Monday, December 30, 2013

Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Sonya Chemaly (2013) offers her assessment of recent incidents and research on sexual assault on college campus in “5 ways sexual assault is really about entitlement.” The highlights:

1. Sexual assault occurs in setting where there is tolerance of discriminatory double standards.

2. Sexual assault is related to rates of other types of violence, for example, intimate partner violence and stalking.

3. White kids from higher-income families were more likely to sexually assault a peer than others.

4. Male athletes are about 3 % of the US college population, but commit 19% of sexual assaults and 37% of intimate partner violence.

5. Almost ¾ of parents with children under 18 have never discussed sexual assault or domestic violence with their children.

Chemaly, Sonya. 2013. “5 ways sexual assault is really about entitlement.” Salon. Retrieved October 24, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

I Put What I Learned into a Real Life Situation

I had to put what I learned from class into a real life situation. I went to New Hampshire to visit a friend from high school this past Saturday. It seemed like a great idea to get my mind off of family issues that are going on. However, that night he was all sort of messed up on drugs and alcohol and I was completely sober (I don't like to let my guard down in unknown places). Around 3 am I was sleeping and he woke me up, on top of me, essentially pinning me to the bed. He was holding my arms above my head and trying to make out with me. I first told him, "It's Sarah, what the hell are you doing?" Because I didn't know if he thought I was another girl that was expecting him. And he said, "I know, I've been thinking about this all day, why do you think I invited you." To which I responded, "that was not in the invitation, you know I have a boyfriend and don't do this." He then told me to be quiet and just do "it". He went to go under my sweatshirt and I literally screamed "get the f**k off." He still didn't listen so I continued to yell it. He went to cover my mouth right as his other roommates came in and freaked out on him, pulling him off. I was about four seconds away from kicking him though.

At first I was so incredibly upset with myself. I couldn't believe that this was happening again. I just thought I must have a sign over my head that reads, "take advantage of me." But after I thought about it and talked on the phone with my boyfriend and emailed my therapist at school they both said how proud I should be of myself for not just letting it happen. Because out of fear that's what I would have normally done. But I found my voice and thankfully my voice was loud and strong enough to get the attention of his roommates.

So once again I just wanted to voice to you how incredibly grateful I am for this class. Not just for the immense knowledge I've learned academically [ IMPACT was offered in conjunction with an academic course] but the strategies I have learned to use outside of class in the real world. I'm still utterly disgusted that so many of these people exist but I'm happy to know I can fight them off now. Had this had happened without me taking the class...I don't even want to think about the consequences. So just thank you so very much again.

Sarah, Graduate of Prepare New York City

Monday, December 16, 2013

How Do Suited Instructors Stay Fit?

Being a suited instructor in IMPACT, we quickly realize that once we are on the mat with a student during a scenario, there is a lot we cannot control. That being the case, one of the few things within our domain is physical fitness – which is an essential part of being an effective suited instructor – and we take it very seriously.

A few years ago, I joined a new gym. Part of the cost of joining was one free (mandatory?) session with a personal trainer. I was not really interested in hiring a trainer, but I figured I would go through the motions for the session. He asked me what one of my fitness goals was, and I answered, “I need to be able to run around in 40 pounds of body armor for six to nine hours and be able to have about 75 – 100 fights, each lasting anywhere from five to 45 seconds.” The trainer looked at me quizzically, paused, and said, “Uh…what exactly do you do?”

As much as I thought that was funny, I really couldn’t blame him. IMPACT is unique in a lot of ways. Since there is no manual on how to stay physically fit enough to do this work, we all kind of do our own thing.

I try to keep a general fitness baseline with both cardiovascular conditioning and weight training. I like to do a lot of cross-training – biking, elliptical, running, swimming, aqua aerobics, push-ups, crunches – because it involves using lots of different muscles. When suited instructors are on the mat, we never know when we are going to need to twist in one way, or take a kick in an awkward position, so our entire body must be prepared for taking strikes and moving quickly.

And now that most of our classes are packed into one weekend (for years, the core class was over two weekends), stamina is even more important. So in my fitness training, I alternate interval exercises on some days, like sprints or step-ups, (to mimic the fights on the mat) with longer periods of exercise (40 – 60 minutes) to prepare for the long days of teaching. And general weight training is always good for tone and injury prevention.

