Monday, August 19, 2019

Making an IMPACT in Bronzeville

In a city that prides itself on big buildings, flashy lights, and loyal residents in each neighborhood, Chicago is also home to many successful collaborations, networks and partnerships. Join IMPACT Blog Contributor, Maple Joy as she takes you on a journey that IMPACT makes in one local Chicago neighborhood. 

This story was originally published by the South Side Weekly. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

When Unsafe Behavior Happens in a Safe Space


My husband dropped me off at my therapist and went to park the car. I was early so I felt relaxed as I approached the doors leading into the reception area. As I reached toward the door, a man spoke authoritatively: “Don’t touch that door!” and then hit the accessible entrance button. As the door opened I said, “Thank you for opening the door, but you startled me.” He didn’t respond. I walked through the first door toward the second door when he again spoke with authority, “Don’t touch that door!”

This second command triggered flashbacks. When I was 17, a friend of a friend opened a door, cornered me, and then raped me. Now here I was in two places at once. I knew where I was and yet I was frozen. I heard my IMPACT instructors Martha and Mark encouraging me to pay attention and I was aware that my guard was up.

The second door opened as soon as the first door closed and as the man brushed past me he said, “Well, I’m glad that’s finally working again.” He walked into the offices, apparently done testing the doors. I asked the receptionist, “Is that the maintenance man?” She said, “No, he is our CEO.” I asked her to ask him to come out to the reception area.

He came out, moving very close to me, and asked if he could help me. I put up my hands and said, “Take a step back.  You are the CEO for a counseling center. Have you had any training on understanding people who are going through counseling?”

“No, I work on the business side.”

“I’m coming here for therapy and by your behavior you just recreated the situation in which I am receiving counseling for.”

He was embarrassed and reached out his arm to lead me as he said, “Let’s step into my office.”

I put my hands up and said, “Back up. You don’t command someone in a counseling center not to touch a door.” He tried to interrupt me and I wouldn’t let him. I said, “I am telling you this because you are the CEO. You are not listening to me. Stop speaking and hear what I am saying.” When I recognized that he was not listening, I said, “You’ve proven to me that you are not listening to what I’m saying. Go back to your office.”

My head was spinning and I was very angry but I felt Martha on my left and Mark on my right and that they were supporting me while IMPACT was coming out of my mouth. My husband entered the building as I was speaking to the CEO. He told me later that I was very firm, held my ground, and was very articulate. He noticed that I had one hand on my hip and asked me about that. I said, “I was in a position to elbow him if he came after me when I turned to go to my therapist’s office.”  

I was trembling as I went upstairs to my therapist’s office. There was a young man there and I started talking to him. I told him what happened. He was mellow and calm and I noted that. He said his situation happened in an uber car and that he is working on being calm. He said I am in my teens and I’m trying to have a better adult life. I felt so proud of this young man for taking care of himself. I felt so good that I had him to talk to at that moment.  

When I left, the receptionist gave me a hug and said, “You did everything right.”  I took the Core Program in 2003 and then Defense Against Multiple Assailants several years ago. I feel like IMPACT gets stronger for me every year.

Michelle Schmitt





Monday, July 29, 2019

You Don't Own Me


"You Don't Own Me" is a pop song written over 50 years ago by John Madara and David White. It was recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963. It was one of her most popular recordings. Amazing how relevant the words are today. You can listen to Lesley Gore singing this iconic song HERE.


You don't own me
I'm not just one of your many toys
You don't own me
Don't say I can't go with other boys
And don't tell me what to do
Don't tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don't put me on display 'cause
You don't own me
Don't try to change me in any way
You don't own me
Don't tie me down 'cause I'd never stay
I don't tell you what to say
I don't tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That's all I ask of you
I'm young and I love to be young
I'm free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please
And don't tell me what to do
Oh,

source: LyricFind

To read more about the importance of Lesley Gore's recording of "You Don't Own Me," check out "'You Don't Own Me,' A Feminist Anthem with Civil Rights Roots, Is All about Empathy."

Monday, July 22, 2019

What's an Empowering Phrase for You?

On June 18, we asked IMPACT grads on Facebook: Is there an empowering phrase or mantra that has really stuck with you since taking your IMPACT course? Here is what grads said:

AC: "Learning to use my big chest-voice was a key lesson. And as recently as today, not caring how others see me--as I do stretches in public after a long day of walking to loosen up my back. My favorite saying: "a wise woman once said, 'screw this stuff and lived happily ever after.'"

Alexandria: "Knowing that appropriate use of voice is such a large tool in keeping safe has been important to me and is something I pass on to others."

Alicia: "It's okay to maintain my physical boundaries," referring to folks who approach me."

Byler: "Keeping myself safe is more important than trying to please others."

Emily: "Use your voice!"

Sarah: "Your safety is worth anyone's embarassment, even your own."

Yudit: "She's READY."

Monday, July 15, 2019

Talking IMPACT with Grad Elizabeth

Blog contributor Maple Joy interviewed IMPACT Grad Elizabeth* about her IMPACT Core Program experience.

When and what IMPACT course did you take? December 2018 - Core Program

Why did you want to take IMPACT? - I work in an environment that involves talking to
strangers all day, which is something I usually really enjoy – however, last year I had a situation with one of these strangers in which nothing identifiable necessarily "happened", but the things that did occur all made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe and in danger - then later unhappy with how I'd handled myself. I went home and signed up for the next IMPACT core class that night. I'm so glad that I did - I was mostly looking for practical skills, not a transformative experience; somehow, I got both.

