Monday, December 26, 2011

Thoughts on Third Party Reporting

Katy Mattingly, University of Michigan
Author of Self-Defense: Steps to Survival

In April 2011 the Department of Education (DOE) issued new guidance to institutions of higher education noting that sexual violence of any kind is a form of sexual harassment, and therefore is illegal under Title IX. (That’s the same Title IX that prohibits discrimination in funding of women's athletics!) The DOE told schools that they are required to investigate any sexual violence that they know about "or should know about" to protect the survivor and the community. It's pretty radical guidance, actually. So many schools, for so many years have actively refused to investigate any complaint of sexual assault, harassment, stalking or intimate partner violence against students. Which means many perpetrators have faced ZERO consequences. Some of us are really happy the federal government is requiring more action!

At the same time, many advocates for survivors are afraid that mandatory investigations (whether or not the survivor wants an investigation) could have a number of negative consequences, including
*Loss of survivor agency, sense of control
*Lack of criminal or civil sanctions against perpetrators, thus dragging survivors through cases with no good outcomes
*Driving reporting underground if survivors fear they'll lose control of an investigation

At the University of Michigan, advocates have been organizing for months now to insure compliance with the new regulations. Some offices and staff on campus remain confidential for survivors (therefore, not required to launch an investigation against a survivor’s wishes). One of the many issues institutions are struggling with is how to adequately inform students about where they may report confidentially and where they can't. For example, disclosures to University Housing staff automatically launch a Title IX investigation under the University of Michigan’s interim plan.

I can see a number of comparisons to mandatory arrest laws passed regarding intimate partner violence - there I think most advocates and survivors would agree there are both pros and cons to those laws. I personally really like the idea that violence against women is a Crime Against The Community which the community takes seriously, whether the survivor feels ready to launch a personal lawsuit or not.

But I also take very seriously the idea that survivors are the experts in their lives, and that the ramifications of being required to investigate could be negative (no survivor at the University of Michigan will be required to participate in an investigation against his or her will... but they also can’t stop the institution from investigating.)

Finally, the Title IX guidance doesn't apply in cases of intimate partner violence. Which raises yet another issue - when does IPV begin? If the assailant was on a first date with the survivor? Second? If it was a hook-up but they weren't strangers?

It's complicated! Advocates and survivors across the country will be watching for the full ramifications of this new federal guidance.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Have a “Mugger?”

Mark Nessel, IMPACT Chicago Suited Instructor

In order to give women complete opportunities to develop the skills that they come to the Core program to develop, we have to provide them with a number of different things. We have to provide them with training to learn the skills, a safe environment in which to practice the skills, an opportunity to practice the skills, and motivation to use them to their fullest in practice. The Mugger serves that last bit, and it’s what separates our program from most other self-defense programs out there. Without the Mugger, why fight? Why keep fighting when it gets difficult? For that matter, without the Mugger, how difficult could it get?

The Mugger creates the impetus for the interaction, and then challenges her physically and tests her resolve to defend herself no matter what. IMPACT graduates have repeatedly had their resolve tested and know at a deep level that they have the determination and skills needed to protect themselves, no matter how hard the fight gets.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Real Knockouts

Katie Skibbe, IMPACT Chicago Instructor-in-Training
If you are interested in reading a book about self-defense for women, an excellent choice would be Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women’s Self-Defense by Martha McCaughey. Real Knockouts offers a comprehensive analysis of self-defense options for women including: padded attacker courses (e.g. IMPACT), martial arts, firearms and self-defense oriented fitness classes, and ties it into a broad view of what these courses mean to women collectively. The author attended and participated in each type of self-defense course, interviewed students and instructors, and provided facts about women and violence.
The author, Martha McCaughey, was once a self-described “frightened feminist.” Her background in Women’s Studies and Sociology had taught her a lot about violence against women, but not about stopping it. In fact, while researching convicted rapists she found herself coming home and checking her closets and other hiding places before she could relax. This led her to seek out a self-defense class.
In the beginning of “Real Knockouts,” McCaughey provides an analysis of why self-defense can be so difficult for women as it involves much more than learning how to hit, kick, or shoot a gun. Women must also learn how traditional female attributes (kind, docile, polite) make it easier for men to take advantage of and attack women. Martha found that it isn’t uncommon for class participants to apologize for hurting their attacker or smile while they are telling a man to “get away from me.”
The belief that women can’t defend themselves against men is deeply ingrained in our culture, but the truth is men don’t need to be particularly aggressive, strong or violent to rape they just need to convince women not to fight back. Self-defense training involves learning that women are valuable and worth fighting for.
Overall, I found “Real Knockouts” to be an excellent resource and a great book. I found myself identifying with many of the things McCaughey said and appreciated IMPACT training so much more.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Why Yell "NO"?