Who knows – maybe when I retire from IMPACT, I will work on a fitness video for suited instructors, so the poor personal trainers at our gyms won’t be so overwhelmed.

Rob Babcock, IMPACT Chicago Suited Instructor

Monday, December 9, 2013

Self-Defense Can Stop Violence for Ourselves and Others

As hard as it is to believe for those of us who know what high quality self-defense is about, self-defense for women remains controversial. In response to a statement from an anti-violence organization that “…if you are promoting changes to women’s behavior to ‘prevent’ rape, you’re really saying ‘make sure he rapes the other girl.’ Lisa Scheff (Bay Area) and Lia Nagase (Prepare Portland) remind us that self-defense can stop violence for ourselves and others.

Lisa Scheff of IMPACT Bay Area says: “While changing the way you dress has no bearing on whether you are sexually assaulted, self-defense skills can and do prevent rape. Teaching women to recognize their own boundaries and say ‘no’ when someone tries to cross them, and then teaching them the physical skills to back up their ‘no,’ does indeed teach women to change their behavior. So in the case of self-defense, changes in a woman’s behavior may prevent her from getting raped. Not to mention, there are a whole host of other positive benefits even if the changes are never used to prevent an attempted rape, from speaking up in the classroom and workplace to setting polite but firm boundaries with family members when they cross our boundaries.”

Lia Nagase of Prepare Portland says: “The more times someone hears ‘no,’ the more difficult it is to ‘get away’ with perpetrating an act. The same message applies to boundary-setting, especially interpersonal boundary-setting. If someone encounters a ‘no’ from their partners about pushing, say, a lower-on-the-spectrum sexual boundary: is there a chance that the pusher could keep searching until they find someone who won't set a boundary? Sure. But is there also a chance that healthier boundary systems start to become part of their lens? Yep. Also, there's the attempt and work toward establishing a cultural norm of empowerment, choice, strength, resistance.

Related blogs In October, we shared insights from IMPACT Directors about the lack of relationship between how women dress and sexual assault, in November, we addressed why self-defense is NOT about “raping the other girl.”

Monday, December 2, 2013

What About the Bully in My Head?

On the weekend of November 9th, I took the IMPACT core program even though I don’t live in much fear about being attacked by an assailant. I’ve been taking public transportation in Chicago for 20 years and apparently I carry myself in a way that does not invite harassment. Still, the nightmare scenarios live in the back of my head that I might come home to a stranger hiding in a closet or wake up to find an intruder in my bed.

The goal of IMPACT self-defense is to incapacitate your attacker so you have time to safely walk away and call 911. One of the most valuable lessons IMPACT taught me was that a big unarmed man against a small unarmed woman does not have the advantage. I learned that if I can get in a good strong kick to a guy’s groin, chances are the fight will be over. More than that, I got the opportunity to practice physically slamming my knee/hand/butt into another person so I could get these moves into my body memory. If a man grabs me from behind or I wake up to find him sitting on top of me, how do I position myself so my knee is in the right place to slam into his crotch? IMPACT has shown me how.

As the weekend went on my classmates described how much more powerful they felt, but I didn’t share the feeling. As I obediently learned the moves, I felt increasingly detached from the class. Why? I eventually realized it was because IMPACT wasn’t helping me with my fears. I wasn’t afraid of men. I was afraid of the bully that lived inside my head.

A highly sensitive child, I took all my mother’s and society’s criticisms to heart. As a result, a cruelly judgmental voice has dominated my mind for as long as I can remember. That was the attacker I helplessly battled every day and no amount of throwing around male instructors could touch it. On Sunday morning I broke down in tears, telling the group how angry and scared I was that I couldn’t stop the asshole in my mind unless I took a knife to my brain. Our instructor was wonderfully responsive and everyone gave me as much time as I needed to express myself. I felt grateful that my strong emotions didn’t seem to make anyone uncomfortable. I felt heard.

