Women's Self-Defense

Women's Self-defense

By Laura Ann Kamienski

Introduction

"That's how I like to see all women; on their knees..."

A well-known kickboxing champion made this comment during a seminar that he was giving to a large group of male and female martial artists. It was the catalyst to finding a new approach to my martial arts training, and to my role as a women's self-defense instructor.

I was fairly new black belt in Tae Kwon Do when I attended that seminar with a friend who is a high ranking (third degree) female black belt. Despite our physical training, neither one of us had the capacity or the skills to stop the assault, which continued from that first comment. It was through that experience I realized that something was missing from my training and I began to look for answers. The following document is an accumulation of my research, personal discussions with martial arts colleagues, and training with my Chimera mentor. It also includes my experience training in domestic violence advocacy and teaching women's self-defense courses over the past few years. Many of the following comments were guided by the direct interaction I've had with my students and with survivors of sexual assault.

In the past twenty years, there has been an explosion of available information and data about violence against women. In reviewing both this data and the content of martial arts based women's self-defense courses, I discovered an alarming disconnection between what is being taught and the reality of assaults women and girls experience. Survivors of sexual assault are stepping up more than ever to tell their stories. Most self-defense courses for women I reviewed did not reflect the data or the actual experiences of these women and girls. This included those courses that claimed to consider current statistics and information about violence against women.

Characteristics of Effective Self Defense for Women

Based on Knowledge of Actual Attacks

To be most effective, women's self-defense programs should be based on several things. The first of these is knowledge of actual attacks.1 Women take self-defense courses for a variety of reasons, but underlying all of them is the reality of specific kinds of violence. Sexual assault and domestic violence are, by far, the most common types of violence women experience. According to a 1995 study on violence against women conducted by the United States Department of Justice:

Our culture promulgates and perpetuates massive and completely unnecessary ignorance about the violence women face. From advertising to news reporting, movies to television, violence against women (and how women respond to that violence) is flagrantly misrepresented. Rapists are most often portrayed as dirty, smelly, psychotic strangers who jump, unannounced, from behind bushes. Their physical features are sometimes exaggerated to the point of becoming huge ape like monsters with big teeth and hairy bodies. Very rarely are attackers depicted as friends or family members of their victims. In many instances it is either directly or indirectly implied that the victim secretly wanted to be raped.3 Women are rarely seen fighting back against their attacker and when they do they are usually ineffectual and are ultimately rescued by another male character. Sometimes the rapist himself turns out to be the hero.*

While stranger attacks do happen, the effects of which are nothing short of devastating and traumatic, the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults do not happen on the street or in an alley. Furthermore, assailants are usually not strangers. The overwhelming majority of assailants know their victims -84% of all sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.4 Furthermore, victims of sexual assault are very often young girls as indicated by a study reported in Body Politics by Nancy Henley:

Florence Rush, a social worker who has worked for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, has been concerned with sexual abuse in children, and has written papers on this topic. In one, presenting a survey of studies covering 2,152 cases of sexual offenses against children, she observes that the overwhelming majority of sexual offenses involving children (about 90%) are those committed by older males on young girls, and about 75 percent of these offenses are committed not by strangers, but by persons known to the victims-by fathers and other relatives, or by visitors and family friends. The pattern of such abuses, she concludes, shows "an early manifestation of male power and oppression on the female."5

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), over 61 percent of female victims of assault are under age 18.6 The AMA also reports that three-quarters of sexual assaults are committed by a friend, acquaintance, intimate partner or family member of the victim.

Violence against women is primarily partner violence: 76 percent of the women who were raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 were assaulted by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date.7

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injuries to women ages 15 - 44, more common than automobile accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths combined (Surgeon General, US. Public Health Services, (Journal of the American Medical Association, 276:23, 31-32, June 17, 1992). 22-35% of women who visit emergency rooms are there for injuries related to ongoing abuse (Journal of American Medical Association, 1990). Although more than one million women seek medical treatment each year for injuries caused by their husbands or partners, doctors correctly identify the injuries as resulting from battering only 4% of the time (E. Stark & A. Flitcraft, "Medical Therapy as Repression": The Case of the Battered Woman, 1982).8

The picture drawn by these statistics is one in which there is typically some sort of emotional connection between the victim and the assailant. It thereby suggests that sexual assault is a much more complicated issue than can be confronted merely by learning physical technique. Yet, in most cases, courses in self-defense for women focus almost exclusively on physical technique. The reality that women are usually assaulted by a known assailant means that self-defense skills for women should primarily include learning skills to recognize and defend against assaults committed by a trusted friend, neighbor or intimate partner. In other words, classes should begin to account for the emotional and psychological dynamics of the common relationships between victim and perpetrator. Some martial artists teaching self-defense for women, even while acknowledging that assailants are typically not strangers, tend to ignore the relationships and emotional dynamics that exist between victim and perpetrator.

