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Feminists Debate If Women Can Be 'Taught' Not To Be Sexual Assault Victims

Visiting American speakers Christina Hoff-Sommers and Roxane Gay faced off during their live conversation in Sydney.

In front of a large crowd of mostly women, in a country with devastating domestic violence statistics, Christina Hoff-Sommers said on Friday that women can and should be taught how not to be victims.

Hoff-Sommers, known for critiquing contemporary feminism, suggested uni students could take classes on how to avoid being sexually assaulted.

"Teaching someone how not to be a victim is not blaming them. It's common sense, it's protecting them," she told the audience.

"You want to do everything you can to make sure [a woman] is making good decisions. That's not saying it would be her fault if something happens. Let's just make sure nothing happens."

Seated on the same couch, her intellectual opponent Roxane Gay fired back: "Surely we can have a class showing young men how not to victimise."

Roxane Gay (left) and Christina Hoff-Sommers (right) on-stage at the '#Feminist' event, hosted by This Is 42 founder Desh Amila. Image: Supplied.

"Constantly what we do when we talk about rape prevention is tell young women what not to do," she added.

Gay recited unsolicited advice often thrown at women in attempts to protect them from sexual predators, a laundry list that received stirring applause.

"[We're told] where not to walk. How to walk down the street. Carry mace, carry your keys in your hands like a claw. Don't go out at night. Don't drink too much. Don't leave your drink unattended when you go to the bathroom. Really, all of these problems could be solved by men learning to not rape," she said.

Hoff-Sommers asserted "feminist groups" have backed away from training women to protect themselves against sexual violence as it doesn't "fit the agenda".

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READ MORE: Feminism Must Not Be The Boss Of #MeToo

"The agenda apparently is not protection, it's for winning a theory about patriarchy," she said.

Gay contended, "We could have universal curriculum where we teach men not to rape, and some men will still commit acts of rape or sexual assault."

"We need a comprehensive way of looking at this from the perpetrator's point of view. It's easier to reach perpetrators, who are smaller in number, than it is to reach potential victims, which is almost everyone."

When Australia's alarming rate of domestic violence -- including how one woman is killed by her current or former partner each week -- was referenced, Sommers responded with "no place in the world is 100 percent safe".

Roxane Gay and Christina Hoff-Sommers spoke in Sydney on Friday night and will speak in Melbourne on Sunday. Image: Eventbrite.

"In a city like Sydney, it appears to me you're doing a very good job. There are always dangers, and the best you can do is limit them. Can we eliminate all evil? No. This is a very good society, with respect to women," she said.

Gay asked Sommers what putting the "onus on curriculum" would mean for those who don't have the opportunity for higher education.

"What do we do about women who don't go to college? About children who are sexually assaulted? What do we do about men who are sexually assaulted? It's like trying to catch water with a net. There's no way to catch everyone," Gay said.

Contact the author: samelia@networkten.com.au.