Antjuan Kee, IMPACT Chicago Suited Instructor

1. No allows for tightening of the muscles that protect the body from offensive strikes.

2. No activates breathing that enables a defender to maintain consciousness and supplies the body and organs the oxygen necessary for effective self-defense.

3. No allows a defender to strike with full force and speed without restriction.

4. No startles an attacker.

Most importantly

5. No represents deep compassionate feelings for oneself. The "NO" of IMPACT graduates represents facing whatever force threatens their well-being

Monday, November 28, 2011

IMPACT: a space where women can discover what is already true and inside of themselves

Our society appears grossly confused on the concept of blame and responsibility pertaining to criminal behavior. Additionally, our helping professions and our legislation are often laced with the underlying belief that rape, assault and abuse are problems stemming from and about women. Finally, there is a common myth that self defense only applies to individuals who have been “traumatized.”

In reality, the statistics for violence are non-discriminatory. Nearly everyone has been victimized by violence in the media, witnessed violence, sexual harassment on the street, or someone they know experiencing violence.

IMPACT prepares people for reality. And one of the greatest concepts I have learned at IMPACT is clarifying the concept of blame. Every time someone makes a choice to assault, push boundaries, harass or become violent, they are responsible for their choice. Because of the practical, hands on, full contact drills, IMPACT also clarifies what wrong looks like in real life, emotionally charged scenarios which assists in quick and efficient decision making for self-defense and de-escalation.

Clarifying right and wrong in-worse-case-scenario physical and verbal simulations frees women to take a stand for right in our society.

IMPACT does not change women from who they are. IMPACT is merely a space where women can discover what is already true and inside of them.

Sarah Grove, 2007 IMPACT graduate

Monday, November 21, 2011

I Chose to Trust Myself

I grew up in an abusive household. My dad suffered brain damage when I was in second grade-- a shell-shocked man from work thought he was a communist, and severely beat him into a bipolar psychotic state. Anything small thing could set him off to conduct hours of unusual and brutal physical and mental torture, but I never became angry with him because I felt bad for him.

I used to think that coming to terms with this situation meant forgiving and forgetting, neglecting the importance of identifying the abusive patterns in other parts of my life. I have many stories in the past where relationships have become explosive, and where I've complied to do and say things that made me feel uncomfortable. This happened just two days ago.

I was visiting my male friend of eight years, who moved to Chicago. After a night of clubbing with his friends, we went back to his apartment to crash, in separate rooms, as planned, as we always do. It was that night that he decided to express emotions for me-- I was very sober, but he was drunk at the time. Yet even while sober he is still proclaiming his feelings just as aggressively and intrusively as that night. He kept pulling me, and grabbing me and telling me to shut up when I tried to speak. Being so close (with nothing like this even close to happening in the eight years we knew each other) and with him knowing my past relationships with men, I told myself that he was a friend, and that even if I felt uncomfortable, by definition he was a friend who cared and will never want to hurt me.

Want. Even if no one wants to hurt you, that is no excuse. For a few minutes I sat there frozen, battling the confusing situation in my head, wondering why I was feeling so panicked. I knew I shouldn't say anything because I was inclined to do or say anything to make him stop-- in my father's case, it was admitting to an action I never did, and accepting hours of being beaten with a metal pipe or crammed into a heated oven. I understand that victims will often comply tothe most demeaning requests if only to experience the endpoint, which would be an apology and smiles.

Finally, I shook myself out of my upset state and took control. My words were mechanical, cold and matter-of-fact, but I felt that my instincts had kicked in and pulled together a script that I just had to read. "You know I took that self-defense class. When I'm in a situation of discomfort I'm now ready to react forcefully, and that sometimes means using physical force if necessary. You are making me uncomfortable and I will make you stop."