Promotes Self-Esteem

Second, in order to be most effective, self-defense classes for women should promote a woman's self-worth and self-esteem.9

Most forms of oppression have a corresponding form of violence. For women, that violence has historically been manifested as rape. Patriarchal culture defines women as second-class, having less value than men. Sexual assault and rape have been an accepted part of our culture for centuries. For example, the Bible endorses the rape of "haughty" women in the following passage found in the book of Isaiah:

Moreover the LORD saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wonton eyes, walking and mincing as they to, and making a tinkling with their feet:
Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion and the LORD will discover their secret parts.10

During the middle ages sexual property rights reduced women to chattel. "The 'droit du seigneur,' the right of the first night, gave each medieval lord the right to take first sexual access to any female serf who married on his land holdings."11 These laws made raping new brides legal during the middle ages. Our own legal system still favors the perpetrator in many instances. One of the most telling examples of our culture's tolerance of sexual assault was the episode of attacks in Central Park, New York City, during and after the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in June of 2000. The fact that there was, and still is, question about who was to blame and whether or not the victims "brought it on themselves" reminds us too well that sexual assault is still condoned by our culture and its institutions. As Tavris points out in The Mismeasure of Women:

The law expects a raped woman, like a battered wife, to behave like a man when threatened: to try and defend herself even at the risk of death. The law demands that a woman behave like a reasonable man and fight back. It does not demand that a man behave like a reasonable woman and understand the difference between consent and coercion, between the words "yes" and "no."12

Even as effective as violence committed against women, is the form of oppressive violence by which women learn to devalue themselves. Patriarchal culture defines the female role as one of passivity, gentleness, weakness, compliance, concern for others, and dependency. Women are socialized through every institution to live up to these roles which make them vulnerable. Tavris illustrates:

The person who has these problems is familiar, all right; she is… the stereotypic woman. The qualities of the codependent person are most of the hallmarks of the female role, writ large. They represent a blueprint of the obligations a "good woman" is taught to value and enjoy, the most basic of which is caring for others. They consist of expectations for proper female behavior that form the basis of most women's self-esteem.13

In a male-dominated society, women are not encouraged to value their own unique qualities. Instead we are defined as "good" or "bad" according to male norms and standards. "Of course, the habit of seeing women's behavior as something to be explained in relation to the male norm makes sense in a world that takes the male norm for granted."14 These norms divide women into "good" and "bad." So it becomes an accepted idea that only bad women are assaulted. Not only is this an outright example of victim-blaming, but it also makes women feel that they are somehow to blame for being assaulted because they are "bad." It should be recognized that some behaviors are riskier than others, but assault is assault no matter where a woman is or what she was doing at the time of her attack.15 Socialization happens in many ways, but the end result of this kind of socialization usually includes feelings of low self-worth in women. For women, low self-worth often includes self-blame and self-hatred.

In order to defend the self, a woman must perceive herself as having value over and beyond that of an attacker. This notion goes against the very grain of women's role in society. Women's "other" orientation leaves them vulnerable because it devalues them and leaves them with feelings of low self-esteem and low self-worth. Women must first feel entitled to be safe and respected. This is a pre-requisite for effective self-defense. According to Bart in Stopping Rape:

It will be recalled that one of the factors that is associated with rape avoidance is a feeling of anger by the woman that anyone would try to rape her, to intrude on her space as a person. Thus anything that enhances a woman's self-esteem so that she believes she is worth defending and that no one has the right to attack her should be associated with rape avoidance. Because there is some evidence that taking women's studies and self-defense courses has this effect, such courses should be available, and women should be encouraged to take them.16

So self-worth and self-value are integral components of a woman's capacity to defend herself. Self-defense for women should include activities that promote and increase a woman's self-esteem and self-worth.

