Monday, March 30, 2015

I Trust Myself to Respond Appropriately to Low-Level Threats

I went to the bank today to exchange foreign currency. Not my regular credit union but near where I live and super culturally diverse. In line with me, and among tellers, there were folks who were Somali, Ethiopian, Latino, lots of different languages being spoken in one place. When I was up at the teller window I was in that hyper focused bubble like you get when dealing with money or engaged in personal conversation or something.

Out if nowhere, a guy taps me on the shoulder and hands me a small bottle of water. No context, just a bump and a small water bottle handed to me. Happened too fast to really have a chance to give consent. Kind of triggered a low level shock response, a bit freezey, then a low-level fight response that sometimes happens when you get bumped or cut off or something. Subtle, low level and I am able to just notice.

So, I watch this guy go down the rest of the line, interrupting people at the window to give them water, which is not an aggressive gesture, kind if care-takey in a way, but oddly out of context. Then, he headed back in my direction. All this took like 30 seconds.

I said, "Hey can I check in with you for a second? When you came by and handed me water, it was a bit if a surprise. At a bank window, it is usually a private thing so I was really surprised to have someone come up and tap me unexpectedly. Like, I wasn't at all expecting that to happen. I teach self-defense and it helps to notice when you do something in a way that might startle people. I worked at the Center for Victims of Torture as an interpreter for a long time and this could be unsettling for people with PTSD."

He says "Thank you. You teach self-defense? Cool. Can I like, take your classes.?" I say, "Well, I usually teach women and kids, but I would be glad to offer a workshop for your staff here about personal safety. He says "I have to go to a meeting" and asks this teller to give me his card. My teller says - "You teach self-defense? I think personal safety is important. Do you have a card."

So, I went to the bank to get some money and ended up getting much more. The fact that I was able to be honest in the moment (without being defended) may have actually gotten me a job and certainly made for an unexpectedly enjoyable time at the bank.

I wanted to share this because it is like after the first time I used self-defense when harassed after my first 6-week SD class 24 years ago. My body knew what to do. Now, my higher brain and my heart do, too. I can find the words to describe my experience in the moment to better respond to really low level threats and do so in a way that helps other people be more conscious of how what they do might affect others (without the charge that makes people feel like they have to be defended). I am trusting myself more and trusting that most people want to act in loving, intentional ways, especially when they have the tools and appropriate support.

Diane Long, founder of Minneapolis-based Kaleidoscope Healing Arts

Monday, March 23, 2015

Self-defense is NOT victim-blaming

Is Self-Defense Victim-Blaming?

Self-defense is not victim blaming. Empowerment-based self-defense classes explicitly attribute responsibility for assault to perpetrators, not victims. Just because a woman is capable of defending herself does not mean that she is responsible for doing so.

Although self-defense training is frequently lumped in with other kinds of risk reduction advice (e.g. staying out of public spaces, traveling with a buddy, wearing modest clothing, or avoiding alcohol), it differs in important ways. Staying home, relying on others for protection all constrain women’s lives. Self-defense training, in contrast, expands women’s range of action, empowering them to make their own choices about where they go and what they do.

Some people have worried that women who learn self-defense may blame themselves if they are later unable to prevent an attack. However, research has found that women with self-defense training who experience a subsequent assault blame themselves no more or even less than women without self-defense training. Moreover, women who are raped but physically resist are actually less likely than other women to blame themselves for their assault.

From Jocelyn A. Hollander, Ph.D. University of Oregon,Women’s Self-Defense Frequently Asked Questions.  September 15, 2014.

Further Resources

Bart, Pauline B.,and Patricia H. O’Brien. 1985. Stopping Rape: Successful Survival Strategies. Elmsford, NY: Pergamon.

Cermele,J.A. 2004.“TeachingResistance to Teach Resistance: The Use of Self--‐Defense in Teaching Undergraduates about GenderViolence.” Feminist Teacher 15(1):1–15.

Gidycz, Christine A et al. n.d. “Concurrent administration of sexual assault prevention and risk reduction programming: Outcomes for women.” Violence Against Women. In press.

Orchowski, Lindsay M., Christine A Gidycz, and Holly Raffle. 2008. “Evaluation of a Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Self--‐Defense Program: A Prospective Analysis of a Revised Protocol.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 32:204–218.

Rozee,Patricia D, and Mary P Koss. 2001.“Rape: A Century of Resistance.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 25(4):295–311.

Monday, March 16, 2015

IMPACT for Girls

In IMPACT, we often hear adult women say "I wish I had taken IMPACT when I was a girl." While we can't go back in time, girls do have a chance to take IMPACT now.