As that final day went on, I began to feel less hopeless and more mentally present as we cheered each other through our “graduation” exercises. In the days that followed, I expected depression, since that’s the stress response I tend to have, but that bleak feeling didn’t return. Maybe going through the physical moves of fighting off an attacker resonated in my psyche. I don’t think IMPACT has made much difference in my physical safety, but it might have helped my inner feeling of safety. Maybe the body can teach the mind how to defend itself.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin
My blog: Chicana on the Edge

Monday, November 25, 2013

From the 1990 Archives: I Projected My Voice at the Moment I Needed It

I was leaving my job. I have always felt safe enough to park my car around the corner under the expressway. This day was like any other; at least I thought so as I walked to my car. I looked around and saw cars leaving their parking spaces from nearby factories. I didn’t think of much, but “Thank God it is time to go home.” I unlocked the passenger side door, placed my purse on the seat, locked the door, and then walked around to the driver’s side. A car drove by and a man got out and approached me. At first I thought he was lost. As he got closer I said “What do you want?” in an authoritative voice. He replied: “I want your purse.”

My adrenaline started pumping. I immediately centered my energy on the man and assessed the situation. As he started to reach for something in his jacket—God only knows what. I yelled louder: “Don’t give me no shit.” “I don’t need this.” “Get away from me.”

As I got louder, he looked around but before he could take out what was in his jacket, the driver of the car yelled, “Let’s go, Now!” I got in my car and locked the doors, watching the car drive away. I sat in the car a while, a bit shaken but fully aware that I had taken control of the situation. I made a police report as soon as I got home.

[Before taking the IMPACT Core Program], I never thought I could project at the moment it was needed. I was able to channel my fright into a fight response, and what’s even more exciting is that I feel empowered to freely pursue my life.


For more about the power of using our voice, check out the November 4 blog, “Verbal Boundaries are Tested Far More Than Physical Ones.”

Monday, November 18, 2013

What’s Sex Got to With Self-Defense? Yes is as Important as No

In “Emancipatory Sexuality Education and Sexual Assault Resistance: Does the Former Enhance the Latter?” Psychology of Women Quarterly, Charlene Senn, Stephanie Gee, and Jennifer Thake (2011) compared two programs, one a self-defense course and the other a self-defense course with an additional component of emancipatory sexuality education (exploration of women’s sexual values and desires). In follow-up, the researchers did not find any differences in women’s resistance to unwanted sexual advances, but found that women who had self-defense plus emancipatory sexuality education were more likely to report more assertiveness in initiating sexual activity.

On a Saturday afternoon in September, eleven self-defense instructors from around the country got together on a conference call sponsored by the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation Reading Group, organized and facilitated by Katy Mattingly, University of Michigan to discuss the above article. Instructors talked about many issues, including the language the researchers used, what is sex-positive self-defense education, the importance of self-defense for other anti-violence work, and the implications of the research for teaching self-defense. Instructors talked about the value of assertiveness being about “Yes” as well as about “No” and the need for self-defense instructors to expand the examples we provide of positive assertiveness.

Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago Instructor

Monday, November 11, 2013

Self-defense is About Creating Safety for All

A recent anti-violence promotion included the statement: “… if you're promoting changes to women’s behavior to ‘prevent’ rape, you’re really saying ‘make sure he rapes the other girl.’”

This chilling statement could be interpreted to mean self-defense training promotes a callous disregard for the safety of all women. Below IMPACT International Directors argue that self-defense is about creating safety for all women.

Richard Chipping of London Centre for Personal Safety said: “self-defense training is not at all about stopping one women being raped at the expense of another but about enabling women to prevent and stop sexual violence directed at themselves and others. Self-defense helps get offenders stopped and convicted which prevents an even greater number crimes and victims, it is a very powerful pro-social tool.”

Alena Schaim of IMPACT Personal Safety New Mexico says: “I completely agree that we're talking about personal safety & social justice. Ignoring someone calling me an offensive name, for example, is a strategy that many people are encouraged to use by their parents and teachers. However, while ignoring it keeps you temporarily safe (presumably), it may not change the larger culture. We do not always feel up to changing society at large or feel safe to do so, but it is important to acknowledge that these are two different points and which I'm choosing at what time.”

Lisa Scheff of IMPACT Bay Area says "’make sure he rapes the other girl’ is disconnected from reality or fact. To my knowledge no one ever, anywhere, certainly not in the self-defense community, has said ‘I hope someone else gets raped instead.’ That statement seems to come from a deep antipathy not for a culture of victim blaming but specifically for teaching women self-defense.

