Monday, October 1, 2012

Reverse Cowgirl Social Engineering

This blog can be used as a tool by anyone who wants to teach self-defense and effective rape prevention to women. It also will help folks who have ever been accused of 'blaming the victim' because they dared ask the very reasonable question: "What was she doing there in the first place?"

Get yourself a cup of coffee, there's a lot of propaganda that has to be waded through.

I recently had a conversation with someone who made a statement about something I'd been wrestling with for a while. It was an idea I hadn't been able to concisely put into words, but I knew something was seriously not right. Basically, the statement was something like this: Anytime someone attaches the word 'awareness' to a social or noble cause, it's a rip off.

Once it becomes about 'awareness,' it seems to be about everything else except fixing the problem. For example, how much of the money going to 'cancer awareness' actually goes into cancer research? Or paying for people who can't afford the treatments? Promoting alternative approaches? This in contrast to -- how much goes into paying office costs, making payroll (especially for executives, experts, and consultants), advertising, and promoting and organizing 'cancer awareness' walks and drives?

There's all kinds of 'problems' awareness campaigns try to solve. The biggest seems to be how to get your money from you -- whether through direct means (donations) or indirect (government funding and taxes). And believe me even when we're just talking federal grants, state, county, and municipal funding, we are talking a lot of money. Then comes the money they get from corporations, campaign drives, charities, and events. (If you want an eye opening experience take a look at the financial records of the big non-profits and see where the money is coming in from and where it's actually going.) There's a need to keep campaigning to keep the money flowing in.

Having said this, the most interesting aspect of this scam is how it is justified.

If I were to come up to you and say, "Give me lots of money for doing nothing that actually solves the problem," you'd tell me to take a flying carnal leap at a rolling doughnut. That's where 'raising awareness' comes in. See, the give-us-money-for-a-problem-we-won't-fix scam is cleverly hidden under the equally noble guise of 'education.' That's what raising awareness is: 'Educating people that the problem exists.'

Think about this for a second. Do you not know these problems exist?

But education is good, right? Education can solve all problems right? It could. But if I'm educating people about a subject, I get to control what people 'think' they know about the subject. Not know, but think they know. (I'm fond of saying 'most of what people think they know is advertising')

When I have this control, I can get people to react emotionally to carefully crafted information. That's important. I need you to 'think you know' what is going on, so you don't look any deeper than what I am telling you. I need you to emotionally react to this 'crisis' I'm 'educating' you about. Otherwise, you'll object to giving me money. (Or worse, you'll give it to some other cause.) The technical term for this is 'spin doctoring.'

That's the happy version. Certain 'noble causes' have crossed the line, however, from simple spin doctoring. They've crossed into intentionally misinterpreting data, twisting statistics, and lying and redefining terms -- all to make the problem sound worse than it is. Not that the real problem isn't bad enough, but you need big numbers for it to be a 'crisis.' Hence the spin, number inflation, constant campaigning, and lying for a good cause.

By raising your awareness, I also can manipulate you into believing by donating money or walking for a cause it means you're participating in the solution. You're doing something about it. You're doing good by giving money. With this strategy, I can justify my career, protect my job, ensure my income, and excuse myself for all the spin, misinformation and lies I'm providing (it's for a good cause after all, and you don't need to know all the dirty little details about how it works). But most of all, I can justify all the money I'm diverting from getting to the people who need help.

All the while I'm doing this, I'm make a huge production about the good and noble things I'm doing for such a just cause. The warm fuzzy is not just for you, it makes me feel good about myself and all the good I'm doing. In the end though, I'm doing exactly shit about aiding the people who need the actual help. The individuals who are suffering from, dealing with, or facing this problem are not benefiting, I am. Now mind you, this isn't corruption. Oh no. It's jobs. It's what I am being paid for and spending money on to raise your awareness.

Want an example? I have a friend who is involved in the health care side of the military. He's high up and does a lot of the project coordination. At the time, this military was building a hospital and a general came to him and said, "Look, I know this isn't your responsibility, but could you find space for these two rape counseling contractors in the new facility?"

His response? "Sure, let's see what they need."