He backed off a little bit but continued to tell me to shut up and that I didn't know anything. He tried to be self-deprecating and self-pitying about the situation, an action I identified as manipulation --trying to get me to sympathize instead of being angry. I knew I had to leave but he kept saying these things and for a moment I felt that pity again. But once again, I found my voice, stood up firmly, stared straight into his face and said, "NO. I WANT TO GO. NOW."

I didn't get visibly upset until I left. I went home to my other friends who let me cry and vent. This person wants to see me again before I leave back for Pennsylvania but inside of me my initial reaction is no. I need time away from him, and just because we live 700 miles away from each other doesn't mean I have to put myself in yet another uncomfortable situation to make him feel better.

Before I took Prepare (IMPACT in New York City), I had felt this immense sense of panic in similar situations, and as I said, complied to whatever the demands were in that situation, physical to emotional. But that night I realized that the panic I've been feeling my whole life was a natural signal of danger. It was my body and mind telling me to fight, to get somewhere safe, and this time I actually stood up to someone who I trusted with all of my heart, and instead chose to trust myself.

Thank you for helping me get to this point. Please continue helping men, women, and especially children fight for the freedom and safety we all deserve.

Graduate of Prepare (IMPACT in New York City)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Strong. Resilient. Spirited. United

Book review of Erin Weed’s Girls Fight Back!
The College Girl's Guide to Protecting Herself

 It's that time in the school year where the excitement from moving in and figuring out where your classes are is winding down and the threat of finals hasn't solidified quite yet. Homecoming has just passed or is coming up and maybe the fraternities and sororities on campus are planning huge blow outs to celebrate the latest home team victory. In short: it's a social whirlwind!

Enter Erin Weed, author of Girls Fight Back: The College Girl's Guide to Protecting Herself. After her sorority sister, Shannon, was murdered, Erin studied with experts in campus security, personal safety, violence prevention and self-defense. During this extensive research and training, she formed a movement called Girls Fight Back. Not only is this an organization which teaches women self-defense, but the author calls it a “conscious choice to reclaim our security in the world.” She says that this is the book that she wished she and Shannon had in college.

At first glance Girls Fight Back starts out like any other “how-to” book; here is the background information and how to use it. However, as soon as you dive into the first chapter, you realize that you're reading something you're never going to forget. The book reaffirms that being a college-aged woman is supposed to be exciting and the experience full of “outrageous adventure.” We have the right to enjoy our independence and be safe while doing so. Then she takes the next 100 pages to outline exactly how to prepare yourself the best way you can. How do you trust your intuition? Who are the bad guys? (Surprising to most young women: he's 4 times more likely to be someone you know.) What kind of roommate should you choose to live with? What if your boyfriend is too possessive? And included in it's own chapter: how do I keep myself safe on Spring Break?

Erin's take on what modern college-aged women need to know is refreshing, current and above all, practical. (There is an entire chapter on navigating the online world.) She knows that experiencing new things, people and situations is part of the college life. And yet, she explains how to do all of those things while discovering your adult identity in a safe way.

Girls Fight Back includes an entire chapter on getting to a self-defense class. Without mentioning IMPACT by name, the author heartily recommends a class that offers “scenario-based training against a guy in a padded suit.” Also, just like IMPACT, the author reiterates that while knowing self-defense doesn't offer any guarantees, knowing it at least gives you a fighting chance.

This book represents a frank and open discussion of intimate topics that a lot of young women haven't ever broached before. It removes the mystery around date rape as well as assuring young women that assertiveness is critical in being safe, even if it may portray you in a light that others find uncomfortable. Your comfort is paramount. This book should be distributed to all freshman women right alongside their class schedule and dorm assignment.

Erin Weed wants to know, “which girlfriend could you not live without?” Read this book, come to IMPACT, and pass it on.

Molly Norris, IMPACT Chicago workshop instructor and Core Program instructor-in-training

Monday, November 7, 2011

My voice was no longer a whisper; it was full of power I didn’t know I had

Olga Adamska (September 2011 graduate)

I left work early on Friday to make it to the first class of the three-day self-defense course at IMPACT. I didn’t know what to expect. Driving to the class, I felt curious but at the same time anxious and even nervous. Would I have to stand in front of a group and look silly trying to punch somebody? Would I look awkward repeating fighting routines I had no idea about? Am I even cut out for this? IMPACT was recommended to me, and not knowing too much about it I decided to give it a try. I felt it was an interesting way to spend a weekend and try something new. But I also hoped I would learn how to be more confident and assertive, and how to stand up for myself with more success.

