested people and offer it through the upcoming semester.

— by Ben Mark

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