Standing Up to Rape Culture: The New Class You Will Want to Take Up

"Self-defence is not just about protecting yourselves from assailants... it’s about physical empowerment."

Last month, a 20-year-old woman was murdered in my hometown after a nightclub refused her entry on the grounds of her being too drunk. She was last seen on CCTV talking to two men in the early hours of the morning. Since then, a man has been charged with murder after her body was found at his home. A post-mortem confirmed she died from pressure to the neck.

I just can’t get the fate of that young woman out of my mind. I have been to that very nightclub myself on numerous occasions with friends. It could have happened to anyone.

Since the attack there has been much more discussion in the local area concerning methods of avoiding these atrocities. Nightclubs are being urged to possess ‘safe rooms’ - areas where women (and men) can remain until they can be escorted home. No one should be thrown out on the streets alone and be made vulnerable. But what really caught my attention was that my local gym had started promoting free self-defence classes for women in the aftermath of the murder. I didn’t know anything about self-defence classes – I didn't even know they existed. I began researching and found that they are actually very common across the UK. This struck me as something amazing but ultimately sad: should women really have to be taking lessons from rape survivors about how to defend themselves should it happen to them? Unfortunately, yes. We live in a world where walking down the street or across campus at night can be a very uncomfortable - even traumatic - experience.

Manchester-based Karl Tanswell, a fully qualified martial arts instructor and expert in self defence, praises Defence Awareness Tactics (DAT). He states ‘self defence techniques will dedicate a large amount of the lesson to making you aware of your surroundings that may prevent you from ending up in an attack situation’. He explains it means ‘being aware at all times of any potential threats.’ Founder of the nationwide Self Defence Federation, Dave Turton, adds ‘Most people do not think that anything can happen to them. They believe that a short cut home over the common will be safe. But it could also be a short cut to being attacked if they are not aware of their situation. Being alert is one of the best self defence tactics you can learn.' Well said, Dave.

Additionally, Turton states pupils will ‘learn several techniques to help you end any attack as soon as possible. These include hand and elbow strikes to hit your attacker, kicks to the vulnerable parts of the attacker's body and learning how to force your attacker to loosen his grip, for example, by poking him in the eyes.’ The ‘escape’ stage of classes focus on ‘removing yourself quickly from the situation. Techniques can include injuring your attacker or making him aware that you are not a typical victim - such as by shouting - so he abandons another attack.’ You can absolutely use your heels if necessary. This also brings to mind Rory Banwell’s powerful photography series ‘Still Not Asking For It’, which tackles the issue of victims being blamed for sexual assaults. This victim blaming needs to stop. Rape is not okay in any shape or form. Consent is a thing and it matters. Forget the ‘dark alleyway’ stigma – rape can also happen at home.

I also recently came across the ‘self-defence paradox’ - some feminists believe that self-defence classes are justifying rape because they see women as preparing for an attack, which suggests it is an inevitability. Some people believe that women should not have to learn how to defend themselves from sexual assault and that the real issue we need to tackle is a culture change.

Whilst I appreciate this perspective, I am certainly not going to wait around for a cultural shift in the hope that I feel safer on the streets – I’d like to do something so I actually stand a fighting chance if someone starts following me home. The outdated common mantra ‘don’t teach women how not to get raped, teach men not to rape’ is changing; as British journalist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett asserts, "self-defence is not just about protecting yourselves from assailants... it’s about physical empowerment".

Now I don’t know about you, but I really want some boxing gloves.

Edited by Sarah Holmes

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