While overemphasizing physical technique is detrimental to women's self-defense, it is important to interject that learning physical technique should be an integral part of training. A woman must believe that she is capable of defending herself. Learning physical technique is empowering, and is an invaluable tool for increasing women's self-esteem and self-worth. Women are routinely discouraged from any sorts of aggressive behavior. As children we are denied opportunities to learn to use our bodies in ways which are self-protective. In Beauty Bites Beast, Ellen Snortland describes how it would be useful for girls to be raised more like puppies:

A dog breeder would be considered insane if they separated puppies by sex, allowing only male puppies to play and learn adult survival techniques as they tumbled around "hunting" a ball. We would consider it absurd to train the females not to growl, roll around, get dirty, or fight back if attacked. Notice how dogs behave when they're playing. Their play is a gentle form of fighting, veritable rehearsal for the real thing should the need ever arise. The female pups do not sit on the sidelines watching or cheering the males; they are just as actively entangled in the pile of "fighting" dogs. A bitch that never used her ability to protect herself wouldn't be good for her litter.17

Based On What Women Do

Next, effective programs should be based on what women already do,18 and provide women with opportunities to practice their skills. "Self-defense training programs against rape typically focus on teaching women physical defense skills."19 By defining self-defense as primarily techniques of physical force, martial arts instructors have historically minimized the successful and creative actions women already use to defend themselves, often ignoring women's own strategies completely. Anthologies like Her Wits About Her - Self-defense Success Stories by Women (editors Denise Caignon and Gail Groves) document an existing wealth of collective knowledge but are rarely considered a valuable women's self-defense resource by martial artists. Tapping into the resources and skills women already use is an essential part of teaching successful defense strategies. Women have been successfully defending themselves for centuries using combinations of verbal and physical strategies. Women's collective experience is one of the most effective teaching resources available to instructors. As a group, women have been forced to become true masters of self-defense. Experience is the best teacher and women have a surplus of it. With proper training, development and research, instructors can begin to help women see that they already know, and often use, the most common and effective forms of self-defense. In Sexual Coercion - A Sourcebook on Its Nature, Grauerholz, and Koralewski assert:

Building on existing strengths, inclinations, and abilities requires that instructors and students acknowledge the many ways in which women and children already resist sexual coercion and not narrowly define self-defense as physically stopping an attack.20

Provides Supportive Environment

Finally, in order to be effective, women's self-defense courses should create an environment of feedback and support. Many survivors of sexual assault feel isolated and ashamed. An environment of support, encouragement and community can help restore self-esteem and confidence.

An [anonymous] woman described the importance of this support to her: "If you had said to me that within 24 hours I would be telling my story of incest and feeling comfortable with 14 total strangers, I would have thought you were crazy. My class supported me emotionally more than any one person in my life."21

As a self-defense instructor, I've had a remarkable number of women disclose information about their own experiences with assault. These reports have some significant common elements. None reported that a stranger had jumped them. The most common scenarios I hear are about cases of child molestation (usually incestuous), date rape and stories of domestic violence. Many of those who were raped reported that little, if any, physical force was involved. My own sexual assault story is one in which fear of disapproval put me at risk and the unspoken threat of violence was enough to compel compliance. As Telsey succinctly points out in her self-defense workbook:

We may worry so much about the possibility of hurting someone else's feelings that we don't speak or act, even when the consequences of that inaction can be serious. At the same time, we may give the benefit of the doubt to the other person, frequently despite clear indications that they are disrespectful of our needs or wishes or are downright dangerous.22

On many occasions, I have had the good fortune to discuss this topic, in detail, with women who are professional rape crisis advocates. Advocacy workers are one of the best sources of knowledge about the kinds of assault women experience, as well as what kinds of self-defense strategies are most effective because they work with survivors on a regular basis. All of the information that has been reported to me confirms that, when assaulted, women are usually assaulted by men they know. They are usually very young women or girls and are assaulted by men who are significantly older than they are. Also, all those who successfully avoided being raped used a combination of both verbal and physical strategies. According to Bart: "The fact that it is possible to avoid rape when attacked should be widely disseminated, particularly in the mass media. News magazines and television should report in detail instances of rape avoidance so women can learn what works...Women should be told about how to maximize the probability of avoiding rape when attacked and about the effectiveness of multiple strategies."23

Factors Resulting in the Combative Model

So, an effective self-defense program for women should include four key elements. It should be based on the kinds of assault women most experience. It should be developed to promote assertiveness, confidence and self-worth. The curriculum should emphasize the skills women already use and include activities to build new skills based on them. Finally, instructors should be able to provide a caring environment where women feel safe to train.24 Courses based on "stranger danger" fail to meet these criteria and are problematic in at least two other important ways.