IMPACT Chicago will run two additional blogs highlighting key points made by IMPACT International Directors about self-defense: self-defense can stop violence for ourselves and others (December) and addressing our own language (January 2014). For an earlier blog quoting IMPACT International directors, see “If She Hadn’t Worn That: Saying No to Blaming Women for Rape,” see, October 21, 2013.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Verbal Boundaries are Tested Far More Than Physical Ones

IMPACT Chicago instructor Rob Babcock reflects on the importance of developing verbal boundary setting skills for safety and the importance of their practice in the IMPACT Chicago Core Program. Enhance your boundary setting skills in the November8, 9, & 10 Core Program at the Knapp Center, 3145 W. Pratt Blvd, Chicago IL. or

Out of context, boundary setting can sound like a mundane task for two low level bureaucrats to figure out exactly where a town line begins and ends. But in the IMPACT Chicago Core Program, it is an invaluable part of our curriculum. So many women in our society are not socialized to set clear boundaries; we often hear from students that it is easier to hit someone than to set a verbal boundary with an aggressor.

But here is a kicker (no pun intended): verbal boundary setting skills will get tested far more than any physical skills. Systematically robbing women and girls of their voice is often a first step for a predator to establish control. I think one of the primary reasons for this is that male predators are often portrayed as invincible so that they are able to get away with intimidating and controlling a woman through the use of their voice or other non-violent actions (e.g. refusing to cooperate, blocking an entrance/exit).

When women have the opportunity to learn and practice effective boundary setting with an aggressor, for instance, ”No, I am going out tonight with my friends,” or “Go away and leave me alone,” or “I am going to take the job that works best for me,” he is often rendered powerless. Not only they, but the women they intimidate realize that these aggressors get away with their control because they are propped up by unrealistic images of men and masculinity.

One of the best parts of boundary setting? When it is done publically, and people notice. When others see a woman effectively setting clear boundaries, they are that much stronger and emboldened to stand up for themselves.

Rob Babcock, IMPACT Chicago Instructor

For an example of verbal boundary setting, look for the November 25 blog, titled: “I Projected My Voice the Moment I Needed it"

Monday, October 28, 2013

I learned to use my voice!

Shireen Gul describes how attending an IMPACT workshop increased her knowledge and confidence.  To see the full article originally published September 21 in Tech News, the student newspaper at Illinois Institute of Technology, click here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"If She Hadn't Worn That": Saying NO to Blaming Women for Rape

Slutwalk protests started in Toronto in 2011 in response to a Canadian police officer saying that women could avoid rape if they didn’t dress like sluts. Chicago (most recently September 2013) and other major cities have also held rallies and marches since 2011 protesting the idea that women are responsible for sexual assault because of how they dress or behave. 

Like Slutwalk, IMPACT Chicago is working to create a world where women are not told they are responsible for violence they experience because of how they dress or behave. In addition to believing women should dress as they want, we also want to shout from the rooftops that women learning and using physical and verbal self-defense skills is a powerful approach to creating social change and increasing safety for all women.

IMPACT International Directors recently reflected on the mission of Slutwalk and how it connects to our work. One theme Directors addressed was the lack of relationship between ways women dress and sexual assault. In this blog, Lisa Scheff, IMPACT Bay Area; Jill Shames, IMPACT Israel; Richard Chipping, London Centre for Personal Safety; and Heidi Hornbacher, IMPACT Personal Safety-Southern California offer their views on the lack of relationship of dress to sexual assault.

Lisa Scheff of IMPACT Bay Area says: “Slutwalk was born out of an egregious statement of victim blaming, ‘Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.’ One of the (many) problems with that statement is that how a woman dresses does not cause or prevent rape. Period. It is important for people to avoid confusing teaching women how to avoid rape and teaching people not to rape. There has been a tendency for people to start from the premise that you shouldn't teach women to dress differently and then generalize it to ‘you shouldn't teach women to change their behavior to prevent rape’ which gets interpreted as you shouldn't teach women to defend themselves."

