Enter your email to subscribe

Monday, November 18, 2019

Everyone Has a Right to Feel Safe Within Their Own Body

December Core Lead Instructor Katie
Photo: Daniel Teafoe
The last IMPACT Chicago Core Program of this decade is December 6,7, & 8 at the Glenview Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Avenue, Glenview.  The course is open to women 16 years old and up (cis and trans).  According to Lead Instructor Katie (pictured to the left), “Everyone has a right to feel safe within their own bodyI look forward to helping women and girls learn to use their physical and spiritual power to defend themselves successfully.”

Katie will be leading a team of instructors to teach and practice self-defense in realistic simulated scenarios with one instructor playing the role of an aggressor and Katie in the role of a personal coach.  The program allows participants to gain a maximum of self-defense skills in a short amount of time. Training progresses from distinguishing harmless and dangerous situations to verbal boundary setting to physical responses appropriate in an assault. Women learn and drill effective awareness, verbal, and physical techniques and then practice using their voices, managing their adrenaline, making moment-by-moment decisions, and, as a last resort, delivering strikes and kicks with full-force, just as they would need to do in a real-life assault.

IMPACT Chicago grads say why they recommend taking the IMPACT Chicago Core Program.

AC: "You will surprise yourself."

Kandice: "To build your confidence!"

Lisa: "For me, it is wonderful to be in an empowering space where we learn tools, not rules. I'm tired of hearing how women need to be careful, to constrain our choices (e.g. are you sure you should be going to that alone?), and to walk through the world in fear."

Rose: "Self-esteem and confidence."

Monday, November 11, 2019

I Got Out of My Own Way

In my last blog post "Shedding Fear to Find My Unique Strong Voice," I addressed my fears and how self-defense training supported me in my healing journey and increased my sense of personal safety and confidence. And that now, instead of walking around with that old familiar feeling of fearfulness, I now feel more vibrant, alive, and confident. 

This week, I am sharing a link to a podcast “The Untold Story, Get Out of Your Own Way and NARM” that I did with Chicago Center for Integration and Healing (CCIH). In the podcast, I address:
  • My journey into developing more safety and enjoyment in my  body and working with anxieties and fears
  • Exploring trust and mistrust
  • The profound experience of realizing I was holding someone else’s fear
  • My personal journey into exploring the truth of the untold ancestral story as half German and half from the South
  • How to connect with our own desires as an empathic person
  • Personal agency and how we can get in our own way
  • What the body-centered and relational model of NARM (Neuro-Affective Relational Model) offers
  • When you feel you’ve had a set-back it could actually be the natural contraction that happens after expansion
Bianka Hardin, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Monday, November 4, 2019

Shedding Fear To Find My Unique, Strong Voice

As a woman, I am very aware of the dangers that exist in society.  I have been taught about these dangers since I was young and continue to hear about the dangers to women on a daily basis on the news.  Every day there is a reminder that the world is not safe for women. Because I didn’t feel safe, I looked for ways that I wasn’t safe and for the dangers around me.  I used hypervigilance and caution to protect me for many years. 

In the past few years, I began to integrate lessons from my work as a trauma therapist and wondered how they may help me in my own life.  The hypervigilance that was so familiar and protective to me did protect me but I also began to understand sustained hypervigilance negatively impacts my health and well-being. I began to recognize that the fear I was carrying was related to trauma that happened before I was born, it was intergenerational trauma, passed down from generations before me. In the blog post below and another one next week "I Got Out of My Own Way,"  I will share how self-defense training and somatic therapy supported me in my healing journey and increased my sense of personal safety and confidence  Instead of walking around with that old familiar feeling of fearfulness, I now feel more vibrant, alive, and confident. 

It’s not safe to walk alone at night. Don’t trust strangers. ALWAYS be on your guard. You could be kidnapped.  As far back as I can remember, I was told that I am not safe and the world is a dangerous place. 

Where did this fear come from? Why was I scared all the time?

Many of us are wired to be fearful because of our intergenerational trauma and societal imprinting. My mother and grandmother, of course, had good intentions and told me the same messages all women get because they cared for me and wanted me to be safe. Fear was transmitted as a result of their lived experiences and their own intergenerational trauma. 

At the same time, we absorb daily lessons from movies, music, and television that women are weak and need to be protected. Every time we turn on the news, we are bombarded with numerous stories about women being assaulted and victimized.    

