When asked what should be done about the high rate of sexual assaults on US college campuses, the winner of this year’s Miss USA pageant responded that women need to take it upon themselves to learn self-defense. The pageant winner, Nia Sanchez, is a fourth-degree black belt in Taekwondo. Having lived briefly as a young girl in a woman’s shelter with her mother, Miss Sanchez learned Taekwondo to increase her sense of security and self-confidence. She intends to promote the art of self-defense for women in her position as Miss USA 2014.

Although women’s self-defense is a noble goal, it may do little to cut down the incidence of rape on U.S. college campuses. 1 in 4 of U.S. women of college age have been raped, according to statistics from here. Other estimates put the rate as 1 in 5, but well-known columnist George Will has argued that even a 20 percent assault rate is preposterously high. Part of the confusion is in the definition of rape and particularly date rape, or acquaintance rape as it is sometimes called.

Date rape is defined as “the crime of forcing someone you know to have sex with you especially while on a date.” The term did not even come into use until 1975. The existence of such an offense was questioned because date rapes typically involve threatened rather than actual force, and the threat is frequently in the eye of the beholderAccording to some statistics, 84% of men who have committed date rape do not recognize that their actions constituted rape. In contrast, 27% of female victims of date rapes do not realize that what happened was legally rape.

Precisely because date rape frequently lacks explicit violence, self-defense measures like hand-to-hand combat may not provide any protection. In addition, approximately 90% of date rapes involve alcohol. The impaired mental and physical function that results from over-drinking makes it difficult to use self-defense techniques effectively. Women who know their attackers may also feel reluctant to use violence against them or make a scene.

The psychological pressure and manipulation used by the date rapist may completely undercut the woman’s motivation to use the self-defense techniques she knows. The man may call her a tease or accuse her of leading him on. He may ply her with alcohol. He may tell her he’s through with her or not interested in pursuing a relationship with her unless she succumbs. She may be unwilling to provoke a confrontation that would lead to violence.

A woman may find herself in the middle of an internal war — should she focus more on protecting herself or on sparing the feelings of her date? If a woman agrees to go out on a date, a basic level of trust has already been established and a woman may expect that her wishes will be honored. The website of one U.S. university has found it necessary to tutor women in the art of rejection:

Don’t smile. Sometimes when we are uncomfortable or don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings we smile when we say no and this does not communicate clearly how we are really feeling.

The website further recommends that women shout the word “Stop!” or cause a scene. The underlying implication is that many young women are reluctant to take even these mild measures to protect themselves. Self-defense classes might not replace an instinctual desire to salvage a relationship with the equally innate response of a punch to the nose. Strength of will in that circumstance matters more than knowledge of the martial arts.

While Miss USA 2014’s assertion of female power is laudable, I predict that more martial arts training for women will not adequately stem the tide of campus sexual assault. What more, then, can be done? The White House has launched an initiative to encourage women to file complaints against their schools. Carolyn Moynihan, deputy editor of MercatorNet, has put the onus on parents rather than schools or the government, arguing that the best prevention method is for parents to train boys and girls in chastity from an early age.

In addition, parents of university-age children might want to consider the following:

  • sending their child to an urban commuter college, such as those in the New York City area, and allowing their child to continue living at home
  • choosing a religious school, such as a private Christian or Catholic university, that takes the good behavior of its students extremely seriously
  • at a minimum, choosing to house your son or daughter in a single-sex dormitory

The basic rule of self-protection for young women should be don’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That includes a man’s room, his apartment, an alcohol-laden fraternity party, or even a well-known “party school.” Staying far out of harm’s way is the best form of self-defense.

Karee Santos is a happily married mother of six. She blogs in English at Can We Cana? and in Spanish at Comencemos en Caná. This article was originally published at Can We Cana?

Karee Santos is the co-author, together with her husband Manuel P. Santos, M.D., of a Catholic marriage advice book forthcoming from Ave Maria Press in 2016. She and her husband began teaching marriage...