Empowerment Through Self-Defense

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By Rebecca Lynn

The word self-defense is often defined by stereotypes and myths. To a domestic violence survivor, it may bring to mind the movie Enough. Jennifer Lopez transforms from a defenseless victim into a lean, mean killing machine. She seeks revenge against her abuser and in the end, gets it. Like most movies, she lives happily ever after without any legal complications from his death. It’s okay to admit if you were cheering her on; she made a strong statement–and clearly had enough. Bu, the self-defense I am referring to is not about revenge or murder, but rather empowerment, protection, and healing.


Self-defense is made of two separate words, each with their own meaning. Stereotypically the word is seen as protecting the self through physical means, learning to become a fighter, and gaining physical strength. However, looking at the words individually provides a more accurate description of self-defense.

The word “self” tends to be minimized when placed next to a word like “defense.” But like so many domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, the idea of self may bring up feelings of weakness and fear. This is where empowerment comes in. Empowerment is a word that is consistently used when talking about survivors recovering from abuse. It is essential to healing, gaining back the power that was taken from you, and learning to see the importance and strength in yourself. The end result of self-defense is gaining the empowerment needed to recognize that you are worth protecting.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary; defense is “the capability of resisting an attack” or something used to protect yourself both physically and emotionally. Self-defense is not about learning how to beat up your abuser, but rather how to become more aware of your environment and learn essential survival skills that protect both your body and mind.

But what about…

Although self-defense classes are increasingly popular, especially those focused on empowering survivors, it is sometimes still met with skepticism and resistance for a variety of reasons. According to domesticshelters.org, some of the more prominent reasons include:

  • Lack of knowledge about the true definition and benefits of learning self-defense.
  • Concern over legal issues and jail time involved in defending themselves.
  • Feel too weak, helpless, or incapable of protecting themselves
  • Worry about the guilt of defending themselves against someone they love
  • Not wanting to use violence to fight violence.

What to look for in a self-defense class

Not all self-defense classes are the same. As a victim or survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, there are several characteristics a self-defense program should include. According to Self-defense; An Intervention Technique to Empower Victims of Domestic violence, it is essential that a program contains these philosophical points:

  • Focus on the mind, not just the body
  • Empowerment-driven; focuses on building self-confidence and support, and reducing anxiety and depression.
  • Reinforce the importance of self-defense to avoid, interrupt or resist an assault.
  • Teach survival skills such as awareness of the environment, assessing escape plans, protecting one’s self-using mental, physical and verbal techniques.
  • Highlight prevention by teaching boundary setting skills, identifying red flags, increasing assertiveness, de-escalation, understanding choices and options and trusting their instincts when in dangerous situations.
  • Reassure the survivor that they are not responsible if they are unable to stop a future assault. The perpetrator is to blame, regardless of what the victim chooses to do or not do during the attack.
  • Does not tell what “should” or “should not” be done, since each situation has its own unique circumstances.
  • Provide a safe environment where victims can become empowered together by sharing stories and socializing.
  • Teach street safety, defense from a variety of distances, basic strikes, kicks, and blocks. In addition to an understanding of vital body points that will distract an attacker, so the victim can get to safety.

Empowerment self-defense resources

According to Research on Self-Defense, self-defense can decrease the risk of assault, especially in cases of rape. Victims whoare educated, empowered, and aware of potential danger are more likely to prevent an attack or escape one. Empowerment self-defense courses are becoming more prevalent and accessible through local businesses or non-profit organizations. The National Center of Domestic and Sexual Violence provides a list of resources on Self-defense classes. Contacting your local domestic violence and sexual assault agencies could help provide additional resources.

Empowerment is a process, one that requires goals, knowledge, and action. Making the decision to learn self-defense allows you to regain control over your life.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.


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