My own personal wiring combined with the cumulative impact of society's consistent messaging resulted in me personally feeling weak, disempowered and afraid.  On the surface, you wouldn’t know how I felt.  But fear was lurking below the surface, interfering with my confidence and my voice.  Often, I looked calm on the outside, but inside, I was waiting for something bad to happen. If I didn’t know better, I could easily self-pathologize and call myself 'silly’ or 'paranoid.' As a professional now, in my many years of work with women and trauma survivors, I know I am not alone. Many of us live in fear.  

Doing instead of fearing
I pride myself on being a doer, an achiever.  If there is a solution, I will find it.  Well, I found it. Two years ago, I learned about the IMPACT Chicago Core Program Self-Defense Training for Women and immediately wanted to be a part of this training.  I completed a two-weekend IMPACT Core Program where I learned verbal and physical boundary setting techniques. I was amazed at how empowering the experience was for me. I felt strong, powerful, brave!  
Now I walk around with an attitude of “don’t mess with me, or else!” I also now know how to fight, how to defend myself, how to stand up for myself from the outset. Even better, I no longer need to buy into societal messaging that women are weak, or that I need to be nice because I am a female.  I know I have everything I need to defend myself. 
The confidence and empowerment I experience after completing this program has been invaluable to me and has helped me personally and professionally. I wish every woman and every girl could experience this! 

Bianka Hardin, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Monday, October 28, 2019

There ARE ways to Handle Multiple Assailants!

Defense Against Multiple Assailants (DAMA) is offered every other year. And this is THE Year: Saturday and Sunday, November 16 and 17, 11 am - 5 pm, 1650 W. Foster Avenue in Chicago. You can get more information or register HERE or contact Amy Info@IMPACTChicago.org. It is suited instructor Nat's last IMPACT class, so we hope you can be there!

Graduates say DO IT
Amy: "In terms of my size and shape, I'm a fairly small person-but I've pretty much always *felt* large. While I loved my Core experience, DAMA is the program that truly made me question, fight for, and own that feeling. I've rarely felt so very, very small as when I found myself facing 2-3 assailants. And I've rarely stood so securely in how very, very large I am as when I came out of top in our encounters. DAMA took my certainly from me...and I earned it back. So, highly recommended."

Emma: "This class builds on what you learn in the Core Program so effectively! A really valuable chance to keep leaning into your own bravery and power. And honestly, it's fun."

Julie: "I highly recommend it! It was intense and scary but I got so much out of the class. Everyone was so supportive!"

K. : "There's a special kind of energy in the room due to the class requiring so many teachers present as assailants. You know that love and care you feel from being around people so committed to making a difference in yours and other people's lives during Core? There's a special kind of 'Wow, the crew's all here--this is really powerful--we ARE going to improve the world!' to being around so many teachers at once. That and you learn some really empowering 'Oh, wait, there IS a way to handle this' concepts, just like in Core. 'You can cry and fight at the same time' feeling--only applied to a new situation."

Lisa: "Fun, fun, fun, and valuable! I highly recommend this advanced program open to IMPACT grads."

Michelle: "DAMA was the best decision of my life. Going to therapy helped me get over the abuse, but there was still something very important missing, physical protection. Therapists cannot teach you how to physically protect yourself. IMPACT Chicago-Defense Against Multiple Assailants did just that, and more."

Rachel: "One of the scariest things I've done, but so worthwhile. Why yes, you can cry and fight at the same time and fight really well!"

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Power Within You

Many of us remember hearing about the brutal attack and rape of an 18-year-old West Town woman last summer. Although most attacks against women happen by someone they know, sometimes time and unforeseen occurrence happen to us all. In "Woman, 18, Visiting Chicago From Poland Had To Relearn How To Walk And Talk After Brutal West Town Rape, Prosecutors Say,Hannah Alani, a Block Club Chicago reporter shares a truly remarkable story of a brave young woman and the capture of her attacker. Chicago neighbors call her "Warrior Woman" in recognition of her fight for survival, and the GoFund me page has passed the $30,000 goal to help the woman and her family. 

Submitted by Maple Joy

#ImpactChicago #WomenEmpowerment #Courageous #Bold #StayStrong #NeverGiveUp

Monday, October 14, 2019

Who Should Violence Prevention Programs Target?

