Monday, June 30, 2014

See Jane Fight Back

Self-Defense scholars Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey have created See Jane Fight Back, a website covering research on women’s self-defense.

Located at, See Jane Fight Back includes:

· the latest research on women’s self-defense

· critiques and reflections on ways that research about self-defense is ignored and reasons why

· self-defense advice

Recent postings include:

· An Open Letter to Girls’ Life Magazine about their advice to girls to say NO, but not offering any backup (Martha McCaughey)

· An Open Letter to Vice-President Biden and the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault (Jill Cermele)

· Self-defense training should be part of a college’s sexual assault prevention and education programs (Martha McCaughey)

· Falling Short: The White House Task For to Protect Students from Sexual Assault (IMPACT Chicago Martha Thompson)

Jill Cermele, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Drew University in New Jersey. The focus of her research is on women’s resistance to violence and the construction of gender. Along with McCaughey, Cermele edited the Violence Against Women special issue on self-defense. Two self-defense articles by Cermele are “Telling Our Stories: The Importance of Women’s Narratives of Resistance” published in Violence Against Women (2010) and “Teaching Resistance to Teach Resistance: The Use of Self-Defense in Teaching About Gender Violence” in Feminist Teacher (2004). Cermele has worked with Prepare Inc. to bring IMPACT self-defense training to faculty, staff, and alumnae at Drew.

Martha MCaughey, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Appalchian State University , one of the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina. McCaughey’s academic focus is on the intersections of gender, sexuality, science, technology, social movements, and the media. McCaughey is the author of two books related to violence and self-defense. She edited with Neal King Reel Knockouts: Violent Women in the Movies (2001) and Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women’s Self-Defense (1997).

Monday, June 23, 2014

Self-Defense Training Prevents Sexual Violence Against Women

Jocelyn Hollander's recent study into whether self-defense training prevents violence against women is a cogent report further supporting the case in favor of such programs. The main goal of Hollander's study was to explore a possible relationship between women who complete an empowerment-based self-defense class and their subsequent victimization. While her research was limited in its design in that she could not use a completely random sample (she studied women enrolled in college classes), the results of her work are compelling, to say the least.

Hollander's main result was that women enrolled in a 30-hour self-defense class reported significantly fewer sexual assaults during the year after completion of the class than other women at the same university. This result was robust even when pre-existing differences between the groups were controlled for. As Hollander explored the results she obtained, she noted that not only was the overall quantity of reported sexual assaults reduced, but the severity was reduced as well. Secondary results also showed that the self-defense training increased women's confidence as well as their belief that they could defend themselves if necessary.

For those of us who have had the experience of participating in one of these self-defense courses, we can anecdotally report the increases in confidence and self-efficacy. Hollander's results continue to add to the evidence-based background for the success of programs like IMPACT Chicago. More conclusive evidence means that we are closer to the wider acceptance of empowerment-based self-defense training as a primary prevention strategy. Hollander recognizes the enormity of these implications:

"Sexual assault is a widespread problem with far-reaching effects for both individuals and communities. Virtually every other prevention strategy has proved ineffective at reducing sexual victimization. If self-defense training reduces women's subsequent risk of sexual assault, it would provide an effective and fairly simple way to reduce women's vulnerability to violence."

Empowerment-based self-defense techniques are simple, effective and at the same time, revolutionary. These classes teach that women are physically capable of defending themselves, which is something the majority of the world believes to be impossible. This work by Hollander moves groups like IMPACT Chicago one step closer to being taken seriously as a viable primary prevention measure for sexual assault. Graduates know that it works and while we believe this should be enough to convince people to offer classes like these on every college campus, once the evidence has been collected, it will be even harder to refute.

Molly Norris, IMPACT Chicago Instructor and IMPACT Chicago Recruitment Team Leader

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Dream: Self-Defense Scholars and Instructors Working Together

I believe passionately that self-defense programs based on an empowerment model have the potential to save lives and prevent suffering; in the long-term I think empowerment-based self-defense training has the power to significantly and positively improve our society, making the term “rape culture” antiquated and meaningless.  

