In a Culture of Rape, How Can We Not Insist That Women Learn Self-Defense?

04/29/2015 12:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

Today's culture is arguably one where rape and sexual assault are supported by societal norms of male aggression and female weakness. For a very long time, the responsibility for rape has been shouldered by women; while at the same time they have largely accepted the notion
that they do not possess the wherewithal to protect themselves.

Here are the questions we face and should collectively be tackling: What can women do to protect themselves from attempted rapes and sexual assault? Should they wait for violent men to be taught non-violent behavior? Should they rely on PSAs made by celebrities and professional athletes to influence others? What about women learning rape resistance training? Why is this type of training not available for every woman? Why is this not of paramount importance for each and every high school and college aged young woman?

Self-defense training for women should be a priority. The basic needs of personal security seem to be fulfilled by the presence of a security camera, the purchase of mace, a download of a safety app, calling the police or relying on the presence of a male figure to ward off an attacker. It seems as though the thought of a woman becoming her first and last line of defense against the threat or act of violence is perhaps only found in the final scene of a revenge film.

As a self-defense expert, every time I walk into a room full of women waiting for me to teach them my techniques, I look around and wonder what life event or circumstance brought them here. Did someone make them take this class? Was the cycling class full? Or could they actually be seeking effective self-defense training rather than automatically assuming that this type of class was for muscle-bound MMA devotees?

Once, I, too, did not value self-defense training. After being followed home from school as a teenager, my father signed me up for a self-defense seminar. I went to the seminar reluctantly, bid my time during the class, and didn't think much of it. The little attention I paid in that class was of limited value when a couple of years later I was in a dire situation trying to defend myself from a physical and sexual assault. While I lacked effective techniques to fully protect myself, by some miracle I was able to escape severe injury.

My subsequent failed attempts to move on from the trauma of my assault led me to frustration and disappointment. I finally decided to take another self-defense class so that at the very least I wouldn't face another attack. To my surprise, facing the attack I experienced and working through the flashbacks as I held in tears gave me a sense of empowerment. While I could not control the actions of a man I thought I loved, I could take action and ensure that I would never again be a victim of someone else's violent behavior.

As I trained more frequently, I felt like I was confronting the fear and emotional pain of my attack, and doing something positive towards healing. I also knew that the variations and complexities of the self-defense techniques I was taught in classes by male instructors, which relied on physical strength, would not work for women in general. As I began mastering these techniques and developing my own, I set out to work with military personnel, law enforcement officials and security specialists to teach them my own approach of self-defense for women. Still, while fine-tuning and testing my methodology, I had a nagging suspicion that I was missing a key concept of self-defense and persuading others to master it too.

It wasn't until I contemplated my feelings of disconnect between my self-defense training and the young passive woman I had been that I hit the true meaning of self-defense. I saw for the first time thatthe ability to "defend" yourself could impact all aspects of a life that you wanted to live and love. Based on this personal discovery, I went on to create a program of self-defense for women, with an emphasis on personal control of their own safety. This mindset goes against psychological barriers to rape resistance such as women being socialized to "be nice" and their belief in their own weakness as compared to men's overpowering strength. My mantra became this: I would attack the life that I wanted, before life would attack me. It is imperative that women approach self-defense training with this new approach -- as they break down their resistance based on denial, avoidance and fear.

My call to action is simple. High schools should offer self-defense classes that are tailored for young women and as these students transition to college they should receive additional training. They also need to learn to resist traditional gender-role socialization so that they are able to harness their innate ability to defend themselves and claim their right to actualize their potential. I also propose that each level of government actively support community programs which offer women effective self-defense training while at the same time, work to eliminate violent tendencies of far too many men. Before there is a loud outcry about the cost of these programs, take note that according to the, it has been determined that rape is the most expensive of all crimes to its victims, with total estimated costs at $127 billion a year.

It is possible for our community to fight rape culture while providing self-defense training as a comprehensive tool for empowerment in all aspects of a woman's life. To realize this possibility, we must look at our roles, responsibilities and influences in society and utilize both our professional and personal resources to make this change now and for the future.

Stay Safe & Live Well,

Avital Zeisler
Founder, The Soteria Method™