He met with them to see what their needs were. The first thing they asked for was five rooms. A waiting room, two offices, and two counseling rooms. If you've ever been in a hospital, you know that's a big request. Space is at a premium. Oh and the offices had to be furnished and equipped with money from his budget for computers and copy machines. Then they demanded that the offices be located on the first floor and next to a side access door. This was, they told him, so the women they counseled didn't have to go through the shame of coming through the front door. My friend looked at this tab and had a hard time.

He then he asked them how many cases they'd handled the past year. Three. Three? What did they do with all the rest of their time? Well, they lectured, wrote pamphlets, raised awareness and educated people.  My friend was floored. All of this for three cases? But when he told them he could no way justify the expenses they were demanding (and this over and above their contractor fees), they went ballistic. But this man does not intimidate easily. The request was turned back over to the general, with the estimated expenses, and the problem went away. (Space was found elsewhere than in the hospital.)

I happen to know certain folks who consider three rape cases a day a light load. I know social workers who walk into hell holes every day because the people they deal with are in too bad a shape to come to them. They also work out of cubes or a cramped office they share with two others. I know a lot of hard working folks who are busting their asses to get people out of immediately dangerous situations. And who have to do it on shoe-string budgets because most the funding has been siphoned away to raise awareness and educate the public.

I'm sure people in other fields have their own horror stories about awareness raising, education, and nonprofits. Even with the previous example, I've been talking in generalized terms. Now I'm going to fall back to a field where I not only feel the awareness-raising-rip-off is rampant, but the so-called 'education' actually makes the problem worse.

You can make a lot of money in a career aimed at raising public awareness. But the topic I feel actually 'manufactures victims' is that of rape awareness. Because it creates its own victims, you can call it the "rape industry." And I have a serious problem with what they are selling as 'education.'

Now before I go on, there's something I have to make clear. I've met a lot of good people who really are trying to help in this field. They are compassionate, committed, and are really are trying to do good. They honestly believe in the information they are spreading. These people with the very best of intentions are trying to help raise awareness about sexual assault. Funny thing about them, though, most are volunteers. Those volunteers, as well as other low-paid individuals, serve as the front-line troops.

The thing about these hard working and dedicated volunteers is there is both an incredibly high turn-over rate and an endless supply of them. That is to say, people who really what to help. They come in, get 'educated,' work hard, burn out, and are replaced -- at an astounding rate.

Not to be a cynical bastard, but they're disposable. More than that, they are disposable before they start asking questions about what they are taught to say. (If what I've heard is true, questioning doctrine is the fastest way to be shown the door.

If you ask, these volunteers will tell you they have been through 'advocate training.' That's why they all literally sound the same. The same premises. The same canned rhetoric. The same stats. The same 'logic' and arguments. And they consistently promote the same formulaic information and doctrine. The faces change, but the looped message remains the same -- word for word.

First, you don't get this kind of doctrinal consistency across all 50 states without the presence of an organized effort to create it.

Second, the most predictable of all is the knee-jerk accusation: "You're blaming the victim."

This is the default attack strategy of rape awareness programs. You will hearit if you question their doctrine or if you say anything that does not conform to their 'educational' curriculum. Most of all, you'll hear it if you dare mention any pre-assault behavior on the part of the victim.

In concession, I will admit protecting the emotional comfort of the  victim is paramount to rape crisis programs following sexual assault. That is a good and necessary service.

But there's a difference between post-assault treatment and 'awareness.' Specifically, there is a huge disparity between dealing with the aftermath and rape prevention. In rape prevention, the statement of 'you're blaming the victim' has no place. That's because you cannot come up with effective rape prevention strategies if you do not assess common behavior that precedes rapes.

This is a big problem. First because "you're blaming the victim" rhetoric may protect the rape victim's feelings, but it shuts down any possible rational discussion about the subject (it's both a criticism and accusation, a.k.a. an attack).

Second, it's dangerous. By preventing discussion about safety measures (risk reduction), you increase other women's chances of being raped. You can't talk about what a woman can do to prevent being raped without an advocate claiming you're blaming the victim. If I really want to be catty, I could say -- by not allowing prevention to be discussed -- advocates ensure future clientele for the crisis centers.

Think I'm exaggerating?

