The new “Miss USA,” a Nevada woman named Nia Sanchez, sparked some debate during the portion of the pageant devoted to topical questions. She got a pretty serious one, a query on why she thinks some colleges sweep their rape problems “under the rug.”
“I believe that some colleges may potentially be afraid of having a bad reputation, and that would be a reason it could be swept under the rug, because they don't want that to come out into the public,” Sanchez said. “But I think more awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves. Myself, as a fourth-degree black belt, I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and be able to defend yourself. And I think that's something that we should start to really implement for a lot of women.”
Sanchez got credit for not crashing and burning as contestants have sometimes done in the past, but there was considerable discussion of her approach.
Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post wrote, “This is not a bad answer, although the problem of prevention isn't a simple question of confident women learning self defense techniques against Stranger Danger (Sanchez's professed specialty). For one, it usually isn't a stranger. For another, the onus shouldn't have to be on women to become self defense experts. It's on everyone to establish a baseline of consent.”
Amanda Marcotte at Slate wrote, “The implication, though Sanchez likely didn't intend it this way, is that women who do suffer rape are not confident and are insufficiently interested in their own safety. … Teaching women that self defense is the key to avoiding rape has many drawbacks, not the least being that it is no guarantee against an attacker who likely has a size advantage and the element of surprise on his side.”
One writer closer to the campus scene supported Sanchez. “Will learning [self defense] save my life if I am attacked?” wrote TheCollegeFix.com associate editor Jennifer Kabbany. “Maybe. I sure have a better fighting chance than women with zero training. You have no idea what you didn't know about self defense until you take these classes. It will open your mind to a whole new level of protection.”
The question, of course, dealt with how campus administrations handle the issue, not with how targets of rape should handle their attackers.