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What do women need in 2018? A response to the Trib

01.24.18 by Amy Jones

I was very glad to read an article published in the Chicago Tribune earlier this week (“Locking panties and man-repelling bracelets: Is this what the women of 2018 need?”). I found the critique of the Invi bracelet right on target and I emphatically agree with almost everything Ms. Ramanathan wrote in her piece. In fact, the very same day it was published, I and my fellow instructor Ryan were talking to the participants of our 12-hour Empowerment Self-Defense course about the ramifications of relying on a commercial device for self-protection vs relying on one’s own natural weapons.

Perhaps that makes it obvious what my quibble will be (and regular readers can surely guess), but I’ll lay it out: I don’t think “the self-defense movement” belongs in Ms. Ramanathan’s list.

Opponents of self-defense have two main arguments: first that it puts the onus – and therefore the blame — on the would-be victim (we prefer the term ‘defender’), when it rightfully belongs on the perpetrator, and second, the oft-cited and entirely correct statistic that women are most often victimized by those they know, suggesting that they will be less willing to physically hurt their attacker.

A good empowerment self-defense training acknowledges both of those things. We teach that while it is always a right to fight back if someone is trying to hurt you, it is never a responsibility, and that there is nothing a person can do or not do that magically makes them responsible for someone else’s bad behavior. We arm our students, not with pepper spray or high tech nail polish, but with accurate information about violence and ways to predict and prevent it so they can live their lives with more confidence and less fear.

Regarding the second criticism, a large part of our trainings have nothing to do with physical fighting skills. That’s only about a third of the training. The rest focuses on assertive communication and body language. When you’ve practiced stating clear boundaries, you notice when they’re ignored, before things escalate to physical or sexual violence. And once you notice, you can take action.

Nothing works all the time, as we tell our students. But the evidence, in a growing body of peer-reviewed literature, suggests that taking an empowerment self-defense training can cut one’s chance of being the victim of sexual violence approximately in half. No other intervention works so well. So, yes. I would argue that an empowerment self-defense training is one of the things that women need in 2018. Because, unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to be the year that rapists stop raping.

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