The class started with introductions. Our instructor, Margaret, told the group of 11 women how she had gotten involved with IMPACT nearly 20 years ago. She said she divided her life into two parts, pre- and post- IMPACT. That made me somewhat skeptical; I thought it was a nice way to advertise the course, but a statement hard for me to process. I didn’t believe in such overnight ‘miracles’. Needless to say, when Margaret then proceeded to ‘showing off’ what I thought were her martial arts skills, fighting on a matt with a male instructor dressed in a heavily padded armor, I started looking for the nearest door. And she wasn’t only fighting, she was also yelling loudly, a pronounced ‘NO’ echoing in the gym. What had I gotten myself into?

Over the next two days, we learned several basic yet very effective self-defense moves, such as hitting the assailant with the heel of one’s palm, holding up hands defensively, dropping to the floor with legs in the best position to strike the attacker, and, yes, lots of yelling. First, we practiced the techniques on a mat, and then, each woman actually participated in fights with padded muggers (male instructors). I was apprehensive at first. I was able to repeat the moves as they were not difficult, but felt intimidated when I had to fight with the mugger and be very vocal. However, the atmosphere created during the course helped tremendously. Not only were the instructors very understanding and supportive, but so were the other women.

I found myself being drawn deeper and deeper into this journey. At some point, I forgot I was in a gym participating in simulated attacks where nothing bad was going to happen to me. The scenarios were very real, and so were the emotions that overcame me. First, it was shyness and intimidation. Then, fear, which eventually transformed into anger. Anger, that the 11 of us, women, found ourselves on the mat learning how to fight off attackers who want to harm us. The very sad reality of it hit me really hard. I also remembered times when in the past I had been put in uncomfortable situations, be it unkind words from a bully at school, a seemingly harmless yet stinging comment from a jealous coworker, and other everyday situations which made me feel uncomfortable. I never knew what to say or how to react in those moments. I felt helpless because I didn’t want to seem oversensitive or dramatic, so I just brushed it off. But suddenly, somewhere between Saturday and Sunday at IMPACT, an unknown strength emerged from within me. There, on the mat, I started fighting for myself like I had never before in my life. Through IMPACT, I realized I had every right to stand up for myself, and that being treated without respect should never be a norm for me, or anybody else. My voice was no longer a whisper; it was full of power I didn’t know I had.

After an amazing weekend of IMPACT training, I now know how to protect myself if attacked. I hope to never have to use the techniques I learned, but if I ever find myself in a dangerous situation, I will know what to do. The moves are acquired in a highly adrenalized state and stay in the muscle memory. I would like to think they are like lyrics to a song – sometimes we remember them only when the music comes on. From now on, it will be more natural for me to be more assertive in everyday interactions, and saying ‘NO’ shall always be one of my options. IMPACT challenges many beliefs about women so meticulously ingrained in our minds by the society. The image of women as physically weak, quiet, accommodating… After completing IMPACT, I know that all it takes is recognizing the strength we already have in ourselves, and finally seeing that we, women, have the power, both mental and physical, to always fight for ourselves.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Enlighten, Don't Frighten

Have you ever received one of those fear-based alarmist emails that periodically circulate? IMPACT Chicago recommends you delete it or before you forward it:

1. Check it out on
Snopes keeps track of myths about violence and other things. If they have found it to be false, just delete.

2. Even if it appears that the message is accurate, ask yourself if the message is based on fear and terror or on power, strength, nurturing, and support.

Fear and terror-based communications generate helplessness and powerlessness--at odds with the IMPACT Chicago mission. So even if you decide the alert has value don't just forward, but instead translate it into a message that encourages people's power and efficacy or frame it in a way that educates and enlightens rather than frightens.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Female Instructors Wear Many Hats

The public and the media often focus on the dedicated men who wear the IMPACT body armor that allows women to use their verbal and physical self-defense skills with full-power. Often the female instructor role is unnoticed. This makes some sense since students are frequently stunned by the male instructors' strong commitment to our mission – equal to that of the female staff members. Women's commitment is taken-for-granted. It is not a surprise. We expect them to "get it." We expect them to understand and empathize with our fears and firsthand experiences with sexual assault and other forms of violence. While understandable, the invisibility of the female instructor role occurs within a society that often places women’s work, no matter how crucial or important, secondary to men’s work. For this reason, it is important that we give due credit and recognition to our extraordinary female instructors: Margaret Vimont and Martha Thompson; our instructors-in-training: Molly Norris and Katie Skibbe, and our instructor emeritus: Dianne Costanzo.