Criticisms of teaching women self-defense often center on the idea that instead of teaching women self-defense we should be teaching men not to rape. We asked IMPACT Chicago Facebook Friends on August 27 to let us know what they think: Men are the primary perpetrators of violence against women and girls--should men be the primary targets of funding and programming or should efforts focus on empowering women and girls? 

The overall message is that YES, men should have access to violence prevention programming but there was a concern that men would not take advantage of this programming. AND we also need to prioritize programming for self-defense and other empowerment training for targets of violence. These responses were part of the inspiration for the #YesAnd Campaign. See below for what people had to say and let us know what you think.

Tina, 2017 IMPACT grad 
"Men should be the primary targets. They are the problem."

Clay, IMPACT Chicago Suited Instructor (Retired)
"Most men won't go to these classes. I may be wrong but from being a man that would be my guess."

Rose 2010 IMPACT grad 
"Focus on women and girls. Females seem to take self-help classes more than men from what I see and experience. I truly wish more men would take classes on self-improvement relating to women."

Amy, 2017 IMPACT grad 
 "In general I'm leery of making the primary target of funding and programming the aggressor. I feel it takes agency from the people who most deserve it (in this case folks who identify as/are perceived as women and girls) and hands the decision about whether or not to continue to perpetrate violence against them to the very group who has quite a long history of bad decisions on this subject.

100% yes to educating men. But I prioritize empowering women more. Not because violence against them is ever their fault - but because they deserve to walk through the world unafraid without waiting a second longer for "permission" to do so.

I'm speaking without nuance here, because social social media. I'd relish the chance to sit down with any of y'all and dig at the details." 

Chemely, 2012 IMPACT grad 
"I think that men should also be the focus of programs to end gender-based violence. Since men are mostly the perpetrators of violence directed toward women, they must be educated on equality, assertiveness, empathy, and on toxic masculinity/overall patriarchal rules that make them think they have to act certain ways, etc. I believe women should continue to receive self-defense training to help with our own sense of power."

Gianine, FB Friend
I think the men need to be educated along with the women. It's the only way real change can happen. They have to shed their brainwashed ideas of their roles and women's roles.

Michelle, 2016 IMPACT grad 
"Wow, that's such an important question. Women and girls have been subjected to all that comes with patriarchal power structure for so long that ESD is life-altering, and I think we/they deserve to have that programming as an option, that said, the men's incubators that are popping up are encouraging. Is there a way to create meetups like Men4Choice seems to be doing, and gather intel on how to hook into more interested individuals who might be willing to donate time to a mentoring program? Just thinking out loud here. "

Monday, October 7, 2019

Rosa Parks: Sexual Assault Investigator

Rosa Parks is known for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. That refusal was a spark for the civil rights movement in the US. 
Standing up for what was fair and just was not new to Parks. She joined the NAACP in 1943 and worked on criminal justice issues as a sexual assault investigator. She investigated claims of rape against black men by white women--working to protect black men from false accusations of rape. She was also committed to making sure that black people who were sexually assaulted by white people could seek justice.  The Rape of Recy Taylor is a film that chronicles one of the cases that Rosa Parks brought to national attention. 
For more about Rosa Parks' important work and her own experience with stopping sexual assault, check out "Before the Bus, Rosa Parks Was a Sexual Assault Investigator."

Monday, September 30, 2019

Self-Defense Can Be Healing

"Researchers who study self-defense for sexual assault note its similarities to exposure therapy, in which individuals in a safe environment are exposed to the things they fear and avoid. In the case of self-defense training, however, participants are not only exposed to simulated assaults, they also learn and practice proactive responses, including—but not limited to—self-defense maneuvers. Over time, these repeated simulations can massively transform old memories of assault into new memories of empowerment," Jim Hopper, Harvard Medical School.

Check out this article in the Atlantic "What Self-Defense Can Do for Mental Health"  by Gitit Ginit who explores what psychologists say about the role self-defense training can play in healing from sexual assault.

#ElHalev #Sexual Assault #Healing

Monday, September 23, 2019

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Most attacks happen by people that you may know, but sometimes there are uncommon scenarios such as Claire Quinn, a 6-0 boxing champion. While she was walking down the street one day in Bucktown last month, her instincts and training kicked in as she had to protect and fight for her life. 

