Archive for the ‘violence prevention’ Category

Fighting Violence – The Way That Works

In self-defense, Sexual Assault, violence prevention, What we do, women, Women's Empowerment on September 26, 2011 at 20:09

A wonderful post from The Strength Within.

Check it out.


Fighting Violence – The Way That Works.

Peace, Politics & A Stabbing in a Church

In violence prevention on April 25, 2010 at 12:31

Strange Contrast: A Stabbing in The Church & Peace Among Warriors

You’ve probably noticed by now that I avoid political discussion. It’s not that I am not interested in politics. Here in Israel, politics is not only THE “national sport”, it is a matter of survival. It is too close too close to my heart to remain in my head.  And I am not the only one who feels that way.

Take the story below, for instance. What motivated the stabbing in The Church? Is it anti-Christian terrorism? Is it internecine violence? Or is it a lone crazy with a knife? The facts are not yet known but your opinion as to how the facts will play out will probably depend on your beliefs, your knowledge and your fears. Not on the statistics. Your heart, not your head.

All of which brings me to this past weekend. Every three months or so, I get together with this very unusual group of martial artists collectively known as Budo For Peace (BFP).

Budo For Peace is a non-profit organization founded and led by Danny Hakim, a high-ranking teacher of Shotokan Karate. Danny travels the world to train and compete. During a get-together in Japan, he was struck by the fact that, when adherents to the practice and values of the martial arts get together, they work in harmony despite the political climate outside the door. Iranians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Americans, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews- as long as TV cameras keep their distance, the participants’ common purpose blurred the political, religious and social lines between them.

Danny returned to Israel with a dream. With the help of a Japanese government grant and donors like 1-2-1 in Britain and Sugat in Israel, he  created Budo For Peace, an organization of instructors  from a wide range of populations, Jewish, Arab, Druse and Bedouin, who teach traditional martial arts- Karate, Aikido, Ju-jitsu, etc.- to  students ages 9-13 and 14-16,  together with the arts’ traditional values: honesty, loyalty, courage, gentleness, kindness, respect and so on. BFP’s Values Education curriculum is based on  a book written by American martial arts instructor Terrence Webster-Doyle.

Three to four times a year, the instructors spend Thursday-Friday working out together, learning games and teaching strategies, planning activities and, most importantly, practicing what they preach, creating an Island of Peace in which the bonds between them take center stage and the world, with all its conflicts, melts away.

When I was first invited to take part in Budo For Peace, I recoiled. It was inconceivable to me that a gathering of Israeli Arabs and Jews would not be rife with hand-wringing and propaganda. I told Danny I would come but, at the first hint of a political agenda, I told him “I’m out of there”.  I never left. Even though I have no BFP dojo of my own, I have continued to attend these sessions for three years.

Sometimes, when we are all sitting in the classroom, joking around like a group of grade-schoolers, I take a mental leap back and realize that I am living a dream, that for 20 hours, as John Lennon might say “the world is one”.

How strange that it is the so-called “Fighting Arts” that  create the framework for such a peaceful gathering. How strange and, yet, how fitting. When people of good will have confidence in themselves and in their ability to stand their ground,  then they have the power to choose how to respond, rather than to react to the world around them.

When the Head, The Heart and the Body are one, then the world can live as one.

Tourist Shot After Attacking Church Goers

Man seriously wounded in chest, leg after trying to stab worshipers, policemen in Church of Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem; his identity and motive unclear

Shmulik Grossman

April 23, 2010


A tourist was shot by a policeman on Friday evening after trying to stab worshipers and police officers at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. One police officer was lightly injured in the incident.

The officer ordered the tourist to put his knife down, but the man refused and threatened to hurt one of the worshipers. He then attempted to stab a policeman as well.

A Magen David Adom crew dispatched to the area attended to the tourist, who sustained serious wounds, and evacuated him to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem. A hospital official said he was injured in the leg and chest. His identity is unknown.

The security forces are looking into the incident and the stabber’s motives.

According to eyewitnesses, two priests and a policeman had asked the worshipers to leave the church just before its closing hour. When they approached the tourist, he pulled out a knife and after refusing to put it down, the policeman sprayed him with tear gas. The tourist was shot after rioting and threatening to hurt one of the worshipers.