Jill Shames of IMPACT Israel notes that “researchers have found no significant correlation between how women dress and their likelihood to be assaulted. The factors that actually contribute to vulnerability have much more to do with how a woman moves (i.e. lack of confidence, attentiveness, physical coordination and purpose) and not with what she chooses to wear. In Saudi Arabia, women are covered from head to toe and have severe sexual assault problems.”

Richard Chipping of London Centre for Personal Safety adds: “We need to focus on the perpetrators’ calculations.…babies in nappies and nuns in habits have suffered sexual violence. This violence hasn't happened because of their behaviour or dress-sense. There was a 90's study in the City of London that mapped hemlines onto the economic cycle, but found to researchers surprise that there was a slight increase in sexual violence during recessions when hemlines were descending.”

Heidi Hornbacher of IMPACT Personal Safety-Southern California notes: “We want to be absolutely clear that nothing in a woman's behavior or dress promotes or incites rape; the cause of rape is rapists, however, all of us can develop better skills for recognizing people (strangers or familiars) who are likely to rape and getting out of dangerous situations. We are not at fault, but we can develop skills that make us ‘hard targets.’ ”

Over the next three months, IMPACT Chicago will run additional blogs highlighting key points made by IMPACT International Directors: self-defense is about safety for all (November), self-defense can stop violence for ourselves and others (December), and addressing our own language (January 2014).

IMPACT Chicago promoted Slutwalk 2013 on our Facebook page  with the following post: “Slutwalk 2013 Chicago-because we need to change victim-blaming culture by working at multiple levels, from women knowing how to prevent, stop, report, intervene, and prosecute rapists to creating communities committed to stopping rape and rapists so that all women and girls are safe.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

IMPACT Chicago Instructors Make An IMPACT

IMPACT Chicago instructors are part of a larger community of IMPACT instructors and self-defense instructors who teach empowerment self-defense outside of IMPACT. The past few months, IMPACT Chicago instructors have been part of national forums where we have exchanged self-defense resources, skills, and knowledge.

2013 National Organization for Women Conference

IMPACT Chicago Instructor Martha Thompson was a panelist in the Violence Against Women track of the 2013 National Organization for Women Conference in Chicago. For more about that, see the IMPACT Chicago blog “Addressing Mis-Perceptions About Self-Defense and Feminism".

2013 National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF) Self-Defense Instructors Conference and Martial Arts Camp (photo)

IMPACT Chicago instructors Margaret Vimont and Martha Thompson were trainers for the NWMAF Self-Defense Instructors Conference and Martial Arts Camp. Rob Babcock, Bruce Brio, and Ben Ruiz joined Margaret and Martha along with DC IMPACT Instructor and Director Carol Middleton to offer Introduction to IMPACT to camp participants. Class Assistants who were also attending the camp were Deb Mier (Chicago), Patti Fievoli (Ontario), and Katy Mattingly (Michigan).

IMPACT Chicago Instructors Katie Skibbe and Martha Thompson attended the the NWMAF Self-Defense Instructors Conference, learning from other self-defense instructors such as: Shura Gat, Energy Awareness and Self-Defense; Joy Williamson, Teaching Self-Defense to Blind and Visually Impaired People; Carmel Drewes, Understanding and Explaining Trauma to Self-Defense Participants; Kate Webster and Susan Barney, Five Fingers of Self-Defense.

Margaret Vimont offered a session: “From The Beginning Into The Do: Teaching To The Adult Student.”

Martha Thompson was on two panels:
“Does Self-Defense Really Work? Experience, Evidence, and Research” with Darlene DeFour (Hunter College), Jennifer Keller(Stanford), Silke Schultz (MA thesis on self-defense), Lee Sinclair (No Means No Worldwide).

“Working with Men and Boys” with Nancy Lanoue (Thousand Waves), Clara Porter (Prevention, Action, Change), Lee Sinclair (No Means No Worldwide).

National Women’s Martial Arts Federation Self-Defense Instructors Research Reading Club
Martha Thompson joined 10 other self-defense instructors on a 1 hour conference call to discuss the article "Emancipatory Sexuality Education and Sexual Assault Resistance: Does the Former Enhance the Latter?" (2011, Senn, Gee, Thake, Windsor, Ontario).

