Why self-defense?

Holistic violence prevention should include individual self-defense training.

As a lawyer, I advocated for systemic change to increase violence prevention for many years. I litigated cases for clients who had been beaten, threatened with shotguns, injected with drugs, and otherwise terrorized by their partners. Advocacy, litigation, and education are crucial, but holistic violence prevention also needs to include individual empowerment.

If you want to optimize your individual chances for avoidance and survival of violence, training in personal safety and self-defense is essential. Legal rights won’t protect you when someone tries to rape or assault you. Law enforcement officers generally appear on the scenes after the damage has been done. They enforce laws; they aren’t body guards. Prosecution, even if entirely successful, can serve to restore justice, but won’t undo the crime.

When I started my personal safety and self-defense school, I chose as its logo an imperfect circle with a Roman number three inside. The logo symbolizes several core principles.

The enzo, or imperfect circle, reminds me that the world, while beautiful, isn’t perfect. At some point, you may cross paths with a violent person who is capable of hurting or killing you. Violence is part of the world. No matter where we live. It’s not limited to predictable situations or places; it can erupt anywhere.

Violence can sprout from many different seedbeds. It may be calculated predatory aggression or it may explode from mental illness, emotional disturbance, alcohol or drug use, emotions such as rage or fear, and ego or status issues.

The enzo reminds me to see the beauty of the world, while being mindful of the potential for danger. It also symbolizes working towards a more just and humane world while realizing that we’ll never achieve perfection.

A substantial part of my work focuses on domestic and intimate partner violence. I worked in family law for a long time, and for the last five years,  I served on the board of directors of the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. I also volunteer as a client advocate on a 24/7 crisis line for a domestic violence shelter. Domestic violence coalitions, and shelters generally work on violence prevention through primary prevention.

Primary prevention is sometimes defined as bringing about systemic change through addressing the root causes of violence, such as economic factors, gender-based discrimination, and rigid attitudes towards gender roles. Primary prevention is fundamental to affect change, yet it isn’t enough for people in acute violence situations for whom such change isn’t a reality yet. In the moments of an actual attack, people need tools to avoid victimization or to defend and survive.

Violence affects millions of people worldwide, taking many forms. It includes stalking, assaults, murder, intimate partner violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, workplace harassment, campus violence, trafficking, sexual violence in the military, and sexual violence in prisons.Violence against women is considered one of the greatest challenges globally in anti-violence work. Violence against LGBT, trans-gender and gender-nonconforming people is ubiquitous.

Advocacy for a more perfect world, for systemic change towards a more just, peaceful, and humane world is absolutely necessary, and primary prevention is essential to accomplish meaningful systemic change. But training in individual personal safety and self-defense is also crucial to reduce harm and save lives.

Personal safety and self-defense training should be part of a holistic approach to violence prevention. Advocating for such training has nothing to do with victim blaming.

Giving people additional options to stay safe, to manage risk, and if necessary, to defend themselves, isn’t victim blaming. Rather, it empowers people with knowledge and prevention options – to be safer, to live happier lives, and to fight back if necessary to defend and survive. It honors people’s autonomy, encouraging them to enjoy the world on their terms.


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