Monday, April 2, 2018

How Can Empowerment Self-Defense Lift the Personal Burdens People Carry?

 As an IMPACT instructor I teach using Empowerment Self-Defense principles and see how this positively affects my students.  These principles influence how I plan classes, respond to student questions, and address prevalent myths and facts about interpersonal violence.

Infusing ESD Principles Into Teaching
ESD principles guide adaptation and customization of courses based on the participants enrolled. Adaptations take into account how various aspects of one’s identity affect: experiences of violence, choices about resistance or compliance, harm from rape culture, the aftermath of reporting, and obtaining justice. ESD principles apply to people of all ages and genders, with varying types of vulnerabilities and/or prior experiences of abuse/trauma/violence, those with learning differences, various physical disabilities and cognitive disabilities. Our ability to connect to our participants is enhanced by content relevance. ESD principles remind us to acknowledge the perspective and experiences of those who are not in the room - which may differ from those who are present.

  • Space for self-reflection and critical thinking
Class participants learn skills and tools such as threat assessment, verbal and physical resistance. Additionally ESD guided instruction intentionally invites our participants to consider how their gender, age, ability, appearance, race, religion, social class, and sexual orientation (among other identity factors) influence their beliefs and attitudes about violence and their options for resistance.

Participants examine their reflexive and internalized beliefs (and where they came from) regarding resistance and their own power to interrupt violence and boundary violations.  They learn what research points to in terms of which resistance strategies are effective most of the time and why.  Ultimately, in the hands-on component of class, they connect new knowledge and experience to their own lives. This is a significant contribution towards reducing the burden of worry, and fear of helplessness, that narrow people’s lives.

  • Space to let go of self-blame
Self-defense programs based on empowerment principles reflect on how rape culture influences who is blamed, who is believed and supported, the challenges of reporting, who the justice system works for, and who is excused and who is punished.

Making this explicit in class demonstrates to our students that we appreciate the decisions they have made for themselves, their range of experiences, and the choices and strategies they have chosen. It supports letting go of internalized blame and shame, as we are clear in assigning blame and fault to the perpetrator.

Violence is very personal and unfair. Nonetheless, it is important in our teaching to tie individual experiences to larger social systems that perpetuate this unfairness. Such connections can lift internal personal burdens about past experiences and their repercussions. What happened to me was indeed unfair and was the (predictable and intentional) outcome of biased systems.

  • Space to ask BIG questions
In classes, children and teenagers often raise BIG questions: Why are people violent? Who would want to hurt kids? ESD principles help us answer these types of questions by linking violence to inequality and power. For example, on the spectrum of violence, we include mean words, put downs, and micro-aggressions as forms of verbal violence. Students readily generate that put downs are usually based on looks, ability, race, class, religion, likes and dislikes, gender or gender non-conformity, etc. (for example, your hair is weird, you got the worst grade on the math test, your clothes aren’t new or cool, your religion doesn’t have the “good” holidays, boys don’t like ballet, girls can’t play basketball.) We witness the weight of these prior negative experiences being released, as students understand that they were targeted (all or in part) based on one or more aspects of their identity versus something that they did wrong or an inherent lack of value as a human being.

  • Space to sort myths and facts
We reference statistics about crime and about aggressors. ESD programs dispel myths about the frequency of stranger vs familiar crime, about armed vs unarmed assault, and intra-vs inter-racial crime. We address the effectiveness of different strategies of resistance as well as how the research data is collected and interpreted. By reviewing evidence-based information about interpersonal violence, we broaden participants understanding of the many forms violence takes. ESD principles help teachers acknowledge the many purely personal choices people make to stay safer. ESD classes cover a wide range of circumstances, depict a variety of different types of abusive behavior, and teach varied strategies for responding to specific situations. This customization makes the classes relevant and personal. ESD practitioners sort myths from facts, directly address the pervasiveness of violence in our culture, and seek to build empathy.

Carol Schaeffer, IMPACT and ESD Instructor

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