The officer who shot the tourist said he aimed at the upper part of the man’s body after he had tried to stab him and a priest standing next to him. A police investigation revealed that the tourist arrived in Israel on Friday, bought the knife in the Old City and hid it between his clothes.

Many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Why I run

In violence prevention on November 7, 2009 at 22:41
IMPACT-Israel Staff

IMPACT-Israel Staff: We Want To Help More Women Learn To Protect Themselves From Violence

Planning meetings for our December 8-18th  “Circle of Strength’ Women’s Martial Arts & Self-Defense Events. Another IMPACT Self-Defense Class for Arabic-Speaking Teens from Jerusalem. A visit by Uri Menahem, the head of The City of Jerusalem’s Sports Department. A visit to the Maccabi Health Fund to request  support for our violence prevention programs. A pre-event visit to the gymnasium in Rishon LeZion where The City of Rishon LeZion and Israel’s major women’s organizations WIZO, NAAMAT and Emunah will hold an El HaLev-led Day of Empowerment in honor of the International Day of  Struggle Against Violence Against Women. A partnership meeting in the Bedouin city of Rahat with Sabha Abu Janem, the founder and chairperson of The Rahat Women’s Association. A Brown and Black-Belt event at a shooting range and climbing wall. A massive practice and breakfast meeting for all members of IMPACT-Israel’s training staff.

These were the essence of a frenetic, fulfilling and exhausting week. Thank God for weekends and the chance to regroup, rest and reflect.

Weekend over, I sat down at my computer to attend to all the emails I received while running from meeting to meeting last week. One of those emails contained a link to an article written by my IMPACT colleague in Boston, Meg Stone. A gem.

There is a Jewish wisdom tale that says that every person should carry one slip of paper in each pocket. In one pocket, the paper should say “I am only dust and ashes”. In the other: “The world was created for me”. Thus, we are meant to maintain the fragile balance between our humility and our self-confidence.

So, this coming week, as  I run from one end of the country to the other explaining why what we do at El HaLev is so important, I think I will put Meg’s article on one pocket, to remind me of the Big Picture: what it means to scream from the rafters that we must intervene in the growing crisis of violence.  In the other pocket, I will put the following news item about a pedophile and his five young victims. The meetings with Big Names, leaders and key organizations are, in the end, all about these five children and thousands like them. I will never know their names, but I know their eyes. I have seen them in so many victims of violence: eyes filled with anger, regret and sorrow. Eyes that light up with the fire of courage and determination as they learn that they can fight back.

Meg, thank you for your wonderful article. And to the children from Petach Tikva and their families, I dedicate this week  to you.

What if we did as much to prevent rape as we do to prevent H1N1?

by Meg Stone, November 3, 2009 – 8:05pm

I spent most of this past spring and summer rolling my eyes every time I heard a news story about the swine flu. Almost every day local reporters got hysterical about 5 or 10 or 20 confirmed cases. Entire schools closed in response to a handful of kids with fevers, and as if there were no war in Afghanistan, no economic crisis, and no other epidemics claiming ten times as many lives, newscasters talked about H1N1 (the proper name for swine flu) for hours.

I have a degree in public health and my work focuses on preventing rape and other acts of violence and supporting survivors in healing from abuse. When I see all the attention swine flu is getting, I’m jealous. Other than intermittent news stories about sex offenders on the loose or why women who accuse professional athletes of rape are lying, sexual violence rarely gets any widespread coverage. Certainly no state of emergency declared by the President of the United States.

Now, I don’t want to diminish the grief of those who have lost loved ones to H1N1. I don’t even want to question the scientific validity of the Center for Disease Control’s decision to declare it a pandemic. But the fact remains that the impact of H1N1 is far less than that of other public health crises that receive a fraction of the attention and resources. The CDC reported just over 43,000 cases of H1N1 between April and July of this year and estimates that it will affect a million people, or 0.3% of the total population of the United States. Compare this to the 2.5% of women and 0.9% of men who reported being raped or sexually assaulted in the past year. The most recent statistics about rape available from the CDC are from last year. Swine flu? Last week.