Only okay to Fight "Back"

First, they perpetuate the myths and legitimize false information. This only serves to frighten women needlessly. But more important is that combative classes reinforce the notion that it is best to retaliate only when there is no doubt that a threat exists. They give permission only to fight back. In other words, it is only okay to fight when very clear cut lines are drawn and a victim is sure there is going to be a physical confrontation, or after the physical assault has begun-too late to prevent it. But sexual assault is overrun with ambiguity and attempts by an assailant to confuse the victim.

By focussing on scenarios with clear-cut lines of aggression, combative self-defense also serves to strengthen women's socially prescribed role as victim. These types of scenarios reject learning to rely on one's own sense of endangerment. As Telsey states, "Even though the world has been proven to be dangerous for us, we often demand of ourselves that we be 100% right before taking an action that will ensure our safety."25

"Many assailants along the continuum employ tricks to gain access to us [the potential victim] and to move us to an isolated location."26 Assailants use tricks and ploys in many different forms. From an offer of help or apologies and reassurances to intimidation and put-downs, a sexual assailant both intentionally and unintentionally tries to manipulate his victim. The majority of assaults begin with conversation that is directed by an assailant. This conversation is directed to manipulate, coerce, and confuse the targeted victim. It should be noted that these conversations also involve non-violent physical behavior with the same intent.*

Classes based on stranger assault present students with scenarios that have a clear cut beginning, middle and end. These scenarios take a student from point A (initial contact) to point C (verbal or physical confrontation) in a predictable pattern. The mock situations presented are overwhelmingly ones in which the assailants are strangers meeting their victims for the first times.

Lack of Information

Another factor is ignorance on the part of instructors. Some martial arts instructors are unaware of the statistics about violence against women. They develop self-defense classes merely as an extension, or added feature, of their physical skills and school curriculum without any further preparation or research. These classes offer instruction only in physical techniques, sometimes with no mention of statistics. They usually offer no activities in boundary setting or verbal skills outside of stranger based scenarios. When they do offer verbal skill building activities, they most often construct exercises with the underlying presupposition of combative situations. The following description from the EZDefense program, developed by the National Association of Professional Martial Artists, reflects much of the same experiences I have had with many local martial arts studios offering women's self-defense courses. The EZDefense course curriculum, drills and activities are all stranger based, street scenarios in which a student meets up with an assailant "woofer" and practices a series of combative physical and verbal boundary setting drills and strikes against him. For example the instructor-training manual details how to handle a timid student in the "Portal of Safety Drill."

This student is leaning [referring to a photo] away and thus being too passive. The student must be made to realize that their body "signals"the predator and thus either encourages or discourages the assailant from continuing his aggressiveness. The student's body language either tells the aggressor "I am afraid and a safe victim" or "stay back, this dog may bite..."

Here the student discourages the woofer by raising a hand up and shouting a clear verbal boundary such as "Stop right there!" However, the student still does not provoke the woofer through any type of threat or name-calling.27

This drill, as do all the others in this program, assumes that the assailant is a stranger and begins his assault at a distance from the intended victim. Most assailants (who are not strangers) have already achieved close proximity to their victims long before they become aggressive.

Denial

Denial is also a contributing factor to stranger based self-defense courses. Many martial artists acknowledge and report about the statistics and data but don't believe them. It is in many ways much easier to deny the reality of how sexual assaults happen, to whom they are happening, and who is committing them. It's easier for both men and women. For women it's easier because disbelief enables them to believe, "THAT wouldn't, won't, couldn't, EVER happen to me." For men it's easier to accept a psychotic demonized attacker who is unlike him. Telsey gives this example: "[W]omen are blamed for assaults against them or for staying in abusive situations; other women then participate in the blaming, partly in an effort to convince themselves that the assaults would not happen to them because they would not behave that way."28

Ease

For most martial artists, teaching physical technique is much easier. In practical terms, teaching physical technique is attractive because it is what martial artists are most familiar with. Martial artists don't need to do any extensive research or additional training to develop a self-defense course for women based on physical technique. It should be noted that another compelling reason to create a combative course is marketability. Combative courses prey on the fears women have. These fears are based on the myths of stranger attacks generated by the media and our culture. Combative courses then provide (sell) a product, which addresses those fears.

