Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Sexual Abuse

Self-Defense Training Helps Stop Rape.

Action speaks louder than words.

Female self-defense, Dr. Scott Bonn, Rape culture

As a criminologist and college professor I am well aware of the terrible fact that 1 in 4 college women is sexually assaulted or raped. Rape, however, is by no means confined to college campuses. In fact, the number of rapes in the U.S. has been fairly consistent (declining slowly) in recent years while, in comparison, the number of murders has been declining dramatically for two decades.

Many smart and well-meaning people say that the solution to the problem is simply to teach men not to rape women. Unfortunately, this strategy is far too simplistic and naïve. While it is true that men should be taught not to rape, at the same time, women simply cannot count on such training to take place. Besides, self-defense training for women and teaching men not to rape are highly compatible strategies.

It is every woman’s right to protect herself and the statistics show that self-defense training helps to stop sexual assault and rape. Moreover, self-defense training for women teaches men not to rape.

I offer you the following powerful insights on this issue from my colleague at Drew University, Dr. Jill Cermele, and her co-author Dr. Martha McCaughey at Appalachian State University.

Ten reasons why advocating self-defense training for women is feminist and not victim-blaming.

  1. Self-defense can work. There are decades of data, referenced by the National Institute of Justice, that support the effectiveness of self-defense, verbal and physical, in stopping rape and sexual assault.
  2. Self-defense advocates and instructors know that rape and sexual assault is always the fault and responsibility of the perpetrator, and never the fault or responsibility of the target, victim, or survivor.
  3. Self-defense offers women an option for risk reduction and maintaining their safety in ways that increase their freedom to the world, rather than limiting their freedom and options the way that relying on avoidance strategies and male protection does. In fact, the reliance on the men in our lives to maintain our safety is problematic; according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost 80 percent of the perpetrators of sexual violence against women between 2005 and 2010 were family members, intimate partners, friends, or acquaintances.
  4. Self-defense is a legal right open to women just as it is to men.
  5. Self-defense challenges the notion that women’s bodies are inherently vulnerable to men’s and the notion that men’s bodies are unstoppable.
  6. Self-defense challenges the belief that rape is thwarted only by the perpetrator “coming to his senses”, through bystander interference, or divine intervention.
  7. Self-defense training changes the broader culture that supports rape culture (or did you think it was just coincidence that so many guys think assertive women aren’t sexy?).
  8. Self-defense training teaches women the skills that facilitate the setting of healthy emotional and physical boundaries.
  9. Self-defense is empowering, and can change women’s beliefs about what they are capable of and what they are entitled to.
  10. And finally, for all these reasons, self-defense also teaches men not to rape women

We’d like to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. For more information on this topic contact Dr. Jill Cermele at

Dr. Scott Bonn is professor of sociology and criminology at Drew University. He is available for consultation and media commentary.

Dr. Bonn offers many shocking insights into the minds and actions of deranged serial predators in his new book Why We Love Serial Killers. To order it now, click:

Attend the author’s discussion and BOOK SIGNING event in NYC on October 23rd. See details:

More from Scott A. Bonn Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today