Monday, October 7, 2013

It's Not a Life Sentence, Henry Rollins

by M. Sophia Newman

Boy meets girl, boy rapes girl, girl has a fabulous life anyway. I won.

Oh, for the love of God.

There have been a million different stories about the Steubenville rape case by now. The facts are well-established. (If you’ve missed them, here they are in review: a group of American high school students at a party hauled an unconscious classmate from place to place, raped her, urinated on her, and filmed themselves laughing at these violations. One boy posted a video about the incident on Youtube, where it went viral. The outcry prompted an investigation, which ended this week with the conviction of two boys, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. Both will spend a year or more in prison.)

The whole thing has been commented to death by now. Yesterday’s controversy revolved around CNN’s overly sympathetic treatment of the rapists. Countless blog posts and Gawker articles and who knows what all have been written.

Many comment on the leniency of the prison sentences. Famous punk rocker of yesteryear Henry Rollins wrote a blog post that noted this specific injustice at length. Then he added, “I have yet to say anything about the damage to the young woman involved. It is ironic and sad that the person who is going to do a life sentence is her.”

Like many people, I sympathize with the rape victim. And my sympathy makes this comment essential: Rollins' statement is disturbing and false.

Actually, I might sympathize more closely with the rape victim than many people, having lived through violence myself.

Someone raped me when I was 21. Being violated caused me tremendous, heart-shattering fear, like it does for many victims. I wondered how I could possibly live with the knowledge of my rapist’s stark, hideous disdain for me. When I told friends I trusted – asking only that the guy, who we all knew, get some counseling – they stunned me by sending an email to dozens of members of our shared social network, insisting I had lied and I was “ruining [the rapist’s] life.” The disrespect and victim-blaming were roughly similar to some aspects of the events in Steubenville.

Years later, I would read health research that established what I learned firsthand: it is not the rape itself that causes long-lasting trauma, but the victim-blaming that comes afterwards. Being raped was an encounter with something deeply sinister. But being deliberately bullied and denied help precisely because I had encountered this sinister destruction was a uniquely evil act. It implied a downward spiral of victimization awaited me. With deeply ugly memories of rape still ringing in my head, the terror of being treated as even more subhuman made me wish for death.

But I did not die.

Instead, I went to work.

“I want to congratulate you, Sophia,” my social worker told me some years later. “People who get treated like you got treated end up on heroin.”

I didn’t take heroin, nor any drugs at all (although I can see why victims wish to numb their pain). I didn’t have time for that. I was too busy with graduate school.

In my master’s program, I studied violence prevention closely. I also lived in a Zen temple, where I meditated fifteen hours a week. I took self-defense classes, and later helped teach them. I went to counseling sessions faithfully for a year. I worked, in other words, as hard as it was humanly possible to work to heal the brain injury that the rape had caused me. Through relentless effort, I rebuilt my life.

No justice ever came to my rapist. There was no court case, no conviction, no compensation. The people who slandered me publicly have never apologized or acknowledged their wrong-doing. I worked, but society mostly didn't work with me.

But I won anyway.

I had friends who supported me. I found a community of progressive martial artists and self-defense people. I developed a meditation practice I truly love. My brain damage healed while I earned my public health degree, and when I finished, they inducted me into the honor society. Then I won the Fulbright Fellowship – and when I went to the doctor to complete my medical clearance papers, he looked at my health history, said, “You don't have this problem anymore,” and archived those medical records.

I got well. I got my life back. I won completely.

Between the day I got raped and the moment I was officially well, eight years passed. That was much longer than it should have been. I wish I had been helped much earlier and not blamed for the crime my rapist committed.

But here’s the math, Henry Rollins: eight years is not a life sentence.

Actually, rape is not a life sentence for most victims. It is a particularly potent form of violence, and the intense stigma and victim-blaming are why its traumatic effects last so long.

But the reality is that most people who are traumatized are resilient. Most people get better, whether with professional help or the support of their communities. They get well, move on, and often have very good lives. I am living proof of this.

Insisting that the worst five hours of the Steubenville rape victim’s life will degrade all of her entire remaining fifty years is not friendly, and it is not factually accurate. It places additional stigma on the victim by assuming she is irrevocably damaged. It asks that she remain in the prison of rape trauma for far longer than is natural or necessary. It is an unjust imposition on this young woman.