Hannah Alani, a reporter at Block Club Chicago has the scoop...Golden Gloves Champ Scares Off Bucktown Mugger 


Submitted by Maple Joy

Monday, September 16, 2019

#YesAnd Campaign to End Sexual Violence

"Yes, and" is a technique used in improvisational comedy and business to encourage the acceptance of another's reality and then expanding upon it. At its foundation, it is a commitment to collaboration, listening to others, and creating a big enough space for creative thinking and innovation. Let's bring that approach to ending sexual violence.

Self-defense training is often not included as a step to prevent sexual assault
On See Jane Fight Back, Self-Defense scholars Martha McCaughey and Jill Cermele recently published an Open Letter to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) in honor of RAINN’s 25th anniversary. McCaughey and Cermele were writing to RAINN because they were surprised to see that RAINN does not identify self-defense as one of the steps women and girls can take to prevent sexual assault. Amazingly, RAINN’s focus is only on bystander intervention! McCaughey and Cermele found this especially surprising because there is a growing body of scholarship documenting that empowerment self-defense training prevents sexual assault and, in contrast, nothing to support bystander intervention as more effective than self-defense. Think how powerful if we combine self-defense and bystander intervention. Instead of either/or, let's say "Yes, and."

Self-defense is not seen as a way to prevent sexual violence
In a recent Facebook post, the Chicago organization Resilience (formerly Rape Victim Advocates) states: “Self-defense is a tricky subject for us. We believe in empowerment, confidence, and building strength. We also know that to prevent sexual violence we need to stop rape culture at its roots.”
When folks talk about stopping rape culture at its roots, they generally mean our efforts should focus on educating men to stop committing sexual violence. This is a worthy goal!

In the meantime, while we are working to get men and boys to stop raping, let’s make sure that women and girls have the tools and confidence to stop men and boys who try to rape them. The evidence is clear that women and girls who have taken an empowerment self-defense program experience less unwanted contact, sexual coercion, attempted rape, and completed rape. Think how powerful if we work to get men and boys to stop raping others while we ALSO make sure that women and girls (cis and trans) and other communities vulnerable to gender-based violence have the tools and confidence to stop rape while men and boys work on learning to stop themselves. Instead of either/or, let's say "Yes, and."

Let’s reject either/or thinking as the way to stop sexual violence and start accepting and expecting #YesAnd thinking.

Ideas from RAINN, Resilience, Denim Days (Denim Days includes self-defense) to stop sexual violence:
  • bystander intervention
  • prevention education
  • believing and supporting survivors
  • recognizing that people do not ask for or deserve violence in any form
  • challenging victim blaming statements
  • consent
  • healthy and respectful relationships
  • lobbying for funding for anti-sexual assault programs
#YesAnd IMPACT, empowerment self-defense training, and resistance training and many other things that we haven’t yet thought about because we have been battling either/or thinking for so long.

So what can you do?
  • When you see or hear a suggestion for how to prevent sexual violence that is a good idea but excludes self-defense, add your voice:  #YesAnd  IMPACT, empowerment self-defense, and/or resistance education or other ideas that you have.
  • Use social media and other forums to promote #YesAnd thinking. 
  • To help create a big picture view of the new reality we are creating, share with others via your own platforms, others' social media, newsletters, and other public communications. Add #YesAnd so others can more easily find what you post.
  •  Please also consider sending via Facebook Messenger to IMPACT Chicago or via email. Send the link or copy of the source and your response. With your permission, we will share your submission on our Facebook page and in a periodic compilation on the IMPACT Chicago Blog.  

An example
IMPACT Chicago shared a Facebook post agreeing with all the points made about how to support transgender people and added: "We also support all the ways individuals engage in self-protection--for instance in this situation, awareness of the larger environment and a loud voice. #YesAnd"

We look forward to hearing from you!
Martha Thompson
IMPACT Chicago
Senior Instructor
Admin Team Co-Leader
Social Media Editor

Denim Days also includes self-defense

Monday, September 9, 2019

Behavior to Character: A Transformation

Joanne Factor, Strategic Living
Several years ago a student in a six-week course expressed her discomfort with our discussion of recognizing "red flags" and connecting them to abusive behavior.  In our classes, a "red flag" is some sort of behavior that gets your attention because it pushes against one of your boundaries.  It could be a small boundary, it could be a micro-aggression, it could be significant.  Regardless, you experience discomfort (some instructors refer to this as "intuition" or "gut feeling") because it is a boundary violation.