How did you feel prior to, during and after taking the course? I'm not a particularly sporty person and had never taken a self-defense class before, so I really had no idea of what to expect beyond what I'd learned about IMPACT when I signed up. The three-day time commitment was a little intimidating but made perfect sense once the class began - even that Friday night after the first class, I took my dog outside for their nightly walk and already felt different, more present, less afraid, more aware of my own power. Since completing the course, I luckily haven't had a need to test the more physical skills, however, I do feel different as I move through space, just walking down the street, establishing my boundaries, with the knowledge that if this is the day someone grabs me from behind (or tens of other scenarios) I have everything I need to survive.

Would you encourage other women to take an IMPACT course? If so, what would you say? I want every woman to have the opportunity to take this course - really every person. I wish that this had been a part of my public education, that I had taken it at 12 and 16 and 21 etc. - some of the most powerful parts of the class are just fundamental skills, establishing your own boundaries, enforcing those boundaries, finding your voice, taking up space in the world. To be in a space with badass women (and allied men who've let you kick them in the (padded) groin all day), all of whom want you to feel safe and confident and strong in your daily life - such a good feeling!

 Are there ways in which you’ve helped spread the word about IMPACT or ways others can help? Volunteer! Take a course! Host a class! Encourage someone else to take a course!

*Name may have been changed.

#IMPACTChicago #IMPACTChicagoCoreProgram #SelfDefense #Boundaries #FindingYourVoice #Volunteer #WomanEmpowerment

Monday, July 8, 2019

Are Predators Cowards?

While campaigning in Iowa, Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said: "predators are cowards." Empowerment Self-Defense instructors have a lot of agreement about what predatory behavior is, but they don't all label rapists and predators cowards. See below for Lisa Gaeta Why I Call Rapists Cowards and Susan Schorn Why I Don't Call Rapists Cowards.

Why I Call Rapists Cowards
Lisa Gaeta, Founder and CEO, IMPACT Personal Safety of Southern California
Rapists are cowards. In our society and in our movies and books, men prove their power by fighting other men or women who are at least as strong as them, with similar skill sets and not knowing if they will overcome or not. But the rapist chooses his victim to ASSURE himself that he can’t lose.
Telling students that the man who is attacking them is most likely trying to overcome something he feels he lacks as a man, helps them to understand that he is not all-powerful. We give rapists too much power. If we learn at a young age to speak up for ourselves and to defend ourselves, we take control of the power over our own safety. My job is to teach women how to stay safe in the face of imminent danger.
      Strong, confident men don’t attack people whom they perceive as weaker than them.  Even the man who is a high-powered executive, who verbally or physically abuses his family or kicks the dog when he’s angry, is trying to overcome a feeling of powerlessness.
      We do not teach our students to call their attacker a coward. We teach them to de-escalate using verbal strategies and body language. If that doesn’t work – although we have more success stories about people talking their way out of a situation rather than fighting than anything else – they are able to physically defend themselves.
      I believe this to be the case because our graduates do not present themselves as a good target. They BELIEVE that they have the right and the skills to defend themselves if necessary. And because that’s true, the attacker is deterred – because he’s a coward looking for an easy target.

Why I Don’t Call Rapists Cowards      
Susan Schorn, Empowerment Self Defense Instructor, Austin Texas               
I appreciate Lisa's perspective and wouldn't call it "wrong." I've often told self-defense students, "You don't need to be stronger than an attacker; you only need to be stronger than they think you are. And assault victims are often targeted because of some perceived weakness, so any effort you make to defend yourself will probably surprise your attacker and give you an advantage." When I say this to students, I'm trying, as I think Lisa is, to break through the social conditioning that makes women and other marginalized individuals feel helpless in the face of threatened assault.
      But I think defining assailants as "cowards" limits our focus. It makes us think in terms of brave men, who have abundant integrity and self-control and thus don't "need" to assault others. In this dynamic, it's easy to position "real" masculinity as honorable and protective, meaning that rape and assault only occur when men don't have "enough" of the "real" masculine traits. In a weird way, "rapists are cowards" implies that men should refrain from raping anyone not because it's wrong, and harms another human, but rather because it betrays weakness, and is, for that reason, shameful. That's a fundamental dynamic of toxic masculinity: your identity is built entirely on being brave/strong/silent, and thereby avoiding shame.
      Now, I have no problem with shaming rapists. But I'm not keen on tying our disapproval of rape to age-old stereotypes about masculine strengths. Those stereotypes are, by and large, the reason we live in a rape culture today.  
     Lisa says that "Strong, confident men don’t attack people whom they perceive as weaker than them." This is a message I'm sure many young men have heard as they grow up. And yet, I look around and see ample evidence that "strong, confident men" do attack people whom they perceive as weaker—they do it all the time. The #MeToo movement has shown us that many of them have gotten away with it for decades. They do so, as Empowerment Self-Defense Anne Kuzminsky says, because "Predators and their enablers behave in an entitled, not necessarily cowardly way." In other words, the assailant Lisa considers "cowardly" may still be extremely confident, and may be possessed of all manner of privilege and status that allows them to victimize people around them. I expect Lisa might say, "Well, that person is still a coward, because they work hard to minimize the risk to themselves when they victimize others." And I suspect an assailant in that position—if they were being honest—would say, "Yeah. So what? You can call me cowardly, but I'm getting what I want, and no one can touch me."
      We may teach boys that strong, confident men who don't attack others are admirable. But somewhere along the way, the same culture that professes those values also teaches boys that strong, confident men who take what they want and evade justice belong in positions of authority and high status.
     I do feel, like Lisa, that the message "rapists are cowards" can help survivors and potential victims re-frame their understanding of attackers' power. But it's probably not going to be successful at reducing rape. Because the ideal of gentlemanly behavior has been around for centuries, and rape still hasn't gone away.