What would our media, our public discourse, and our institutional responses look like if people cared as much about rape as they do about H1N1?

I imagine the federal government urging colleges to stop the epidemic of rape by developing protocols for quarantining students who have tried to use drugs or alcohol to incapacitate women who would otherwise not consent to sex. Or university officials directing students to stay off campus or out of public areas until they are free of the belief that they are entitled to sex any time they want for a full 24 hours. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

I dream of public health departments so inundated with the demand for educational programs that teach kids about healthy relationships that they can’t keep up. Of public outrage that there are not enough doses of self-defense training to inoculate everyone against rape, and of medical experts having to go on television to reassure people that more of these self-defense vaccines are on the way.

Then I wake up to a phone conversation with a principal who tells me there is no dating violence in his school and another with a teacher who desperately wants to offer rape prevention resources to her high school classes but can’t because the entire budget for health education in her district was cut. So much for the dream.

But if I stop resenting H1N1 for getting so much attention for a moment, I realize that what I’m complaining about is actually public health at is best. It is probably true that the coordination of government urgency, media attention, medical system mobilization, and common sense precautions will succeed in thwarting a pandemic. We will probably not look back at 2009 and say it was the beginning of a swine flu crisis that devastated a generation.

What feels like hysteria or over-emphasis is actually the way prevention is supposed to look. It is supposed to be widespread and coordinated. Messages about the importance and seriousness of the public health threat are supposed to be so pervasive that they are almost impossible to ignore. I’m so used to caring about public health crises that don’t get the attention and resources they deserve that I almost can’t recognize what the public health system looks like when it does work.

This kind of focused attention is my wildest dream for our society’s response to HIV, rape, domestic violence, drug addiction, racial health disparities, cancer-causing corporate pollution, food system injustice and every other area of public health that is marginalized.

So why is the public health infrastructure working so well? Because it’s not being undermined by shame, stigma, and denial (you know, the way rape and sexual assault are). Even in the highest drama evening news stories there is almost a complete absence of victim blaming. Personal choices and individual behaviors spread the flu, but our government, our health workers, and our media understand that this crisis is too serious to waste time arguing over whether people who don’t wash their hands or share cubicles with co-workers who fail to stay home from work the recommended 4 to 7 days deserve what they get.

It would be unthinkable for a person to avoid seeking treatment for swine flu because s/he’s afraid that if s/he tells her/his doctor s/he’ll be blamed for touching her/his eyes and nose or lose her/his housing because no parents want to raise their children in a neighborhood where people don’t sneeze into their elbows

As if invoking the finale of High School Musical, when it comes to H1N1, we’re all in this together. Swine flu is not concentrated in any population that people already hate or devalue, so raging debates about whose immoral lifestyle caused it don’t get in the way of an effective public health response. (Even Fox News is posting stories that are sympathetic to people whose jobs don’t have paid sick leave and the hardship they face in missing work as the authorities direct.) Wouldn’t it be nice if other health crises were treated the same way?

In watching the rapid mobilization against this virus I know that the public health infrastructure works when our government, our media, and our medical leaders are motivated to mobilize it. H1N1 is not getting any attention it shouldn’t – it’s getting the attention all public health crises should.

23-year old suspected of raping 5 children

Police say suspect’s DNA matches that found on kids who were grabbed from entrance to homes, threatened, and sexually abused
Raanan Ben-Zur

Police arrested Tuesday a 23-year old man from Petah Tikvah who is suspected of sexually abusing at least five children between the ages of 8-11.

He was arrested following a successful matching of DNA. During questioning he told the interrogating officers that “if I did it, I must be sick”.

During recent weeks Petah Tikvah Police received five complaints from children who claimed to have been sexually assaulted. All of the children described a man who waited for them in the dark at the entrance to their homes, grabbed them, threatened them, and then sexually abused them.

Police gathered descriptions of the attacker as well as DNA samples, but no matches were found in the police database. Officers launched an investigation and the man, who has no police record, was arrested and his DNA found matching to that found on the victims.