"But what about character?" she asked, "doesn't the quality of one's character come into play?"  

I thought back to this conversation after hearing a recent story on NPR.  Last year a high school counselor in New Hampshire, Kristie Torbick,  pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year old student.  She was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.  The prosecutors had asked for 5-10 years.  The defense asked for leniency, and presented two dozen letters of support of the defendant's character.  In addition, twenty-five of the defendant's supporters came to the sentencing.  Some were family and friends and neighbors.  Some were colleagues.  The collective message was "she's not a predator, she just made a poor decision."

And it turned into a big deal.  Not the guilt of Torbick, but of the ethics and judgment of her supporters.  Remember, some of Torbick's supporters were colleagues who also work in schools with children.  Other community members, including parents, questioned how those professionals could defend a child sex offender and still be entrusted to work with children.

Let's pause and think of your position from these perspectives:
  • You're a parent and find out the counselor who works in your child's school has publicly supported another counselor who was convicted of child sexual assault.  How much confidence or trust would you have in that counselor?  
  • You're a school counselor, and another counselor you've known for a long time and held in high esteem is convicted of child sexual assault.  She's always been exceptionally helpful and generous to you as a colleague.  Do you feel she made a mistake, but isn't really a bad person?  Do you publicly support her?  How?
  • You're a school administrator and parents are coming to you about that school counselor who's testified in support of that other counselor who is now a convicted sex offender.  They no longer trust her around their children and want her gone.
Some of the professionals who did publicly support Torbick lost their jobs.  Several of those have brought lawsuits against the schools that fired them, claiming they were supporting Torbick's character and not her crime, and their free speech rights had been violated.

Which brings us to a sticky intersection of support and consequences.  Yes, Torbick was sentenced, she will be a registered sex offender the rest of her life, and I'm sure she lost her license and career after she's released from prison.  But what about the judgment of her supporters, their rights and responsibilities, and social consequences of speech?

(I'm sure some of you are flashing back to the trial of Dr. Larry Nassar.  He had a LOT of supporters.  Supervisors, college presidents, colleagues, friends.  That's how he got away with abusing his patients for a quarter-century.)

What did some of Torbick's supporters actually say?
  • Former colleague Shelley Philbrick:  "In all the years that I've known Kristie, both professionally and personally, she has always presented as a person who was engaged in helping to make the lives of others better."*  So far so good.  In my opinion, she could have added, "I am very disappointed in her recent actions.  After she pays her debt to society, I hope she finds a way to use her skills and talents to continue to make the lives of others better."  But she advocated for lenient sentencing, saying "to incarcerate Mrs. Torbick as part of any plea bargain would be a sad injustice to her own three children, one of which is only 3 years of age."**  Uhhh . . . I agree it's sad, and should there not be consequences for her actions?  
  • Therapist working with the incarcerated Torbick, Dr. Nancy Strapko:  "I don't think I've ever, ever actually uttered the words I seek mercy for this client. I do today. That's how sure I am that she's deserving."*  And "Kristie [Torbick] takes full responsibility for her actions with her 'victim.'  I put this in [quotes] because I am aware that her 'victim' was truly the pursuer in this case."**  So the therapist was blaming the 14 year old student for an adult professional's collapse of boundaries?
I would have hoped that these professionals could have supported Torbick while condemning her behavior and recognizing that justice needs to be served.  Any of us could be in a comparable situation, so I think it would benefit us all to consider what you want to be remembered as expressing in public.

Returning to the conversation with a student about behavior vs character.  I asked her, "How would I know someone's character if not through their behavior?"  What is character if not the cumulative effect of our experience of someone's behavior over time?  And when someone violates a huge boundary, breaches a code of ethics, crosses a unmistakable line in the sand -- knowledge of that has to add to and refine our assessment of their character, and not be disregarded because it contradicts everything we've previously seen.
Joanne Factor
First appeared in the August 2019 Strategic Living News and Views
To subscribe to Strategic Living News and Views

Monday, September 2, 2019

Reflecting on Labor Day: Racial and Gender Harassment in the Workplace

Today is Labor Day, a public holiday celebrating the contributions of workers to the well-being of the United States (DOL).  While we celebrate those contributions, let's also  reflect on the well-being of workers.
            The majority of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, with racialized gender stereotypes contributing to a high incidence of sexual harassment of women of color (AWARE 2016; Hernandez 2000).  According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC): “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

            Harassment is a type of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).  It is the responsibility of employers to prevent sexual harassment.  Employers need to monitor their workplaces and take all complaints seriously. 