I know a guy who is working his ass off to create useful communication and teaching models for personal safety, risk reduction, rape prevention, and self-defense. I heartily agree with his goals. Here is an excerpt from a letter he received from one of the biggest rape awareness organizations in the country. Take a look ...

"Self-defense is not a reasonable expectation to put on anyone who is in a shocking situation or who is being coerced. If we are to enforce social norms against anti social (sic) behaviors like sexual assault as you put it yourself, we need to see more emphasis put on the perpetrators (sic) behaviour (sic) rather than survivors, and not add to survivor blame."

That statement exemplifies why I object to the 'awareness approach' to the subject of rape. There are many things wrong with it and on many different levels.

According to that statement, women are incapable of keeping themselves from being raped. I vehemently object to this idea. Yet to truly understand the depth of my objection to that message, you should understand something about personal safety. That is: Nobody is more concerned about your personal safety than you. And if you think it's someone else's  job then -- whether you know it or not -- you're actively putting yourself into danger.

This is critical. A woman does have power to influence whether or not she is raped. If you find this statement objectionable, then I'd like to point to the billions of women on this planet who manage not to be raped every day. Competent, socially acclimated, self-assured and functional women somehow manage not to be raped. To these women I say, "Brava!" We probably should take a lesson from them about how they're managing to do this.

While it might seem I'm cynical, I'm not. In fact, I am deadly serious. Both about respecting competent women and looking at what they are doing to keep from becoming 'victims' of rape.

But this is something you will not hear from the rape awareness camps. But notice, there's something the awareness group's letter doesn't mention. They intentionally skip over it to get to the extreme of self-defense and why it is an unreasonable expectation. It is not only the elephant in the room, but they cannot teach it (or even talk about it) without directly contradicting their own rhetoric about blaming the victim.

And that is 'risk reduction.'

What can a woman do to affect her chances of being sexually assaulted? I mean actively and consciously do to increase or decrease her chances of being raped? That is what these programs refuse to address, instead they focus on "more emphasis put on the "perpetrators (sic) behaviour" (sic).

It is the refusal to discuss risk reduction that divorces most 'awareness' programs from reality. They have to take this stance. Why? Because they insist that a woman's pre-assault behavior has no bearing on her being attacked. The 'rapist' is to blame. The woman has no responsibility at all. They are adamant that pre-assault behaviors do not matter. And a woman has no control over whether she is raped or not.

If you accept this premise then, by default, risk reduction is meaningless.

I don't buy it. Women are not helpless victims, incapable of rational thought or positive action. Nor are they incapable of effective physical responses. They do have control over their lives. If that offends anybody's sensibilities, I'm sorry. But I happen to like competent, empowered women. Deal with it.

Yet according to the rape industry, women aren't capable of taking care themselves. They are all victims or potential victims. They are defenseless prey to sexual predators. (Oh by the way, all men are potential rapists too.) Remember girls, "Self-defense is not a reasonable expectation to put on anyone who is in a shocking situation."

Apparently risk reduction is also off the table. If you start talking about how a woman can take control to keep from being raped, you're 'blaming the victim.' And, as the writer of that letter would surely insist, insisting on teaching awareness and avoidance of potential dangerous situations only adds to shame ('survivor blame') of women who were raped. Remember: Pre-assault behavior doesn't matter. Mentioning it only shames and blames the victim.

I must be too stupid and insensitive to understand how all this works because I think risk reduction is a great idea. Teaching women how to  reduce their risk of danger does all kinds of things to keep individuals from being raped. It also adds to a woman's competence level and self-assurance. I personally don't see a downside here, but then again I don't make my money off the victimization of others.

Let's take a closer look at their jump over risk reduction to go straight to the extreme. Risk reduction is not self defense (punching and kicking). Risk reduction precedes self defense. It does not require the strength of Superwoman, kung fu mastery, or for a woman to get in touch with her inner fury to use it. In fact, a lot of people call it common sense. And it's really not that difficult:

Why am I such a fan of risk reduction? Because it works.

In fact, it is more reliable than self defense.

See, I don't have a problem with the idea that physical self defense might be a problem for certain folks. I've spent my entire life trying to figure out ways smaller, weaker people can effectively stop assaults from bigger, stronger attackers. So yes, I do happen to know a thing or two about what is realistic and unrealistic about self defense.