The young man has not confessed to the allegations but told officers, “I was high. I don’t remember. If I did such things it means I’m sick and if I’m sick I need treatment.” Police are currently checking whether the suspect has been involved in any similar cases. He is scheduled to be brought before a court later for the remand of his arrest.

The suspect allegedly threatened the children’s families and told them his actions were retaliation for what their fathers did to him when he was young, a claim that the investigation has revealed as false.

Violence We Prevent Makes No Headlines

In violence prevention on October 26, 2009 at 16:12
Young Arab Jerusalemites Learning How To Stop Violence Against Them

Young Arab Women in Jerusalem Learning How To Stop Violence Directed Against Them

While rocks and words fly in response to the  Imams’ outlandish fantasy of some Jewish conspirency to retake the Temple Mount, there is a real battle going on right here in the halls of El HaLev, a battle to prevent violence.

For the last two Sundays, 16 young Arabic-speaking women served by the Arab section of the Youth Advancement Department of the Jerusalem Municipality  have made their way from their homes in East Jerusalem, Shuafat, Beit Zafafa and Sheikh Jarrah to our headquarters in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem for an IMPACT for Teens Self-Defense Course. In IMPACT, they learn how to feel and trust their intuition,   identify dangerous situations,  use words and body language to discourage potential attackers and, when necessary, to employ full-power self-defense techniques that can enable them to disable their attackers and survive.

According to one of our IMPACT staff members: “It’s really hard to tell who is more excited about this course: the girls, their community workers or the staff of El HaLev.”

For these students, who tend to  come from families on the less-educated, less-affluent side of Arab society, these skills are a virtual revolution.

Violence Against Women in The Arab Sector

In order to confront the fear of violence, these girls are dealing with enormous issues concerning who their society views violence against women. According to a poll conducted last year by Naamat Women, some 70% of Arab women in Israel believe that women who are pushed, slapped or struck by their male partners are not victims of domestic violence.  Some 73% believe that women whose partners curse or humiliate them are not victims of violence.

Similarly, these girls are growing up female under the cloud of  “honor killing”, the murder of women and girls by  family members as the result of  such things as  dressing in an “immodest” or “too-Western” manner, opting out of  arranged marriages or engaging in certain sexual acts, including being the victims of rape.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the annual worldwide total of honor-killing victims may be as high as 5,000. UNICEF reports, based on 1999 estimates, that more than two-thirds of all murders in the Gaza strip and the West Bank were most likely ‘honor’ killings.

Against this background and these odds, and despite the difficulty getting out of their neighborhoods under the current conditions, these brave girls have completed eight of the 16 hours of this  four-session course. I am certain that they will be back next week, and the week after to finish their course. Despiteit all, they seem bound and determined to ensure that they acquire the skills to keep at bay the violence that lives and breathes all around them.

Untold thanks to our staff, the staff of the Arab section of Jerusalem’s Youth Advancement Department and the Kathryn Ames Foundation, whose generous contribution made this course possible.

The rioters in the Old City and their sympathizers may be making headlines. But WE are making a difference!

Jerusalem: Temple Mount riots resume

Efrat Weiss
Latest Update:     10.25.09, 15:27 / Israel News

Nine police officers were lightly injured Sunday stones and Molotov cocktails hurled at forces stationed at the Temple Mount as part of the high state of alert in the area. A female Australian reporter was lightly injured by stones in the Old City.

Forces patrolling the area also noticed oil poured on the floor, apparently in order to cause the officers to slip and make their activity in the area more difficult.

A police force entered the Temple Mount compound in order to catch the stone throwers, using shock grenades. More than 18 people were arrested on the Mount and in its surroundings, including senior Fatah member Khatem Abdel Kader, who is charge of the Jerusalem portfolio in the Palestinian organization.

Palestinians and members of the Waqf reported that at least eight worshippers were injured, but the police said they were unaware of any injuries.

Abdel Kader was arrested at the Temple Mount plaza after allegedly rioting, assaulting policemen and calling on worshippers to launch a parade. He was taken in for questioning by the Jerusalem Police’s minority unit.

Three masked Arab men were arrested in the afternoon hours after hurling stones at the security forces in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud. Police also detained Ali Abu Sheikha, No. 3 in the Islamic Movement’s northern branch.