We have seen pushback recently in the violence prevention community about self-defense as an empowering and practical tool for preventing violence.  This is not new; it is just  more noticeable with so much communication through social media.  Many women are not yet convinced that self-defense is useful for them.  Unfortunately, some even think self-defense training is dangerous and blames women for violence.  Part of that is ideological, and we will not change everyone’s minds.  But part of it is ignorance of what empowerment-based self-defense training is.  

Today, anyone can say “I’m a self-defense instructor” because there is no universally-agreed upon standard of practice.  The National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF) is working to change that. The self-defense instruction we have developed over the past 30+ years is a combination of fighting skills anchored in the martial arts and what are essentially cognitive-behavioral techniques.  This is part of its power; it harnesses both the body and the mind (or, if you are a neurobiology nerd like me, the amygdala and the neocortex) to enhance our safety.  It also interrogates social norms and helps us recognize and interrupt social scripts that harm people.

For over 30 years, NWMAF has been working to reduce violence against women and other vulnerable groups by developing a self-defense pedagogy that is explicitly strengths-based and grounded in an understanding of violence within a larger cultural context. It is a model with both empirical support and clinical wisdom behind it. To receive the NWMAF stamp of approval, self-defense instructors must demonstrate how they put self-defense into a social context and address a continuum of violence, how they expand people’s tools while keeping the responsibility for violence on the perpetrator, and how they offer a comprehensive toolbox of safety strategies, including awareness, avoidance, prevention, and verbal and physical self-defense tools.

My goal is to bring together self-defense scholars, social service practitioners, and self-defense instructors to work together to end rape culture. This is an invitation to become part of the National Women's Martial Arts Federation (you do not have to be a martial artist to belong) and to attend our national conference. This year's conference features women doing rape prevention work in Kenya, members of Cure Violence (nee CeaseFire) in Chicago, representatives from the Center for Anti-Violence Education in Brooklyn (recipients of a Robert Woods Johnson grant for their work with homeless LGBT yourth), and much more. Additionally social workers can receive CEUs through a partnership of NASW Ohio and NWMAF.

Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Gender Studies, IMPACT and NWMAF certified self-defense instructor, and author of "Empowering Self-Defense Training in the 2014 Violence Against Women Special Issue: Self-Defense Martha Thompson says: "I've been attending the NWMAF annual training since 1991 and the Self-Defense Instruction Conference since its inception in the early 2000s. The opportunity to connect with others who are committed to an evidence-based and empowerment approach to teaching self-defense has enhanced not only my self-defense teaching but my scholarship. I always look forward to attending this conference because I leave with so many ideas, resources, and connections." 

The full conference is Wednesday July 16-Sunday July 20 and takes place on campus at North Central College in Naperville Illinois (just outside of Chicago). There are three attendance options:
--the full program starts Wednesday morning and concludes Sunday at noon. It includes martial arts session. You can find the full schedule at 
--The day-and-a-half program starts on Wednesday morning and concludes mid-day Thursday. The early program focuses exclusively on violence prevention. The early program schedule is at 
--a one-day oprtion on Saturday which includes 3 sessions. See the Saturday Schedule at Even if this year is not a possibility for you to attend, please check out the National Women's Martial Arts Federation ( and help us combine our resources and passion to create a world where all people can live safely and with dignity.

Amy Jones, Co-coordinator of PeaceWorks, 2014 NWMAF Annual Conference 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sexual Violence is NOT Normal

Recent research by Sociologist Heather Hlavka (see press release below) reveals that a major reason that girls do not report sexual violence is because they believe it is “normal.” IMPACT Chicago is dedicated to creating a culture whereby:
  • People believe that sexual activity requires consent.
  • People understand that sexual violence encompasses a wide range of behaviors from leering and groping to forcible intercourse.
  • Authorities are advocates for those who experience sexual violence and people know it.
  • A person who experiences sexual assault receives support and compassion.
Hlavka’s research offers insights into how young people think about sexual violence and a call for all of us to take a stand against normalizing sexual violence.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Sociologists for Women in Society

CONTACT: Andreea Nica, Media Specialist, Sociologists for Women in Society
Phone: +1971-256-1547

Girls View Sexual Violence as Normal

(April 2014) – New evidence from the journal Gender & Society helps explain what women’s advocates have argued for years – that women report abuse at much lower rates than it actually occurs. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 44% of victims are under the age of 18, and 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to police.