Just like other forms of sexual abuse and assault:

  • The person targeted for harassment is not to blame
  • Aggressors will try to silence their targets and, when identified, try to shift blame to those they have targeted
  • While we are working collectively to change the culture and social structures that create and perpetuate racial and sexual abuse and assault, we also need to provide women and girls with tools to interrupt harassment in the workplace now.  Important individual tools to interrupt harassment: speaking up, keeping a journal, and getting support from co-workers and, if you have one, your union  (ITUC 2008).
So let’s celebrate Labor Day today but also work together to change the culture and structure of workplaces that perpetuate racial and sexual harassment to an environment that values the well-being of all its workers.
Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago Instructor      
AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research).  2016. Workplace Sexual Harassment. http://www.aware.org.sg/training/wsh-site/14-statistics/

Department of Labor, United States. Nd. History of Labor Day. https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history

EEOC. Nd. Facts about sexual harassment. https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm
Hernandez, Tanya Kateri. 2000. Sexual harassment and racial disparity: The mutual construction of gender and race. http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1011&context=faculty_scholarship

ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation). 2008. Stopping sexual harassment at work.

First published Labor Day 2016

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Power of Feminist Self-Defense

Photo credit: Defend Yourself

Check out this fabulous article in Ms. Magazine "The Power of Feminist Self-Defense" by Empowerment Self-Defense Leader and Instructor Lauren Taylor. Lauren is the Founder of Defend Yourself in Washington D.C. and the co-founder of Safe Bars which cities across the country are adopting.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Making an IMPACT in Bronzeville

In a city that prides itself on big buildings, flashy lights, and loyal residents in each neighborhood, Chicago is also home to many successful collaborations, networks and partnerships. Join IMPACT Blog Contributor, Maple Joy as she takes you on a journey that IMPACT makes in one local Chicago neighborhood. 

This story was originally published by the South Side Weekly. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

When Unsafe Behavior Happens in a Safe Space

My husband dropped me off at my therapist and went to park the car. I was early so I felt relaxed as I approached the doors leading into the reception area. As I reached toward the door, a man spoke authoritatively: “Don’t touch that door!” and then hit the accessible entrance button. As the door opened I said, “Thank you for opening the door, but you startled me.” He didn’t respond. I walked through the first door toward the second door when he again spoke with authority, “Don’t touch that door!”

This second command triggered flashbacks. When I was 17, a friend of a friend opened a door, cornered me, and then raped me. Now here I was in two places at once. I knew where I was and yet I was frozen. I heard my IMPACT instructors Martha and Mark encouraging me to pay attention and I was aware that my guard was up.

The second door opened as soon as the first door closed and as the man brushed past me he said, “Well, I’m glad that’s finally working again.” He walked into the offices, apparently done testing the doors. I asked the receptionist, “Is that the maintenance man?” She said, “No, he is our CEO.” I asked her to ask him to come out to the reception area.

He came out, moving very close to me, and asked if he could help me. I put up my hands and said, “Take a step back.  You are the CEO for a counseling center. Have you had any training on understanding people who are going through counseling?”

“No, I work on the business side.”

“I’m coming here for therapy and by your behavior you just recreated the situation in which I am receiving counseling for.”

He was embarrassed and reached out his arm to lead me as he said, “Let’s step into my office.”

I put my hands up and said, “Back up. You don’t command someone in a counseling center not to touch a door.” He tried to interrupt me and I wouldn’t let him. I said, “I am telling you this because you are the CEO. You are not listening to me. Stop speaking and hear what I am saying.” When I recognized that he was not listening, I said, “You’ve proven to me that you are not listening to what I’m saying. Go back to your office.”

My head was spinning and I was very angry but I felt Martha on my left and Mark on my right and that they were supporting me while IMPACT was coming out of my mouth. My husband entered the building as I was speaking to the CEO. He told me later that I was very firm, held my ground, and was very articulate. He noticed that I had one hand on my hip and asked me about that. I said, “I was in a position to elbow him if he came after me when I turned to go to my therapist’s office.”  