For example, I happen to be pretty certain a 120-pound, middle class, 19-year-old, college co-ed with a blood alcohol content of .27 -- who sneaked into a frat house party using a false ID and spent the night binging on Jager shots -- is not going to be able to effectively defend herself from sexual assault.

Yet, my mention of these exact conditions prompted the head of one college rape crisis center to say -- to my face -- "A girl has the right to have fun."

Yes, that is a direct quote.

She at least was the most open about her bias against risk reduction. Most 'advocates' insist I'm trying to oppress women and take away their 'rights' when I talk about high-risk behavior not being a good idea.

Of course, I (being the old dinosaur I am) remember: "A woman should have the right to walk naked into a biker bar and not be molested." That isn't just a direct quote, that was a popular awareness slogan from about 10 years ago.

Now call me a narrow-minded bigot, but that kind of thinking just doesn't make any sense to me. And it's not because I'm about oppressing women or taking away their rights. It's just that I live in a world where walking naked into a biker bar is a bad idea -- woman or man. Oddly enough, not too many women I know above the age of 30 tend to buy it, either. Mothers of teenage daughters get really vocal about their disagreement. But for some reason, those moms aren't being told they're suppressing women's rights when they say it.

Let's recap, you can't talk about high risk behavior and risk reduction because:
A) you blame the victim
B) you shame the victim
C) you interfere with a young woman's rights

These apparently are more important than a woman not getting raped. So the rape awareness educational program doesn't have self defense or risk reduction training -- because those are 'unrealistic' or oppressive.

By now you might be asking yourself, What do these programs teach? How do they raise awareness?

I call it 'Reverse Cowgirl Social Engineering.'

Before we go there, let's take a second look at the quote from the awareness and education group:

"Self-defense is not a reasonable expectation to put on anyone who is in a shocking situation or who is being coerced. If we are to enforce social norms against anti social (sic) behaviors like sexual assault as you put it yourself, we need to see more emphasis put on the perpetrators (sic) behaviour (sic) rather than survivors, and not add to survivor blame."

Everyone got that? Now let's add the next lines:

"We believe that if people are more supportive towards survivors and effectively hold perpetrators accountable for their actions than (sic) that will communicate and enforce against perpetrator behavior rather than placing responsibility on survivors who are already going through enough. To be clear we do not see self-defense as the way to hold them accountable as the onus is on the victim."

Wait until I tell you the current approach to rape awareness is to 'educate' the assailants.

They teach  it's the responsibility of the rapist to know that attacking a woman is wrong, and he shouldn't do it. Rape is wrong. Rape is bad. You shouldn't do it. Bad rapist! Bad! That is the current tact of rape awareness education in a nutshell. They are trying to change the 'rape culture' of society.

I personally find this approach insulting to good men. A waste of time for rapists. And pretty meaningless to those men who would be on the fence because of age, inexperience, drugs, or booze. Yet this is what currently constitutes raising awareness and education regarding rape. The reasoning for this new and enlightened approach of educating the rapist? It avoids victim shaming.

At the same time it dismisses pre-assault behavior as facilitating the assault and denies risk reduction has any effect.

All that talk about the onus being on the victim? Apparently a woman shouldn't have to bear the responsibility of ensuring her own personal safety. If she incapacitates herself or puts herself into a dangerous situation, we are not allowed to consider these contributing factors to the end result. We especially can't talk about these behaviors as they increase your chances of getting raped. The potential for retraumatization of the victim is too great.

While I must admit I do not understand the exact trauma of being raped, I do understand the psychological impact of serious trauma. I also understand the fear and confusion of having your world view crushed. I understand this on a very deep and horrific level (there's a reason I have problems with the use of the word 'survivor' regarding non-life-threatening situations). I personally know what it's like to have your life shattered by violence. I know how fragile and how difficult it is to put your life back together again. Yet, I still find a fundamental flaw with the current 'educational strategy' based on protecting a victim's sense of self-worth at all costs. A flaw that I can exemplify by an anecdote about cowgirls and livestock.

I'm originally from the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles. So when I married into a ranching family, my education took a distinct turn. Where I grew up there were lots of ways to die; many of them having to do with whom you pissed off. Oddly enough where my wife and in-laws are from, the fastest way to get killed or injured is also brought about by by your behavior. But not in the sense that some pissed off local would shoot you. It was because because a 2,000-pound future Big Mac would crush you flat.

