“RESEARCH ON SELF-DEFENCE” – Jocelyn A. Hollander, Ph.D., University of Oregon
Q: Does self-defence prevent violence?
A: This is really two questions:
First, can women’s resistance stop sexual assault? The answer is a resounding “Yes“. There is a large and nearly unanimous body of research that demonstrates that women frequently resist violence, and that their resistance is often successful. This research, of course, includes many women without self‐defence training.
Second, does self-defence training decrease women’s risk of assault? Again, “Yes“. Three major studies over the past few years, including a large, randomised control trial, found that women who complete an ESD class are at least 50-60% less likely to be raped over the following year than similar women who did not learn self-defence (see Hollander 2014, Senn et al. 2015, Sarnquist et al. 2014, and Sinclair et al. 2013). In other words, women who learn self-defence are both more likely to avoid rape if they are attacked, and much less likely to be attacked in the first place.
Q: Does fighting back increase a woman’s risk of injury?
No. In short, women resist because they are being injured, rather than being injured because they resist, resistance does not increase the risk of injury.
“There is no indication of increased physical injury in women who chose to confront their assailant” – (Ullman, S. E. (1998) – Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 13, 179-192.)
Q: Shouldn’t we be putting all our resources into prevention strategies focused on perpetrators?
No. Violence against women is a complex social problem. Ultimately, large-scale social changes will be needed before violence against women can be stopped. However, this kind of social change is slow – and so far, our efforts have not been very successful. If we focus only on perpetrator-focused, “primary” prevention strategies, we are condemning millions of women to suffering rape and sexual assault. While we wait for these efforts to work, ESD training can provide an immediate, and effective, antidote for sexual violence.
There has been … research on the effectiveness of prevention strategies focused on potential perpetrators. Most strategies that have been rigorously evaluated have been found to be ineffective at preventing violence. (See Graham, Embry et al 2019).
Preventing sexual violence will require a comprehensive range of efforts. Some efforts should be long-term (e.g., cultural climate assessment and change), others should be medium-term (e.g., bystander intervention training), and some should be short-term (e.g., self-defence training). We do not have to choose only one approach; a complex social problem requires that we address it on multiple fronts and in multiple ways.
Q: Is self-defence victim blaming?
No! Empowerment-based self-defence classes explicitly attribute responsibility for assault to perpetrators, not victims. Just because a woman is capable of defending herself does not mean that she is responsible for doing so.
Although self-defence training is frequently lumped in with other kinds of risk reduction advice (e.g., staying out of public spaces, traveling with a buddy, wearing modest clothing, or avoiding alcohol), it differs in important ways. Staying home, relying on others for protection, and limiting one’s clothing or alcohol consumption all constrain women’s lives. Self-defence training, in contrast, expands women’s range of action, empowering them to make their own choices about where they go and what they do.
Some people have worried that women who learn self-defence may blame themselves if they are later unable to prevent an attack. However, research has found that women with self-defence training who experience a subsequent assault blame themselves no more – or even less – than women without self-defence training. Moreover, women who are raped but physically resist are actually less likely than other women to blame themselves for their assault.
Q: What else should I know about self protection training?
Learning self-defence empowers women in ways that go far beyond preventing assault. Empowerment self-defence training decreases women’s fear and anxiety and increases their confidence, their sense of self-efficacy, and their self‐esteem. Learning self-defence helps women feel stronger and more confident in their bodies. Women report more comfortable interactions with strangers, acquaintances, and intimates, both in situations that seem dangerous and those that do not. Empowerment self-defence training can also be healing to survivors of sexual violence.