It seems in most cases, however, that well-intentioned martial artists simply do not know how to build a self-defense class for women that integrates this information. But, for whatever reason, many martial artists teaching self-defense for women do accept the myths of stranger attacks and construct courses around them. Even those that report about statistics of known assailants offer little in terms of building skills that women need to confront the reality of violence against them. The skills and information necessary for women to learn effective self-defense strategies are not being offered in combative classes.

Examination of Current Combative Class Models

In order to arrive at the best method for building a self-defense course for women, it is useful to look at some of the existing models. Women's self-defense courses can be found in a variety of locations from community centers, high schools, martial arts studios and hunting clubs to elaborate permanent facilities which provide regular training camps. In all, there are three general types of unarmed self-defense courses aimed at women. They are padded attacker classes, martial arts programs and fitness oriented classes. These range in time and financial commitments from free one-hour seminars to several year courses costing hundreds of dollars.29

Padded Attacker Classes

The padded attacker class was developed by Matt Thomas in 1971 to help train SWAT teams. Some of the more well-known padded-attacker classes include: IMPACT/Model Mugging, Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) and Rocky Mountain Combat Applications Training (RMCAT). All of these courses are characterized by students learning striking and verbal boundary setting skills in an established progression. Eventually students graduate to fight with a mock attacker dressed in multiple layers of padding designed to protect him/her from full contact strikes. Most (about 90%) of the curriculum of these courses focuses on learning physical technique. Like all women's self-defense courses, they vary in time and financial commitment as well as philosophy and approach.

Traditional Martial Arts

Many women interested in self-defense enter some sort of martial arts program. These programs vary widely in style, philosophy and approach. For the purposes of this paper a discussion of martial art styles and their subsequent strengths and weaknesses in relationship to women's self defense would be an inordinate undertaking. However, a brief discussion of sexism in martial arts is warranted. Women have been excluded from martial arts education either directly or indirectly for most of its history.

Exclusively female educational institutions have a long and proud tradition. "Some research on women's colleges includes findings that these colleges encourage leadership skills in women, provide women with more female role models, and that they encourage women to focus on traditionally male-dominated fields of study. However, other research finds that factors such as the level of selectivity of the college may play a part in the institution's positive effects on students."30 One of the responses to female exclusion and sexism in martial arts is the emergence of all-female schools and a general discussion among female martial artists about how to deal with sexism in co-ed schools. Organizations like the National Women's Martial Arts Federation and schools like Brooklyn Women's Martial Arts and Valley Women's Martial Arts, Inc. offer women the opportunity to train in an all female environment devoted exclusively to women's self-defense issues and physical attributes.

According to Gelene Fontaine, an instructor at Brooklyn Women's Martial Arts:

A women's school has offered me as a student the opportunity to grow in a supportive, feminist atmosphere. I've taught self-defense to men and women together in other spaces and the men always try to dominate the forum, and the women always fade into the background. (This is still something that we deal with in our children's program which is co-ed-- and it can be hard.)

It's really great to not have to deal with that dynamic. Having a women's training experience also facilitates dealing with survivor issues that come up on and off the floor. We are a lesbian-positive space as well. Our dojo was started by women who are very political and community activism is still part of training.31

Fitness Kickboxing

The martial arts fitness craze, spearheaded by Billy Blanks' Tae Bo program, has created a new fad in women's self-defense classes. One of the most important features of a cardio type class is that it draws a lot of women who would otherwise never enter a martial arts school or self-defense class. Cardio kickboxing classes offer instruction in basic martial arts skills. Many women feel empowered by these classes. I've had several women begin in my CardioKick! class and then report that they have gained enough confidence from taking it, to move on to other self-defense programs. Typically aerobic kickboxing classes are run by either aerobic instructors with no martial arts training, or by martial artists with no aerobics or fitness backgrounds. Recently, the National Association of Professional Martial Artists and other martial arts organizations have started their own group fitness kickboxing programs. An instructor who possesses both martial arts and group fitness instructor skills is ideal for a cardio kickboxing type class.