I have faith that the victim in Steubenville will one day be fine. I applaud her for pursuing justice, and I hope this week’s verdicts bring her some relief. I hope she gets all the help she needs.

And for myself, I must insist: I served all the time that I have to serve in the prison of rape trauma and stigma. I worked to earn my liberation, even though I never did anything wrong in the first place. I deserve to be free now.

Really, I already am.

I plan to use my liberty to go back to mostly ignoring Henry Rollins.

UPDATE (March 21, 2013)

When I wrote this article yesterday, I retrieved Henry Rollins' email address from his website, and sent this link, saying, "I can tell from your words that you are sympathetic to the plight of rape survivors. I appreciate that. But I take exception to your remark that the victim in the Steubenville rape case is serving a 'life sentence.'"

Henry himself responded a few hours later. His response was exceedingly kind and respectful, and ended with the line, "Things get better when we stand up to this brutality."

Considering I was directly criticizing a guy who first got famous for his screaming vocals (as the lead singer for the seminal hardcore band Black Flag and a hard rock act called Rollins Band) and for generally being an angry guy, the classy response was rather unexpected and even a little sweet.

It feels so good, in fact, that he made the last sentence of my essay wrong. Since yesterday, I'm not ignoring Henry Rollins much at all. In fact, I've been on a huge Black Flag kick all day. Thanks, Henry. 

For more of M. Sophia Newman's writing, check out her blog

Monday, September 30, 2013

Our Senses Are Our First Line of Defense

Our senses are our primary means of connecting to our environment and our first line of defense when threatened. In the aftermath of trauma, the story of a survivor’s experience reveals itself as sensory fragments. By training ourselves and our students to cultivate the use of all the senses, we are better prepared to respond to danger and also more resilient.

When we talk about helping people “trust their instincts” we are talking about the development of sensory literacy and energy awareness, the ability to recognize and respond to subtle body cues essential for survival. Physiological responses happen immediately. They are pre-verbal. In self-defense, we want to be able to interrupt uncomfortable or dangerous situations early. By practicing tools to build energetic and sensory awareness, we can do this more quickly and more effectively. 

In the case of trauma, when we bring awareness to unconscious, non-verbal sensory cues and feeling states (images, sensations, emotions, etc.) and find language to describe them, we are helping the right and left hemispheres  come back on-line. We are helping people make meaning of previously un-integrated experiences. This makes it easier to manage difficult sensations and emotions and to take effective action. For this reason, when we do boundary exercises, it is important to ask people to notice the physical cues that indicate boundaries are being breached and then describe them - “How do you know when someone is standing too close, or moving too fast?” -  (i.e. - stomach clenching, body bracing, holding breath, changes in visual field, etc.). Becoming more conscious of body signals and learning to verbalize them helps to overcome some of the freeze response associated with trauma and strengthens the mind-body connection. Embodied awareness helps us make healthier choices in general because we can more easily recognize and move towards things that are life-affirming.
In “Why Cops Don’t Believe Rape Victims,” Rebecca Ruiz reports on recent studies in neurobiology and trauma to help us better understand the effects of traumas like sexual assault. The research highlights the fact that victim-survivors often have fragmented memories of sensory details, which often contributes to them being disbelieved. Victims have difficulty recalling important parts of traumatic experiences and providing a coherent, linear narrative precisely because they were victims of trauma, not because they are making things up.

Brain science can also help explain why somatic therapies – approaches that work with the senses – such as touch, taste, smell, and visceral reactions, can be more effective than cognitive therapies alone in helping people heal from trauma. With extreme stress, the pre-frontal cortex, particularly the speech and language centers, become impaired or shut down, while areas of the right side, which affect emotions and arousal, light up. When traumatic memories surface, rational thinking is essentially “hijacked” by the survival-oriented parts of the brain and nervous system, and is no longer as readily accessible. It becomes difficult to process information. If the two sides of the brain are not working together, the story will be chaotic and confused. A person may be flooded with sensations and emotions with no way to make sense of them. Or, the story may make logical sense but lack the emotional charge one would normally associate with painful events. 