When you're dealing with livestock, your behavior is important. My wife often told me I moved to fast for animals (apparently she didn't see the irony of that). She'd tell me to slow down and smooth out my movements, how exactly to move, and what not to do to spook large animals.  Would they hurt me out of malice? No, but if I got careless or acted a certain way, bad things would happen. Not because I was a bad person or because I 'deserved it,' but because in those circumstances certain behavior is dangerous and tends to end badly.

Basically anytime you are around large animals, you need to exercise some awareness and caution. There are certain conditions where you really need be on the ball. Having worked the pens and alleys of the family cattle outfits during weaning, I can tell you that's definitely a place you need to have your game on.

I'd also like to note, out among the livestock, the women of the family are just as competent and hardworking as the men.  No muss, no fuss, that's life on the ranch. At the risk of getting a frosty comment or six next Thanksgiving, these women are all competent 'cowgirls.' (It's calling them cowgirls, not competent that will get me the hairy eyeball.) Got the idea? Women functioning safely in a potentially dangerous environment.

The reverse cowgirl analogy is that 'awareness advocates' don't want to teach women how to be competent cowgirls. Instead, they want to educate the livestock.

See, if you educate the livestock that a drunken cowgirl has the right to crawl into the pens and that it is wrong to hurt her, this will keep her safe. You don't have to teach women how to stay safe. That's the livestock's responsibility. The reverse cowgirl can do anything she wants, and she won't get hurt because the big, bad, one-ton herd bull has been educated not to trample her.

This is deemed 'empowering' these young ladies. It is their 'right' not to get gored, crushed, trampled, or in any way hurt.

If they do get trampled when they're in the pen, it's all the livestock's fault. No matter how much the cowgirl reduced her capacities and actively put herself into dangerous circumstances. That had nothing to do with it. Society is to blame. The livestock should have known its place! It's been educated that hurting cowgirls is wrong!

Really, seriously ... nothing possibly bad could happen by not teaching urban cowgirls' risk reduction or even *gasp* self defense. The blame is all on the livestock if a cowgirl gets hurt.

People get hurt with this approach. Safety is not about blame, it's about people not getting raped. I'm not joking when I say this approach manufactures victims. Does it encourage rape? No. But it sure as hell keeps young women from learning -- much less practicing -- risk reduction.

Without risk reduction as a precursor that advocacy group is right, self defense is an unrealistic expectation. A young woman who has been told her safety is someone else's responsibility isn't going to be able to effectively defend herself when attacked. That's because any attack will be unexpected and shocking.

I'll  admit 'reverse cowgirl social engineering' may look like an over-the-top analogy. But it's not as over the top as it might seem (we're about to show you the whole letter). Before we do, let's look at the obvious 'flaw' in the livestock analogy.

First, as it was pointed out to me by someone who promotes 'rape awareness education,' rapists aren't docile livestock, but predators. Predators who make a conscious choice, yada, yada, yada.

Well, yeah. People who self-identify themselves as rapists are predators, and they do make conscious choices to set up and sexual assault women -- usually long before the assault.

But in that situation, they can be likened to a snaky bull (that's a cowboy term for a mean and dangerous animal that intends to hurt you). Oddly enough though, the same tactics that keep you safe in the pens with a normal bull also work with a dangerous one. And the same behavior that places you in danger with a normal one really put you in danger with a snaky one. In other words, there is a consistency about behavior in dangerous situations.

Second, not every 'sexual assault' is committed by a sexual predator. If you've ever dealt with drunken teenagers and college students the lack of intelligence and bad decision-making does resemble bovine stupidity. Add to this when intoxicated, they tend to be obtuse and often dangerous. (I know this because not only was I one of them once, but I spent decades dealing with them when they are drunk, stupid, and unwittingly dangerous.) Bovine stupidity isn't as far fetched as it sounds as an overwhelming majority of incidents involve excessive drug and alcohol consumption -- by both parties.

Beginning to see where I have a problem with the current approach of 'rape awareness education?' It's based on the premise that drunk horny teens are going to remember whose responsible for the equally drunk -- or even more intoxicated -- girl's safety.