Abu Sheikha was arrested on suspicion of rioting and calling on residents to go out and demonstrate. In mid October he was detained on suspicion of inciting Arabs near the Temple Mount during the riots which began on Yom Kippur Eve.

Another incident was recorded when Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) tried to enter the Temple Mount but was stopped by the police. “This is extremely severe,” Tibi said in response. “The police are violating the law. It’s not in their authority. The al-Aqsa Mosque is not a closed military zone.”

Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen told reporters while visiting the Mount, “I identify many large groups of east Jerusalem Arabs and Israeli Arabs who have arrived here following calls made by the Islamic Movement, whose leaders are here. I call on them to practice restraint and calm and not to incite.

“The Jerusalem Police will act firmly against any rioters on the Temple Mount. The inciters are the same people you know. It’s impossible that the Israel Police will have to deal with the Islamic Movement every Sunday, and so we will handle this on the investigative level.”

He clarified that the police did not enter the al-Aqsa Mosque and had no plans to do so.

The Jerusalem Police accused elements in the Islamic Movement and Hamas of inflaming the situation after calling on youngsters to riot on the Temple Mount on Saturday.

Police officials clarified that the forces were prepared for the disturbances and exerted efforts to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount, allowing worshippers and tourists to enter the site. Several minutes after the Mount opened for prayers, however, rioters began hurling stones, objects, Molotov cocktails, acid and oil at police officers patrolling the area, forcing the police to enter the site.

Mount closed to visitors

Following the violent incidents, the police closed the mount to Muslim worshippers and visitors. The Jewish worshippers’ prayers in the Western Wall are continuing as planned, while the reinforced police forces remain in the area to prevent another outbreak of riots.

The area was cleared of worshippers, apart from several dozen young men who remained inside the mosque. The police are trying to hold a dialogue with different representatives, including the Waqf, in order to calm things down.

Tensions high on Temple Mount

The violence spread to other places in the Old City, and in one alley Arabs hurled stones at passersby and policemen. There were no reports of injuries or damage, and the police began searching for the stone throwers.

The police fear the recurrence of violent incidents on the Mount after Arabs in east Jerusalem and northern Israel were urged Saturday to come protect the al-Aqsa Mosque, while right-wing activists called on Jews to come visit the Temple Mount in masses.

The police decided Saturday evening not to close the Mount to visitors and not to limit the age of Muslim worshippers, but vowed to act firmly against any attempt to cause disturbances or change the status quo on the Mount and in its surroundings.

The Islamic Movement announced that it would make buses available for worshipers who wish to arrive at the mosque Sunday. The movement’s spokesman Zahy Nujeidat said the flyer calling Arabs to protect the area was issued “in response to those who try and desecrate al-Aqsa.”

According to police, there was a call for the capital’s Arab residents to “protect Temple Mount from Jewish conquest,” as well as a call on Jews by extreme-right elements to arrive at the compound.

Stopping Sexual Assault in The Israel Defense Forces

In violence prevention on September 17, 2009 at 15:42
As unlikely as it may seem, 1 of 7 of  female IDF soldiers will be sexually harassed or worse during their service

As unlikely as it may seem, 1 of 7 of female IDF soldiers will be sexually harassed or worse during their service

This morning, I read a report issued this summer by the Knesset committee on The Status of  Women, chaired by Knesset Member Zipi Hotovely (Likud).

According to the 2008 military survey, one of seven female soldiers report that they have been victims of sexual harassment or assault. Of the 363 reports of sexual harassment or worse , 62%  were physical; 5% of the complainants were men. When it came time to pursue the charges, only 63% of the women complainants chose to pursue the matter further.

I was impressed enough to write Knesset Member Hotovely the following letter:

I am one of the founders and the Executive Director of El HaLev, a non-profit woman-powered organization dedicated to empowering women of all ages, body, mind and spirit, through training in the Martial Arts and Self-Defense. Since our founding in 2003, we have worked with thousands of women and collaborated with dozens of government and non-profit agencies in pursuit of a kinder, gentler and safer Israel…

…You wisely added that the fact that only 63% of the women complainants chose to pursue the matter further, indicates problems in the system. It also highlights the society-wide problem of being re-victimized after an assault.

I am a great believer in “Crisis=Opportunity”. Your implications of this survey are disturbing. However, they also present an unprecedented opportunity to empower an ever-greater proportion of Israeli women.

We at El HaLev (www.elhalev.org) are recognized throughout the country as The Experts in training women to find their physical and emotional strengths and use them in their own defense. We met this week with an Wingate army training representative to discuss the possibility of introducing our truly women-oriented self-defense, assertiveness and life-skills training into the army training regimen toward the goal of producing better, safer and more confident female soldiers. We were well-received and, I am certain, more meetings will follow…

…If we are going to succeed in our mission of reducing verbal and physical violence against women in our society in general, and the army in particular, we will need the help and support of people like you, leaders on the frontlines of changing the status of women in Israel.

Please do me the honor of meeting with me to explore how we can work together with your network of empowered women toward our common goal.

Now you all know MY resolution for wording toward my life’s dream the New Year.

What’s yours?


In case you thought that the IDF is too “macho” to consider making women’s self-defense part of the training of female soldiers, don’t take MY word for it…

IDF mulling self-defense course for all female recruits

Aug. 9, 2009

Citing fears of kidnappings and sexual assault, the IDF is considering establishing a special self-defense course for all female soldiers who enlist in the military.

The plan is the brainchild of Col. Dr. Avi Moyal, head of the IDF’s Combat Fitness Division. Moyal has discussed the idea with Brig.-Gen. Gila Klifi-Amir, the General Staff’s Adviser on Women’s Affairs and the two are hoping to secure a budget for the program.

Under the plan, all female recruits will participate in a week-long self-defense course to provide them with skills how to fend off potential attackers, rapists and kidnappers.

“This course will be aimed at providing the female soldiers with self-confidence to travel around the country in the framework of their military service as many of them need to” explained a senior officer in the IDF’s Ground Forces Command.

Most female soldiers in the IDF serve in non-combat positions and undergo a very low-level basic training without receiving any real self defense skills.

“Very few female soldiers are given an introductory class in hand-to-hand combat but not enough to know how to fight off an attacker,” the officer said.

Self-Defense Training: Does It Prevent Violence?

In violence prevention on August 26, 2009 at 01:30

Israeli Teen Performing Hands-On Violence Prevention

An interview with researcher Jocelyn Hollander

Special Thanks to the IMPACT-Boston Blog for publishing and sharing this article

Jocelyn Hollander has been an advocate for women’s self-defense for more than 20 years. As a researcher she conducted one of the only systematic studies of why those who advocate women’s empowerment and sexual violence prevention struggle embrace the work of IMPACT and other similar organizations.

IMPACT: How did you initially become interested in self-defense as a response to violence against women and sexual violence in particular?

JOCELYN HOLLANDER: I took my first self-defense class more or less by accident. My college roommate became interested in women’s self-defense and talked me into taking a class with her. I was actually quite reluctant to take that class – little did I know that it would transform my life and direct my career path for the next two decades. I probably wouldn’t be a sociologist, and I certainly wouldn’t be studying violence against women, if it weren’t for that class. My college roommate has a lot to answer for!

Once I overcame my initial resistance to taking that class, I fell in love with self-defense. I suddenly understood the world around me in a new way. For example, I realized how much my life had been governed by fear, and I stopped taking that fear for granted. Why should I feel afraid? Why should I have to rely on others for protection? I realized that I had the ability to protect myself, and that realization was life-changing.

IMPACT: What are some of the positive outcomes you’ve observed in women as they participate in self-defense training programs?

JH: I’ve studied women who have taken a class much like the first one I took – an intensive, feminist class offered on a college campus. Not surprisingly, I’ve found that learning self-defense increases women’s confidence in their ability to defend themselves. They feel stronger, they know a range of verbal and physical strategies they could use if confronted with an assault, and they feel confident that they’d be able to actually use these strategies.

