Fighting Back:

womyn taking a physical approach to sexual assault

by Yael Grauer Waukegan, Illinois


Someone is being raped as you read this.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a womyn is sexually assaulted somewhere in America every two minutes. Hundreds of thousands of womyn are raped or assaulted every year. One in two rape victims is under the age of 18, and teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 are three and a half more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.

Most of us have heard these statistics or ones like them. We live in a society that has a problem, a society where many men think it's okay to be violent towards womyn. Our society also teaches us from a very young age that womyn are convenient targets for male aggression because they can't fight back. Well, that just simply isn't true.

I am standing in a line along with a small group of courageous womyn. We have all decided that we need to say "NO!" No to a society that tells us we cannot defend ourselves, no to a society which teaches us from day one to be polite, to smile needlessly, to risk the threat of violence in order to avoid being loud or making a scene.

We have decided that our safety is more important.

In the middle of the room stands a highly-trained female instructor who has taken us through a step-by-step process of developing skills. We have practiced verbal boundary-setting. We have learned how to assess danger. We have worked on various physical skills that will enable us to defend ourselves from a potential mugger or rapist. And now we are ready. In the middle of the room stands a mock assailant. Because of his heavily padded armor and extensive training, we are able to deliver full force strikes and kicks. We are called, one by one, and asked if we are ready. Then we proceed to simulations. We do not know how we will be attacked, but we are ready to defend ourselves.

I watch from the sidelines at these womyn that I have met only a week before. Each of us has been scared to death at times, many of us have been raped or assaulted in the past, and before the class most of us felt unable to defend ourselves. I watch one by one as each womyn uses the skills she has learned, successfully knocks out the mugger, and then gets back in line. The class I took, Impact Self-Defense, has been praised in many books including The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker, Real Knockouts by Martha McCaughey and Beauty Bites Beast by Ellen Snortland. The four-session self-defense course builds on the capacity that womyn already have effective self-defense: the power of our hips and legs, the ability to make good judgments, the ability to follow our instinct and use our emotions.

The class was only 24 hours, and few of the participants were in shape. Class members have ranged in age from 14 to 70. In a safe, supportive environment, we made tremendous progress. The classes were incredible, as were the womyn in them. But the impact (pun intended) the course has had on my life has been even more amazing. Researchers have found that Impact Self-Defense graduates report increased ability to set boundaries, increased self-confidence, and greater freedom in their everyday lives (Ozer & Bandura, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology). I am glad that I am able to walk alone at night when I need to. The statistics on rape and assault are staggering, but self-defense classes like Impact are ending violence against womyn, ten to fifteen womyn at a time.

Call (800) 345-KICK for information on the Impact courses nearest you.


This article originally appeared online, at

Dec 97 | Spring 98 | Summer 98 | Fall 98 | Spring 99 | Summer 99 | Fall 99 | Spring 00 | Summer 00

Back hallway (Home)