Other Courses

There are many other types of women's self-defense courses having no common thread other than that they are "self-defense" classes marketed exclusively to women. From one-hour seminars at a local high school or fitness club to various classes offered at martial arts studios, these classes and seminars are as diverse and unique in approach and content as the instructors who teach them.

Examination of Current Multi-Strategy Models

NCASA Guidelines

The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA) has developed some detailed and well-considered guidelines for women choosing a self-defense course. One criterion is:

A good course covers critical thinking about defense strategies, assertiveness, powerful communication skills, and easy to remember physical techniques. The instructor respects and responds to your fears and concerns. Instruction is based on the belief that we can act competently, decisively, and take action for our own protection. Essentially, a good course is based on intelligence and not muscle. It offers tools for enabling a person to connect with her own strength and power.32

Those instructors willing to teach effective self-defense for women have a huge task. They should acquire extensive information about sexual assault, women's socialization and the skills critical for working effectively with women and girls, especially survivors of sexual assault. Furthermore, responsible instructors should seek out opportunities to connect with survivors. One of the best ways to learn about the dynamics of sexual assault is by listening to, and learning from, women who have experienced it.

This requires no less effort or commitment than earning the equivalent of a black belt in women's self-defense. Along with research and education about sexual assault, one of the best ways to get fundamental information on violence against women is through training offered by rape crisis and domestic violence agencies. This sort of free training is typically offered to volunteers. Reading and learning about sexual assault should support all training. Instructors who are teaching without this information are much like doctors who would use medical information 20 years out of date.

There are self-defense courses and instructor certification that meet NCASA's criteria and take into account current data on sexual assault. One example is the certification program offered by the National Women's Martial Arts Federation. These courses are based on the experiences women have had and the ways in which they successfully defend themselves. One other example is Self-Defense From the Inside Out (SDIO) headquartered in Eugene, Oregon. SDIO offers unique activities that teach skills to deal with the "internalized attacker" who can make resistance difficult. By directing attention to the ways in which women are trained (socialized) to be victims, SDIO helps women undo much of the social damage that makes them vulnerable. SDIO founder Nadia Telsey talks about her own experience with the social barriers women face when learning self-defense:

As I acquired more and more physical skills [as a martial artist], and confidence, I was struck by the persistent difficulty I had dealing with ambiguous situations which called for trusting my intuition. I gained the ability to deal with many of he more obvious harassments and even assaults. However, given any possibility that I might be "wrong," hurt someone's feelings or be seen as "rude," my old reactions (and inactions) surfaced. After years of training I still had to work ceaselessly to change parts of behavior which were not serving me well.33

Chimera is another organization that trains instructors to develop and teach courses based on the real experiences of women and the challenges they face in dealing with sexual assault.

Chimera teaches a concept of self-defense which gives women the means to defend themselves. Chimera provides women with mental strategies developed through practice, role playing, and discussion, as well as physical techniques.

The Chimera style of self-defense was developed by women who wanted effective skills that are easy to learn and remember and do not rely on physical strength. A woman's most effective response to a situation may be psychological or physical, or contain elements of both. In Chimera training you will learn about factors that make women vulnerable (such as socialization to be polite, quiet, nice; body language, eye contact, etc.), as well as awareness and assertiveness skills. Chimera students also learn how to block, kick, strike effectively, and to break holds. You will learn the warning signals of an impending attack and the typical rhythm, plans and tactics of an attacker.34

Conclusion

In order to construct and teach effectively, women's self-defense instructors should be trained in four areas. They should have a solid knowledge about the reality of assaults against women and not teach based on the myth of "stranger danger." Instructors should be able to develop and include activities designed to advance women's self-esteem and self worth instead of primarily focusing on physical techniques. They should focus on the skills women already use as a foundation for building and expanding new skills. Finally, instructors should be trained to provide an environment of support and feedback.

The primary target of a woman's body is her heart. Like a sharpshooter, those who commit violence against women choose the most vulnerable area of their victims to attack. A woman's emotions and self-image are typically at the center of the bull's eye. How successful a woman is at defending herself directly depends on her own sense of self worth. The success of most assaults against women is determined long before the physical act of rape. In fact, physical force or restraint is often unnecessary for an assailant to succeed. Skills to protect the heart, mind and integrity surpass all others as the primary skills instructors need to focus on teaching. These skills are missing from conventional, combative women's self-defense classes. Instructors should teach, and students should be given the opportunity to learn, women's self-defense from the inside out.

Sources and recommended reading: