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In Support of Self Defense Classes

Campus sexual assault is a harrowing issue: approximately one in five college women will experience attempted or completed rape while at school. Lawmakers of the American House and Senate have recently announced two bipartisan bills that are meant to combat campus sexual assault by promoting increased transparency and response.  Increasing transparency about the prevalent reality of sexual assault is certainly important, as it could help to reduce societal taboos about discussing the issue and show victims that they are not alone.  However, despite this potential legal progress, I – a college-bound woman -- am rationally wary of the current reality of campus sexual assault.

College is supposed to be a place where female and male students alike are able to learn and grow as people. Ideally, women should be able to exist on campus free of fear about their basic safety, but until we make that ideal a reality, I believe women should be equipped to deal with attacks.

My high school, The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, California, integrated an IMPACT self-defense course into our physical education curriculum and taking that course significantly impacted me.  According to their website, IMPACT is a “personal safety, assertiveness, and self-defense training program” that works with people of all ages, sizes, and physical ability.  The organization is also committed to putting women in leadership roles in IMPACT classrooms.  They are mindful of the effect a simulated assault can have on people who have experienced abuse, and make sure to be sensitive to trauma.

There are two instructors in an IMPACT class, one of whom coaches while the other portrays an assailant.  The instructors made sure that the situations were as realistic as possible and helped students practice being confident and firm with their words and body language in potentially dangerous situations. For example, when the “assailant” demonstrated an act of aggression, like yelling at me, it felt real. My pulse raced and my throat felt like it was closing up – I was actually scared. But staying strong and standing up to a fictitious assailant in a controlled environment made me feel empowered and more confident to do so should I face similar situations outside the classroom.

IMPACT does more than just teaching strategies to combat verbal abuse, though.  I was also taught how to use my physical strength against an assailant if grabbed or pinned down.  I learned how to escape when the instructor who was the assailant (a 200-pound man) was on top of me.  I also learned how to escape when I was grabbed from behind, as shown in this video of me in my class.

Being in such vulnerable positions was terrifying and even humiliating, but the instructors address this by fostering an environment of respect and support among the pupils of the class.  After each exercise, the rest of the class cheered and demonstrated support for the student who had been attacked.  Showing your strength and ability to fight back was seen as impressive by the rest of the students and the instructors.

In these ways, IMPACT promotes the reality that women have the ability to protect themselves.  I hope that I will never need to use the strategies I have learned at IMPACT, but I feel much more safe and confident knowing that I have mastered those skills.  IMPACT also shows their students that sexual assault, whether it is verbal or physical, should never be tolerated.  I believe that encouraging colleges to offer IMPACT courses for female and male students would buttress the confidence of students and show them that although they should never have to experience a sexual assault, they would be able to stand their ground and protect themselves.



More articles by Category: Education, Feminism, Gender-based violence, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexualized violence, College, Rape, News, High school
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Chloe Hallinan
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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