Even more importantly, my research has found that learning self-defense also empowers women in many other areas of their lives. They feel better about themselves and their bodies. For example, they say things like, “I feel more comfortable in my own skin,” or “I see my own power and strength.” They report feeling more comfortable interacting with everyone from family to friends to partners to strangers. They develop more self-confidence, and they no longer see women as weak and men as inevitably more powerful. Perhaps most importantly, they have an increased sense of self-worth – they believe that they are worth defending. These are huge changes; they affect virtually every aspect of women’s lives.

IMPACT:  You’ve done and excellent systematic analysis of why people struggle with or object to self-defense training as a strategy for preventing sexual violence.  More specifically you’ve addressed the struggles of feminists and sexual violence prevention advocates. What are the most common reasons for resistance?

JH: I’ve encountered three types of resistance. First, some people believe that women are fundamentally incapable of defending themselves. I’ve called this the “it’s impossible” reaction: why encourage (or teach or study or fund) women’s self-defense if women are simply too weak to be effective?

Second, some people argue that teaching women self-defense is too dangerous. The argument here is that if women learn self-defense, they’ll become over-confident – or foolhardy or even aggressive – and go out looking for fights, which of course (buying into the “it’s impossible” theme) they’ll inevitably lose.

Finally, some people argue that teaching and advocating women’s self-defense is victim-blaming, because it can imply that women are responsible for controlling men’s violence.  Perhaps, they argue, learning about the effectiveness of self-defense will encourage survivors to blame themselves – if they’d only fought back, or fought back more effectively, then the assault would not have happened.

There’s also been another argument recently that says that self-defense training should not be a priority because our main focus should be on “primary prevention” – that is, on the root causes of violence. Self-defense training, these folks says, is nothing more than a band-aid that doesn’t do anything to reduce the incidence of violence.

IMPACT: How have you responded to these objections?

JH: The “it’s impossible” response just isn’t supported by the evidence. There’s quite a bit of research now that shows that women often do resist when they are attacked, and that when they do resist, they are often successful in preventing sexual assault – even when they are not trained in self-defense. We don’t yet have any research on whether self-defense training makes them more successful; I’m in the middle of some research now which I hope will help us answer that question. But the research we have so far is pretty unequivocal: women can defend themselves, and can do so successfully. (Of course, it’s also important to say that this conclusion is based on the examination of large numbers of incidents, and that in any particular situation self-defense may be more or less possible.)

As far as the “it’s too dangerous” response, I’ve asked the women I’ve studied whether they feel learning self-defense has made them overconfident. So far, not a single person has said that it has. They still have a healthy fear of violence; the difference now is that they feel like they have some strategies to prevent it and cope with it if it happens.

The “it’s victim-blaming” response is in some ways the most difficult. I have a lot of sympathy for this position – women are blamed for their own victimization in a variety of ways, and I don’t want my research to contribute to that. But I think it’s possible to say that women can defend themselves without implying that they are responsible for the violence against them. Just because women can fight back doesn’t mean that it is their responsibility to fight back, or that they should do so in every situation. Responsibility for violence always lies with the perpetrator. Sometimes compliance is the safest choice, and women shouldn’t be blamed if they choose not to resist – or if they do resist and are unsuccessful.

The main point I make in my research, however, is that the real root of all these different types of resistance is our societal beliefs about gender – our beliefs about what women and men are and should be like. These ideas keep us from being able to see women as strong and capable and men as potentially vulnerable (the “it’s impossible” reaction). They encourage us to think that women will become overconfident or foolhardy (the “it’s too dangerous” reaction), by suggesting that women aren’t capable and/or that they somehow aren’t rational enough to use self-defense tools wisely. Finally, the “it’s victim-blaming” response sees women as incapable of understanding complex ideas, such as the fact that perpetrators are responsible for violence whether or not women employ self-defense strategies. As I say in a recent article, “Would anyone seriously suggest that men be shielded from information about how to deter muggers because it
might make them blame themselves for past muggings?” Of course not, but somehow we think that women are so emotionally vulnerable that they will be devastated by the knowledge of self-defense.

Women’s self-defense training is dangerous because it challenges these deeply-held beliefs – and because in doing so, it challenges gender inequality. In the end, I think that’s why many people are resistant to the idea of women defending themselves.