An IMPACT female instructor wears many hats, each reflecting a complex set of skills. She (1) is the team-leader who plans, organizes and oversees every element of the course; (2) creates an emotional and physically safe class environment for the students, the suited instructors, and class assistants (3) demonstrates the role of the defender when attacked prior to students learning new techniques; (4) breaks down, demystifies, and teaches the techniques that women learn in IMPACT; (5) is a coach and support in every scenario for each women while also managing the safety of the student, suited instructor, the line, and herself; (6) takes the lead on addressing women’s emotional or trauma issues; (7) has knowledge of research on sexual assault, violence against women, and how gender affects sexual assault and self-defense; and (8) supports and inspires individual women and girls to embrace their own power and wisdom. As a class assistant for many years, many years back, I saw the female instructors wear all of these hats – frequently more than one at a time – with grace, expertise, and wisdom. Not just any person could do this work and do it so well! 

I know that many graduates share in my next sentiment: Hats off to these amazing, dedicated, and competent women. Your powerful presence is seen and appreciated. Thank you.

Lisa Amoroso, 1991 graduate of the Core Program
Secretary, IMPACT Chicago Board

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rob Babcock: I want to right the wrong

At the start of every class I enter, and often times when I talk about teaching women’s self-defense, I am asked, “Why do you do it?”  Sometimes the question is asked with genuine sincerity; often with curiosity; and occasionally with a smug, dismissive attitude that says ‘you’re just a fear-monger; women don’t really need that…”

Regardless of who asks or when in class I give the answer, it is often some version of this story…early on in life, I realized I was left of center in most political, social, and philosophical discussions.  And when it came to women’s issues, I kind of thought I got it.  I would hold the door open, put the toilet seat down, and send my mother flowers on Mother’s Day (never late either!).

But when I was in graduate school, a friend suggested I read Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth.  After reading this book, I had what can best be described as ‘a moment of clarity’ in my life.  I thought it was good enough for me to just not be a part of the problem of victimizing women.  It wasn’t.  I had to be a part of the solution.

I moved to Chicago shortly after that.  I worked on a college campus, and became the faculty/staff advisor for the feminist student group.  From that, I did some volunteer work for Rape Victim Advocates.  RVA is a group that trains women to be sexual assault responders to certain Chicago area hospitals – they send a 56-hour trained advocate to the emergency room to be with a rape survivor, and advocate for her/his needs.  One of the things I identified with most with RVA was they were on the ‘front lines’ so to speak of the anti-rape movement.

Being male, that was not an option.  So I did some outreach and education for them, going to several schools to educate on rape and rape issues.  I then got connected to IMPACT Chicago.  It was a perfect opportunity for me to blend my interest in the physical arts (I was a martial artist at the time) in my interest of reducing the number of rapes perpetrated.

Since joining IMPACT, I have had my reasons both reinforced and expanded…After I started working with IMPACT, I once had a co-worker who, at the end of a long day, was bemoaning the fact that she had to drive to far off mall to buy a certain gift for a bridal shower.  She was tired, and really not looking forward to the drive, but it had to be done that night since the party was in a day or two.  After finding out what store she had to go to, I suggested she go to the mall that was significantly closer to her work and home – only about 15 minutes away from either.  She appreciated the suggestion, but said she didn’t want to go there at night because she didn’t feel comfortable there.

I thought to myself how horrible this is…my co-worker has to significantly inconvenience herself because she doesn’t feel safe.  As a man, I very seldom have to make decisions about my safety when I decide to go places, but for her it was a regular, almost daily, occurrence.  This is terribly unfair – and I want to do what I can to right this wrong.  For far too long women have traded freedom for safety –it’s time for that to end.

So I do IMPACT for many reasons – and it continues to give me more than I give it.   

Thanks for reading my story.