Girls benefit from taking IMPACT 
Jill says: “I’m more aware now and, although I still feel scared, I feel more in control. Taking IMPACT made me feel safer, in case someone decides to grab me…not just because I learned it (in my head), but because I actually got to practice and experience it”

Sarah says: I feel confident and IMPACT classes are always FUN!!!”

Parents benefit from their daughters taking IMPACT 
Lisa says: “I have always known that I have wanted my girls to learn to defend themselves.  I wasn't sure how I was going to teach them, as none of the self-defense workshops and classes I took as a young adult seemed sufficient enough for me to feel fully empowered and confident. IMPACT changed my life. Knowing my girls are equipped, not only with knowledge but with experience, to defend themselves helps me sleep a little better at night. I know violence against girls and women is an issue that must also be dealt with at a societal level, but it is also deeply personal.”

Lili says: “I couldn’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to take the IMPACT course. I counted the days until she turned 16. Before her 16th birthday, she was already signed up and she was excited to take it.

IMPACT Programs for Girls
The Core Program is for women and teens 16 years and older. It is IMPACT Chicago's most intensive program, allowing women and girls to gain the most self-defense training in the shortest amount of time (22 hours). Training progresses from verbal boundary-setting to responses to a physical assault, culminating in simulated attack scenarios where women and girls begin in both upright and prone positions. In these simulated attacks, defenders are coached by one instructor while another instructor wears heavily padded armor and portrays the role of an aggressor, allowing women and girls to deliver their strikes and kicks with full force, just as they would need to in an actual attack. By the end of the course, women and girls have used their skills to assess danger, set boundaries, and respond effectively to a variety of verbal and physical attacks.

IMPACT for Girls program is for girls12-15 years old. In this 8-hour program, participants learn how to handle situations that girls are most likely to face and then have an opportunity to practice in simulated scenarios. In IMPACT for Girls, young teens and pre-teens learn crucial skills for dealing with everyday life situations and potentially unsafe situations. 

For more information or to register

A sliding scale and payment plans are available for both these programs. To register or for more information, 312-971-7119, or

Monday, March 9, 2015

I fought some bullies today and I won

I had an interesting interaction with some GamerGate bullies today. They were trying to bully a game reporter I follow on Twitter and I called them out on it. At first, they turned their scorn and bile on me. But I continued talking to them. I asked them to explain, to justify their hostility. When they attacked me, I told them I wasn't interested in a fight, but I wanted to hear what they had to say, in their own words. I asked them to convince me of their righteousness, making it clear I disagreed from the onset. They talked of many things, but they stopped shouting, they stopped attacking, they stopped harassing. The violence stopped, for a moment out there. I showed them a modicum of compassion, and listened. We had a discussion, we did not agree, but there was civility, and in the end they were complimenting me. I fought some bullies today and I won, I feel very good about that.


Monday, March 2, 2015

She’s blonde, beautiful, and carries a GLOCK

“She’s my ideal woman—blonde, beautiful, and carries a GLOCK.” I almost sprayed my just-sipped iced tea over the table. I was at a meeting with a man who wanted self-defense courses in his community, especially for college women.

I was reminded of that moment when I read the recent New York Times article “A Bid for Guns on Campuses to Deter Rape.”[1] Lawmakers in ten states—Florida, Indiana, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming –have introduced bills to allow guns on a campus to stop sexual assault. Sponsor of the Nevada bill, Assemblywoman Michele Fiore said: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them.” (Schwartz 2015).

For the moment, let’s set aside the blonde, beautiful, young, and hot remarks and focus on the argument that arming women is the way to stop sexual assault on campus. Jennifer Carlson (2014) says that confusing self-defense with gun defense limits women’s options, implies that “women must choose armed self-protection or no self-protection at all.”[2]

Imagine how different the conversation might be if instead of a focus on guns, it was on empowerment-based self-defense. What if the NY Times headline was: “A Bid for Empowerment-Based Self-Defense on Campuses to Deter Rape.” Imagine if being blonde, beautiful, young, and hot were not criteria for social protection or social vilification. What if the priority in legislation and news coverage was on empowerment-based self-defense programs built upon the idea that regardless of age, gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, and social class people have the right to bodily integrity and the right to make decisions about how their own bodies are treated.

Martha Thompson, IMPACT Instructor, reprinted from

[1] Alan Schwartz. 2015. “A Bid for Guns on Campuses to Deter Rape.” The New York Times. February 18. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
[2] Jennifer D. Carlson. 2014. “From Gun Politics to Self-Defense Politics: A Feminist Critique of the Great Gun Debate.” Violence Against Women 20 (3): 369-377.