cermeleIt’s called self-defense.

Drew Psychology Professor Cermele is a long-time advocate of training women in self-defense as a tool to help prevent assault. So when the White House Task Force on Sexual Assault on College Campuses released its report this spring, Cermele ’92 felt the report didn’t go far enough.

“What is missing is the data, from multiple studies and decades of research, that self-defense works,” Cermele says. “Women who fight back reduce the risk of getting assaulted.”

Cermele and Professor Martha McCaughey of Appalachian State University co-authored an open letter to Task Force Chair Vice President Joe Biden urging the task force to advocate for self-defense as another tool for women. They also sent him a copy of a journal they guest-edited called Violence Against Women. The journal’s  topic? Self-defense.

Their journal, released in March, cited numerous studies that show self-defense typically results in no further injury to the women defending themselves; that it helps women of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds and previously victimized women; that self-defense can be empowering outside the ability to thwart an attack; and that self-defense training can help change gender norms.

In the letter to Biden, Cermele wrote, “Self-defense should be just as much a part of sexual assault prevention efforts as training bystanders and improving policies are. Moreover, self-defense training doesn’t just teach women physical techniques. It teaches women to take themselves more seriously, that they have bodies and lives worth defending.”

Cermele said the White House report was a good first step in bringing attention to the issue of sexual assaults on campuses. Still, she takes issue with existing college programs that focus solely on the “don’ts”: Don’t drink too much, don’t walk alone, don’t leave a party with someone. She feels there’s as great a need in helping women gain confidence and protect themselves.

After working as a trauma therapist and taking a self-defense class, Cermele saw this as a useful tool to empower women. She began teaching at Drew in 1997, and has been offering courses in verbal and physical self-defense techniques since 2000.

Students have told her of instances where they used skills they learned in the course to defend themselves. Cermele hopes to continue raising awareness about self-defense. “It’s another set of tools and options,” Cermele says. “All we’re asking people to do is look at the data of self-defense. The data suggests it’s extremely likely to make things better.”—Elizabeth Moore