To the Editor:
I am responding to Ben Wilcox’s letter of Nov. 10 (“Self-defense not a preventative measure”), expressing concerns that the DeKalb police will be offering self-defense courses to women and, by so doing, are not doing prevention work.
Wilcox presumes (1) that all self-defense is the same and that all self-defense is only risk reduction and (2) that the only path to social change is to address the cultural norms, patriarchy, media messages and institutional inequalities that allow sexual violence to not only continue but thrive. Neither of these assumptions reflects reality.
First, what he describes as self-defense is a narrow view that does not reflect an awareness of 30 years of feminist work on developing empowerment self-defense training.
Second, to those who have tools to minimize, interrupt or stop an attack, it feels like prevention and labeling it as mere risk reduction does not reflect an understanding of how devastating sexual violence can be and how empowering having the tools to stop it is.
Third, bringing about cultural change requires efforts at every level of society, not just at the macro level.
Self-defense and challenging rape culture are not either/or efforts. When people take empowerment self-defense, they develop an informed and embodied understanding of violence and develop options to recognize, prevent and interrupt violence. In short, they gain the capacity to become powerful and effective social change agents right now. Empowerment self-defense training is part of the effort to change a culture of sexual violence.
Taking self-defense does not preclude working on social change at various levels of society and, in fact, increases the likelihood because of the knowledge and skills developed in an empowerment self-defense program. Since not all self-defense is the same, it is imperative that consumers evaluate viable self-defense programming and make informed decisions.
Is the reality of gender-based violence addressed? Is it linked to other types of violence? Is it trauma-sensitive? Are perpetrators held accountable for violence? Do participants develop a range of tools, including awareness, assessment, verbal and physical tools? Do physical tools include more than kicking and striking?
There is much to be gained by supporting multiple strategies for ending sexual violence and by using clear criteria for evaluating the quality of available programming.