I was trembling as I went upstairs to my therapist’s office. There was a young man there and I started talking to him. I told him what happened. He was mellow and calm and I noted that. He said his situation happened in an uber car and that he is working on being calm. He said I am in my teens and I’m trying to have a better adult life. I felt so proud of this young man for taking care of himself. I felt so good that I had him to talk to at that moment.  

When I left, the receptionist gave me a hug and said, “You did everything right.”  I took the Core Program in 2003 and then Defense Against Multiple Assailants several years ago. I feel like IMPACT gets stronger for me every year.

Michelle Schmitt

Monday, July 29, 2019

You Don't Own Me

"You Don't Own Me" is a pop song written over 50 years ago by John Madara and David White. It was recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963. It was one of her most popular recordings. Amazing how relevant the words are today. You can listen to Lesley Gore singing this iconic song HERE.

You don't own me
I'm not just one of your many toys
You don't own me
Don't say I can't go with other boys
And don't tell me what to do
Don't tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don't put me on display 'cause
You don't own me
Don't try to change me in any way
You don't own me
Don't tie me down 'cause I'd never stay
I don't tell you what to say
I don't tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That's all I ask of you
I'm young and I love to be young
I'm free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please
And don't tell me what to do

source: LyricFind

To read more about the importance of Lesley Gore's recording of "You Don't Own Me," check out "'You Don't Own Me,' A Feminist Anthem with Civil Rights Roots, Is All about Empathy."

Monday, July 22, 2019

What's an Empowering Phrase for You?

On June 18, we asked IMPACT grads on Facebook: Is there an empowering phrase or mantra that has really stuck with you since taking your IMPACT course? Here is what grads said:

AC: "Learning to use my big chest-voice was a key lesson. And as recently as today, not caring how others see me--as I do stretches in public after a long day of walking to loosen up my back. My favorite saying: "a wise woman once said, 'screw this stuff and lived happily ever after.'"

Alexandria: "Knowing that appropriate use of voice is such a large tool in keeping safe has been important to me and is something I pass on to others."

Alicia: "It's okay to maintain my physical boundaries," referring to folks who approach me."

Byler: "Keeping myself safe is more important than trying to please others."

Emily: "Use your voice!"

Sarah: "Your safety is worth anyone's embarassment, even your own."

Yudit: "She's READY."

Monday, July 15, 2019

Talking IMPACT with Grad Elizabeth

Blog contributor Maple Joy interviewed IMPACT Grad Elizabeth* about her IMPACT Core Program experience.

When and what IMPACT course did you take? December 2018 - Core Program

Why did you want to take IMPACT? - I work in an environment that involves talking to
strangers all day, which is something I usually really enjoy – however, last year I had a situation with one of these strangers in which nothing identifiable necessarily "happened", but the things that did occur all made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe and in danger - then later unhappy with how I'd handled myself. I went home and signed up for the next IMPACT core class that night. I'm so glad that I did - I was mostly looking for practical skills, not a transformative experience; somehow, I got both.

How did you feel prior to, during and after taking the course? I'm not a particularly sporty person and had never taken a self-defense class before, so I really had no idea of what to expect beyond what I'd learned about IMPACT when I signed up. The three-day time commitment was a little intimidating but made perfect sense once the class began - even that Friday night after the first class, I took my dog outside for their nightly walk and already felt different, more present, less afraid, more aware of my own power. Since completing the course, I luckily haven't had a need to test the more physical skills, however, I do feel different as I move through space, just walking down the street, establishing my boundaries, with the knowledge that if this is the day someone grabs me from behind (or tens of other scenarios) I have everything I need to survive.

Would you encourage other women to take an IMPACT course? If so, what would you say? I want every woman to have the opportunity to take this course - really every person. I wish that this had been a part of my public education, that I had taken it at 12 and 16 and 21 etc. - some of the most powerful parts of the class are just fundamental skills, establishing your own boundaries, enforcing those boundaries, finding your voice, taking up space in the world. To be in a space with badass women (and allied men who've let you kick them in the (padded) groin all day), all of whom want you to feel safe and confident and strong in your daily life - such a good feeling!

 Are there ways in which you’ve helped spread the word about IMPACT or ways others can help? Volunteer! Take a course! Host a class! Encourage someone else to take a course!

*Name may have been changed.

#IMPACTChicago #IMPACTChicagoCoreProgram #SelfDefense #Boundaries #FindingYourVoice #Volunteer #WomanEmpowerment

Monday, July 8, 2019

Are Predators Cowards?

