Miss USA and the rape culture

As I scrolled through the morning news, I noticed that a new Miss USA had been crowned last night. Curious, I clicked the link to read more about Nia Sanchez, the winner of the 2014 title. I was happy to see that the winner was a minority and that she was was a tae kwondo fourth-degree black belt. However, I found her position on sexual assault very troubling and evident of the rape culture that pervades our society.

As a solution to campus rape, Miss USA suggested that women should learn to defend themselves. This implies that women get raped because they’re weak and that they get assaulted because they “failed” in a sense. The idea that you can solve rape through self defense shifts the responsibility onto the victim. It asserts that instead of teaching people not to be criminals, we should teach the target that it’s their job not to get raped.

Miss USA, when you told millions of young women across the country that they need to “take it upon themselves” to solve the problem, you were promoting the rape culture. You’re teaching little girls that it’s their job to prevent a crime they have no control over. You’re teaching the victim that the reason they were assaulted was because they couldn’t defend themselves, that they weren’t “enough.”

We don’t solve rape by “fixing” women. We solve rape by teaching people not to be rapists. I’m tired of being told that my wardrobe will “cause” rape. I’m tired of being told that my sex organs will “cause” rape. I’m tired of being told that my femininity will “cause” rape. Only rapists can “cause” rape.

It’s never the victim’s fault. Promoting self defense just shows how inherently backwards our country is when dealing with this problem. We should be promoting basic human respect for one another instead of making the victim responsible for the crime.
That being said, it’s time to stop assuming that only women get raped. Many rape victims are actually male, but because society has branded rape a man-on-woman crime, many men feel too ashamed to come forward. They too, feel that they have “failed” and that their rape is a result of their “weakness” or inability to defend themselves. And so we push the problem even further under the rug.

There’s nothing wrong with making people stronger and empowering them. In fact, that should be encouraged. But when we teach victims to solve a crime of which they are not the perpetrator, we’re participating in victim blaming. And that, Miss USA, is the cornerstone of rape culture.

Mary Di Valerio (9 Posts)

"Mary Di Valerio is an active feminist and student at Truman State University. She is passionate about human rights and hopes to go into law and politics.


  • get over yourself

    one woman can not put an end to rape. she can, however, learn to defend herself to help prevent her own rape. this does not put the responsibility on the victim, it instead makes a victim less of a target. as a rape survivor and a mother, i 100% agree with this stance. until you yourself are put in that situation, you have no business writing on this topic. and seriously, enough with this “rape culture” business. culture is defined as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” so are you saying that rape is an art form or an intellectual achievement? this sort of attitude is what is wrong with this country today. writing articles like this is not doing anything to improve society. however, teaching young women to defend themselves IS.

  • Jim

    I don’t feel she was saying this was “THE” solution. I mean, she only talked for 15 seconds. It was just something she felt would be a good idea. You yourself, based on your last paragraph, agree. So where’s the argument?

  • guest

    This. Exactly this.

  • Mary Di Valerio

    I’d like to clarify that I have in fact, experienced sexual assault. Even if I hadn’t, this topic would still be my “business” because the rape culture affects us all.
    Rape culture is a term used to describe how our society glorifies and excuses rape. You can read more about it here in this fantastic article – http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/04/23/rape-culture-defining-it-acknowledging-it-working-to-end-it/
    Self defense doesn’t work because if it gets to the point of defending yourself, the sexual assault has already occurred on some level. As I mentioned in the article – there’s nothing wrong with empowering people. But self defense does NOT solve rape, it just shifts responsibility. We’re excusing men for their actions and putting it on the target to prevent the crime.
    I respect your opinion because differing opinions are part of what makes the world such a colorful place 🙂

  • Mary Di Valerio

    She stated that women need to “take it upon themselves” to solve the problem, directly shifting responsibility to the victim.

  • Art

    Here is the question asked “asked Sanchez why she thinks this is being swept under the rug and what should be done about it.”

    Answer #1. “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,”

    Hmmmm, seems plausible.

    Answer #2. 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.”

    Hmmmmm
    More awarness, self defense, for a lot of women.
    NOT the SOLUTION. An opinion.
    To be aware and able to defend yourself is Pretty smart
    Especially if you believe there is a “rape culture”

  • Woody

    You quote her as saying “take it upon themselves”
    She never said that.

  • Mary Di Valerio

    I apologize – that was the wording that was in the source I used. (An Associated Press article published by Yahoo.) I should have done more research and looked up the exact quote.

  • Chris O’Connell

    “As a solution to campus rape, Miss USA suggested that women should learn to defend themselves. This implies that women get raped because they’re weak and that they get assaulted because they “failed” in a sense.” Mary Di Valerio may be inferring such a characterization, but I don’t believe it is implied. NOTHING is going to ever change certain men’s thinking about their entitlement to rape women. Awareness and self-protection are assets, they do not convey frailty or weakness. Unfortunately, there are perpetrators in this world and we just can’t round ’em all up and fix ’em. Women should be able to wear what they wish and behave the way they want to, but they can pay a heavy toll for declaring their freedom in this society which demeans them, demoralizes them, takes advantage of them, uses them and discards them. I vote for freedom, and I also vote for a paradigm shift where men’s attitudes toward women are concerned. Men simply have to try to keep up. The world is changing. We’re sick of taking their shit.

  • kentonian

    I agree with Miss USA. If no one else is doing anything about the problem, then you should.