How do we prepare women to face the threats that women are inherently subjected to? A lot of women come to me and others asking for self defense training. In the martial arts world, and especially the segment that deals with combat sports, the instructors are typically male, and typically uninterested in consulting any kind of data to develop a training program for women (or men for that matter). Typically, instructors follow their “curriculum” and teach it uniformly. Occasionally there will be a women’s only class or seminar, but again it is only a place where women can train the standard curriculum with other women (another training mistake).
I walked into a Jiu Jitsu school once and spoke with the instructor. I asked him about his training and self defense application and he announced that BJJ was the best self defense program for women. I looked around the all-male class and asked how many women he had signed up at his school. The answer? One. If he truly held the key to female health and safety, he was doing a piss poor job of marketing.
Before we look at what women should be training, we should probably look at what the threat they face is and work backwards from there and then see where the time would be best spent. I will divide the inquiry into violence against women, and specifically sexual assault against women.
In the United States, 1 in 5 women will be a victim of sexual assault. 51.1% of the time this is perpetrated by their intimate partner (male). 40.8% of the time by a personal acquaintance. This is a staggering set of statistics. In nearly every case of a man sexually assaulting a woman, the woman knew the man.
Let that sink in, then go online and search images for “women’s self-defense” and you will get results with women fighting off attackers in dark alleys, using pepper spray, and assorted other imagery that does not at all comport with reality. Here are some that I found:
As for violence, women face a grossly elevated threat from their intimate partners. Intimate partner violence (IPV) accounts for 47.6% of homicides among women and only 8.8% among men. This is interesting because domestic violence statistics are much different. Men and women seem to be victims of domestic violence at nearly the same rate, while it is the men who are doing the killing in IPV. In the overall homicide rate where the cause was known, IPV accounted for 18.5% of the murders. These statistics are again quite astounding.
It doesn’t seem to matter the form of the violence, be it homicide or sexual assault… women are overwhelming being raped and killed by men they know, and often men they are in a romantic relationship with. So now, go back to the “self defense class for women” … can you find even ONE that addresses this issue? Anyone can show a woman to punch or use a triangle choke, but who is helping women effectively avoid lecherous co-workers or how to leave violent boyfriends and husbands? Which of these instructors is inculcating a culture of respect for women in their gyms/dojos?
When you look at the data, you see women’s self defense training for what it is… a money-making scheme engineered by martial artists to play on irrational fear to make money. Keeping women safe from harm starts long before a 2-hour seminar at your local Jiu Jitsu gym (don’t get me wrong, Jiu Jitsu is a great tool for women to possess to protect themselves). It starts with the social conditioning of people, if we do not create a culture where these behaviors towards women are not tolerated, all the courses in the world won’t make a difference.
If you want some suggestions on how you can address violence against women from a policy perspective or even in your gym or training center, reach out to us! We have seen it happen and know what you can do to help stop it.