The study, “Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse,” will appear in the June 2014 issue of Gender & Society, a top-ranked journal in Gender Studies and Sociology. The findings reveal that girls and young women rarely reported incidents of abuse because they regarded sexual violence against them as normal.

Sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University analyzed forensic interviews conducted by Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) with 100 youths between the ages of three and 17 who may have been sexually assaulted. Hlavka found that the young women experienced forms of sexual violence in their everyday lives including: objectification, sexual harassment, and abuse. Often times they rationalized these incidents as normal.

During one interview, referring to boys at school, a 13 year-old girl states:

“They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean… I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.”

The researcher’s analysis led her to identify several reasons why young women do not report sexual violence.

● Girls believe the myth that men can’t help it. The girls interviewed described men as unable to control their sexual desires, often framing men as the sexual aggressors and women as the gatekeepers of sexual activity. They perceived everyday harassment and abuse as normal male behavior, and as something to endure, ignore, or maneuver around.

● Many of the girls said that they didn’t report the incident because they didn’t want to make a “big deal” of their experiences. They doubted if anything outside of forcible heterosexual intercourse counted as an offense or rape.

● Lack of reporting may be linked to trust in authority figures. According to Hlavka, the girls seem to have internalized their position in a male-dominated, sexual context and likely assumed authority figures would also view them as “bad girls” who prompted the assault.

● Hlavka found that girls don’t support other girls when they report sexual violence. The young women expressed fear that they would be labeled as a “whore” or “slut,” or accused of exaggeration or lying by both authority figures and their peers, decreasing their likelihood of reporting sexual abuse.

The young women in the study provided insight into how some youth perceived their experiences of sexual violence and harassment during sexual encounters with men. In particular, the study pointed to how the law and popular media may lead to girls’ interpreting their abuse as normal. According to the author, policymakers, educators, and lawmakers need to address how sexual violence is actually experienced by youth beginning at very young ages in order to increase reporting practices, and to protect children from the everyday violence and harassment all too common in their lives.


Source: Hlavka, Heather. 2014. “Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse” forthcoming in June Gender & Society.
Contact: Heather Hlavka, Sociologist and Assistant Professor, Marquette University, reach her

Monday, June 2, 2014

Girls Rock!

By Tara Brinkman, Operations Coordinator at IMPACT Chicago

As the weather is finally warm and summer approaches, in addition to my position with IMPACT Chicago, I am spending my time working for a second organization. I am entering my 6th summer as a volunteer staff member and camp organizer for Girls Rock! Chicago. Girls Rock! Chicago is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to fostering girls’ creative expression, positive self-esteem and community awareness through rock music. The organization has two week-long camps each
summer and serves approximately 160 campers every year. Girls Rock! is also currently working towards expanding to year-round programming, starting in Fall of 2014.

In one week's time, campers ages 8-16, form a band, learn to play their instrument, write an original song, and perform it with their band in a large music venue in Chicago for their family, friends and other Girls Rock! supporters. The week wraps up in a professional recording studio where the bands record their song and later receive a CD compilation of all of the recordings from their camp session. Throughout the week, these campers attend a variety of workshops in addition to their instrument lessons and band practices. Many themes for these workshops have to do with teaching camp participants to use their voices, and challenging gendered stereotypes of what a girl is or what she can be. Girls Rock! sees music education as the tool that we teach themes of empowerment, positive collaboration, and social justice through.

This year I am particularly excited to organize a collaboration between both of these organizations that I am so proud to be working with. Although IMPACT teaches self-defense and Girls Rock! teaches music, there are many overarching similarities in the messages and philosophies of both organizations. Both teach participants to use their voices and strive to empower women and girls. IMPACT instructors will be coming to 2014 rock camps to teach workshops on physical self-defense, using your voice and boundary setting. Together, we are looking forward to a great summer filled with empowered and creative young people.

For more information on Girls Rock! Chicago visit