I mean call me stupid, but how can you empower someone and at the same time claim they have no responsibility for their own actions and choices? How do you help women not to be raped if you refuse to talk about risk management or self defense? Not only refuse to teach those proactive measures, but actively try to shut down anyone who dares question reverse cowgirl engineering? How do you do that? By claiming that anyone not teaching reverse cowgirl social engineering is "blaming the victim" or has unrealistic expectations.

This is the elephant in the room about 'rape awareness.' Such education is notto help women to keep from being raped. On the higher level, it's mostly about promoting the business of making money off the aftermath of rape. It's about setting oneself up as the protector of people and encouraging a victim mindset that women are incapable of taking care of themselves so they must rely on these programs to look out for them, their safety and rights.

On the front line volunteer level you're not helping women who haven't been raped to keep it that way. More than that, you're undermining your credibility by parroting the party line. Outside the advocate trained, reverse cowgirl social engineering doesn't make sense to people, risk reduction does.

Think I'm making this up? I'd like to give you the whole chapter and verse of the e-mail a volunteer sent to the guy trying to share the personal safety model. Tell me if you see any Reverse Cowgirl Social Engineering in it:

We have taken some time to read through your material and although we applaud how easy it is to read, we feel that it also perpetuates some of the myths we are trying to combat. For instance, on your organizations website, when you speak of teaching vulnerable populations self defense as a means to enforce respectful social norms it does not clearly communicate that perpetrators are not people who respect social norms and therefore are unlikely to respect the enforcement you speak of. We have spoken to many survivors over the past decade and many of them talk about the shame and guilt they feel for not being able to prevent their own assault, one of our clients even had their (sic) black belt in Karate. The problem the majority of the time is not that they were a vulnerable population that was targeted by some anti-social creep but rather someone (sic) they knew and trusted abused that trust and assaulted them, and they reacted in shock or submission to coercion. Self-defense is not a reasonable expectation to put on anyone who is in a shocking situation or who is being coerced. If we are to enforce social norms against anti social (sic) behaviors like sexual assault as you put it yourself, we need to see more emphasis put on the perpetrators (sic) behaviour (sic) rather than survivors, and not add to survivor blame. We believe that if people are more supportive towards survivors and effectively hold perpetrators accountable for their actions than (sic) that will communicate and enforce against perpetrator behavior rather than placing responsibility on survivors who are already going through enough. To be clear we do not see self-defense as the way to hold them accountable as the onus is on the victim.

Did you notice the admission that 'perpetrators' don't respect social norms right before they talk about the need of 'educating' the rest of society about enforcing social norms? Or how they refuse to address risk reduction in the model, instead only emphasizing the self-defense aspect? Which they deem unrealistic.

Did you know a woman breaking the jaw of a guy who is trying to rape her really is an effective way of enforcing the social norm of "no means no!"? Apparently they don't.

Let me ask the parents who are reading this, do you really want your daughter to be taught to be a reverse cowgirl? Or do you want her to be taught risk reduction, rape prevention strategies, and, if all that fails, have her know self defense?

Let me ask martial arts and women's self defense instructors this: How much do you teach risk reduction (and how important it is to a person's ability to engage in physical self defense)? Or do you just teach punching and kicking and call it 'self-defense'? Is the information you share oriented toward avoidance and prevention, instead of simply trying to fight a bigger, stronger attacker?

Let me ask the people involved in rape awareness programs, do you want to reduce the number of rapes?

Or is your focus on helping women during the aftermath? Teaching skills for coping with the aftermath is a very important service. It is something you know very well and are good at.

But what is needed in the aftermath is not the same as proactive risk reduction and prevention. The priorities are different to prevent rape. Accurate information about danger, social dynamics, risk assessment, risk reduction and -- when all else fails -- self-defense are needed for prevention. These are what young women need to be hearing about to help them keep from getting raped.

Having said that, there's a lot of good people out there who are willing to help you develop better, more realistic programs to prevent rape. People who know violence and criminals. People who know how they operate and can help you develop effective  risk reduction strategies to teach.

Let's not let 'shame' and 'blame' get more people hurt.

Marc MacYoung
Copyright 2012