Testimony to the White House White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault

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On February 20, 2014, I had the opportunity to give testimony to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. It was a thrill to hear Bea Hanson's voice again and remember her from anti-violence organizing work in Brooklyn, NY when I was a student and leader at the Center for Anti-Violence Education

This is what I said: 

My name Is Lynne Marie Wanamaker. I am an advocate for personal safety education as an important component of prevention. I teach empowerment-based self defense and have been active in this field for over 25 years. I am a co-author of the professional core competencies for instructors teaching that methodology through our national certifying body.

Over the past 40 years, researchers in criminal justice, public health, community psychology, sociology and other disciplines have amassed an evidence base attesting to the efficacy of empowerment-based self defense. Empowerment-based self defense teaches skills: interpersonal and environmental awareness, assertiveness, boundary setting, physical defense and community building. These skills are at once concrete and flexible. They can be applied across the continuum of interpersonal violence, from harassment and bullying, to boundary violations, to sexual assault, to life threatening attack. This is significant because we understand that interpersonal violence frequently follows the pattern of a series of incidents of escalating intensity. To the extent that individuals and communities can interrupt and neutralize interpersonal violence in its earlier stages, we can mitigate its negative effects.

The CDC tells us that 42% of women who are raped experience their first rape before their 18th birthday, and that once a girl is sexually assaulted the chances that she will be sexually assaulted again in her lifetime are significantly increased. For this reason prevention efforts at the college level must be trauma-aware and survivor-centered.

I first encountered empowerment-based self defense as a college student. I was already a survivor of sexual trauma. Empowerment based self defense gave me the skills to successfully avoid re-victimization. It also taught me that what had happened to me was not my fault. It taught me that whatever I had done to protect myself in the worst moments of my life was the right thing to do. Because there was only one person who could ever be held accountable for what happened to me. And that was the perpetrator.

My colleagues and I have submitted a letter to the Task Force indicating the depth of the evidence supporting our work and the breadth of support it receives from prevention experts. I urge you to include empowerment-based self defense--a proven, evidence-based, survivor-centered, trauma-aware primary prevention methodology--in your efforts to reduce sexual violence on college campuses.