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Monday, September 25, 2017

Principles of Empowerment Self-Defense


Julie Harmon IMPACT Safety Columbus Ohio
All self-defense is not created equal. The desired outcomes may be similar–proving tools for people and their communities to feel safer. Empowerment Self Defense, which is a distinct types of self-defense, is based, not just on desired outcomes, but rests firmly  on key principles in which all aspects of teaching and learning are built. These principles guide curriculum development, implementation decisions, and instruction methodology.

1. Sexual violence as well as other types of violence, like harassment, stalking, and threats are social problems. 
This means that specific responses to these situations are considered based on context and individual choice – there is no one size fits all; no one right answer. For example, at a party, a response to an unwanted hug from someone you know, may elicit a different response, than a hug from a stranger at that same party. Or, if someone is bothering you and will not be dissuaded – the choice of responses could be an assertive verbal strategy, a very loud – attract attention verbal response, (depending on where this is happening: dorm room, street, store, walking path) or entering a safer place.

2. The aggressor is the one responsible for any and all acts of violence
The aggressor is responsible for harassment, verbal threats, to unwanted touch – every single act on the continuum of violence. Victim blaming or excuse giving has no place in ESD.

3. ESD is well researched and informed
80% of all assaults on women are perpetrated by someone familiar.  Most often that is a friend, a friend of a friend, a co -worker, boss – someone we would generally not expect to cross our boundaries. Programming is based on research and data, about who are the likely perpetrators, how these assaults begin and progress, and what strategies have been proven to be effective in addressing these situations.

4. ESD is trauma-informed
What that means is that programs are implemented through a trauma lens, which includes not only individual incidents of trauma, but also systems of oppression and the intersection of race, gender, and class. The impact of trauma and oppression are understood and considered as curriculum is implemented. Individuals are not singled out or isolated, rather the curriculum as a whole is developed based on this principle.

5.  ESD programs explicitly utilize a peer support methodology
Participants experience with others concerns about "being alone in their fears” or "being the only one"  or "worried about doing it right." Peer support methodology is intentional. It is not an accident that ESD program participant experience support for trying new things, for having a voice, for making difficult choices, for taking charge of their life, or for facing their fears. The support is felt – energetically and in new relationships that often become part of participants’ lives.


These five principles are foundational to ESD programs – they guide curricula decisions, instructor training, and programming options. The ability for participants to experience connection, belonging, safety and dignity is possible because of the adherence to these principles. ESD is based on more than outcomes – the processes and the intersection of  many disciplines  and areas, combine to make ESD programs as relevant, customizable, fun and empowering as they are.

Julie Harmon
Member, ESD Global and IMPACT International
Director and Instructor of IMPACT Safety, Life Care Alliance
Columbus, Ohio

From Julie's presentation for an ESD Global webinar organized by IMPACT Chicago Instructor Martha Thompson: "Three Reasons for Feminists to Advocate for Empowerment Self-Defense." Julie addressed Reason #1: ESD Works to Stop Sexual Violence. Thank you to producer Yudit Sidikman. Look for an ESD-related blog the last Monday of each month.

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