The symptoms described are also true of torture survivors. Asylum officers receive some specialized training in how to recognize symptoms of trauma and PTSD which might include fragmented memories, flat affect, and dissociative states. Well-trained officers are likely to elicit sensory memories to help substantiate a victim’s story. Police officers need to have this kind of training as well. 

Diane Long has been teaching sex-positive self-defense for schools, shelters and social service agencies for over 20 years. A Somatic Experiencing™ Practitioner and Nationally Certified Massage Therapist (NCBTMB), she has worked as a French interpreter at The Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis for 10 years. Diane currently serves on the Self-Defense Leadership Committee of the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF).

Monday, September 23, 2013

IMPACT Chicago Board Member Katie Kramer in Carlisle Kentucky News

A Carlisle Kentucky newspaper featured IMPACT graduate and IMPACT Chicago Board member Katie Kramer in a recent article “Carlisle Native Aids in Ending Violence Against Women.”The article appears below.

Two of five women have experienced at least one type of abuse or violence in their lifetime according to The Commonwealth Fund 1998 Survey of Women's Health. A self-defense organization known as IMPACT Chicago is working to end this violence and Carlisle County native, Katie Kelley Kramer, is part of the effort.

Kramer, who moved to Chicago with her husband after college, decided to take her first self-defense course with IMPACT Chicago three years ago. The organization teaches boundary setting and self-defense to women and focuses on the natural areas of strengths in a woman’s body. A lead female instructor facilitates the classes and one or more suited male instructors accompany her. The fact that the males are suited, enables the women in the class to learn by using full force hits and kicks. The style of teaching allows women to learn by watching instructor examples, drilling the learned moves, and acting out scenarios, which is key to muscle memory.

After completing the core course, Kramer completed two advances classes, one that focuses on defense against an armed assailant and the other, which teaches defense against multiple assailants. Kramer continued to be amazed at the work of this organization and the freedom and confidence that exuded from the women who graduated each class. Since the first class in 2010, Kramer has volunteered as an assistant in classes, helped to plan the 25th anniversary celebration, and served on the hiring committee for new leadership.

In December, Kramer was welcomed as a new IMPACT board member and is looking forward to helping the organization live out the mission of “ending violence and building a non-violent world in which all people can live safely and with dignity.”

For more information about self-defense and IMPACT Chicago visit: Information about other chapters, visit:

Katie Kelley Kramer is the daughter of Steve and Melanie Kelley of Bardwell and the granddaughter of Martha Wilson of Wickliffe.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Collaboration: The IMPACT International Annual Directors Meeting

The 2013 IMPACT International Directors meeting was hosted by IMPACT Personal Safety of Colorado with representatives from each chapter meeting via Skype and face-to-face.  IMPACT International is an affiliation of 10 chapters in the US and two abroad (England and Israel). Each chapter has its own organizational structure and programmatic focus, but chapters work together to share resources and ideas to enhance the quality of IMPACT self-defense training. For more about common characteristics of IMPACT chapters, see

IMPACT International engaged in two joint projects in 2013: developing a caregivers curriculum and participating in preparing a grant proposal. At the conference, each participating chapter presented a module that could be used as part of an IMPACT International caregivers curriculum.  The modules included the influence of socialization on safety; distinguishing intuition, paranoia, and prejudice; and principles of and practice with teaching children about boundaries, respecting children’s boundaries, responding when children set boundaries and/or tell of a boundary violation, and having challenging conversations with other adults. Videos and outlines of each module will be discussed by each chapter and feedback will contribute to the development of an IMPACT International caregivers curriculum.

IMPACT International directors also worked this year with Rachel Lucas-Thompson, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University, to develop a research proposal for national funding. Rachel attended the Directors meeting to talk about her research on cortisol, the current climate for research funding, and ideas for research. Ellen Melko Moore, visionary brand business consultant, was another special guest who led Directors in an exercise to help refine our mission and vision statements, define who we are serving, and identify our unique value.

Directors also addressed working with domestic violence and sexual assault service providers, networking with other national organizations, and identifying the multitude of ways that chapters benefit from and contribute to the work of other chapters. 

Martha Thompson

IMPACT Chicago Representative to the IMPACT International Directors Meeting