While campaigning in Iowa, Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said: "predators are cowards." Empowerment Self-Defense instructors have a lot of agreement about what predatory behavior is, but they don't all label rapists and predators cowards. See below for Lisa Gaeta Why I Call Rapists Cowards and Susan Schorn Why I Don't Call Rapists Cowards.

Why I Call Rapists Cowards
Lisa Gaeta, Founder and CEO, IMPACT Personal Safety of Southern California
Rapists are cowards. In our society and in our movies and books, men prove their power by fighting other men or women who are at least as strong as them, with similar skill sets and not knowing if they will overcome or not. But the rapist chooses his victim to ASSURE himself that he can’t lose.
Telling students that the man who is attacking them is most likely trying to overcome something he feels he lacks as a man, helps them to understand that he is not all-powerful. We give rapists too much power. If we learn at a young age to speak up for ourselves and to defend ourselves, we take control of the power over our own safety. My job is to teach women how to stay safe in the face of imminent danger.
      Strong, confident men don’t attack people whom they perceive as weaker than them.  Even the man who is a high-powered executive, who verbally or physically abuses his family or kicks the dog when he’s angry, is trying to overcome a feeling of powerlessness.
      We do not teach our students to call their attacker a coward. We teach them to de-escalate using verbal strategies and body language. If that doesn’t work – although we have more success stories about people talking their way out of a situation rather than fighting than anything else – they are able to physically defend themselves.
      I believe this to be the case because our graduates do not present themselves as a good target. They BELIEVE that they have the right and the skills to defend themselves if necessary. And because that’s true, the attacker is deterred – because he’s a coward looking for an easy target.

Why I Don’t Call Rapists Cowards      
Susan Schorn, Empowerment Self Defense Instructor, Austin Texas               
I appreciate Lisa's perspective and wouldn't call it "wrong." I've often told self-defense students, "You don't need to be stronger than an attacker; you only need to be stronger than they think you are. And assault victims are often targeted because of some perceived weakness, so any effort you make to defend yourself will probably surprise your attacker and give you an advantage." When I say this to students, I'm trying, as I think Lisa is, to break through the social conditioning that makes women and other marginalized individuals feel helpless in the face of threatened assault.
      But I think defining assailants as "cowards" limits our focus. It makes us think in terms of brave men, who have abundant integrity and self-control and thus don't "need" to assault others. In this dynamic, it's easy to position "real" masculinity as honorable and protective, meaning that rape and assault only occur when men don't have "enough" of the "real" masculine traits. In a weird way, "rapists are cowards" implies that men should refrain from raping anyone not because it's wrong, and harms another human, but rather because it betrays weakness, and is, for that reason, shameful. That's a fundamental dynamic of toxic masculinity: your identity is built entirely on being brave/strong/silent, and thereby avoiding shame.
      Now, I have no problem with shaming rapists. But I'm not keen on tying our disapproval of rape to age-old stereotypes about masculine strengths. Those stereotypes are, by and large, the reason we live in a rape culture today.  
     Lisa says that "Strong, confident men don’t attack people whom they perceive as weaker than them." This is a message I'm sure many young men have heard as they grow up. And yet, I look around and see ample evidence that "strong, confident men" do attack people whom they perceive as weaker—they do it all the time. The #MeToo movement has shown us that many of them have gotten away with it for decades. They do so, as Empowerment Self-Defense Anne Kuzminsky says, because "Predators and their enablers behave in an entitled, not necessarily cowardly way." In other words, the assailant Lisa considers "cowardly" may still be extremely confident, and may be possessed of all manner of privilege and status that allows them to victimize people around them. I expect Lisa might say, "Well, that person is still a coward, because they work hard to minimize the risk to themselves when they victimize others." And I suspect an assailant in that position—if they were being honest—would say, "Yeah. So what? You can call me cowardly, but I'm getting what I want, and no one can touch me."
      We may teach boys that strong, confident men who don't attack others are admirable. But somewhere along the way, the same culture that professes those values also teaches boys that strong, confident men who take what they want and evade justice belong in positions of authority and high status.
     I do feel, like Lisa, that the message "rapists are cowards" can help survivors and potential victims re-frame their understanding of attackers' power. But it's probably not going to be successful at reducing rape. Because the ideal of gentlemanly behavior has been around for centuries, and rape still hasn't gone away.