Is self-defence a figure of empowerment or a form of “victim blaming” for women?

Ellie Browning explores the positives and negatives of whether self-defence is an important safety tool for women.

According to Rape Crisis one in four women have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult. In 2023, the most common crime across England was violence and sexual assault.

Many women find it empowering to know self-defence as a way of feeling safe from males in the street.

Maya Florkowski has trained in Martial Arts for most of her life and in April 2023, she decided to start her own self-defence classes in Lancaster.

“I think it’s really important that women learn how to defend themselves. I think all women should know at least some basic self-defence” she said.

“The world shouldn’t be the way it is but there’s so many incidents that do happen and a lot of them are assaults and things against women that people should have more awareness about.”

TAI CHI: Maya teaching Tai chi to her students. Credit: Maya Florkowski.

As well as keeping you safe in the street, Martial Arts can also help with your mental wellbeing, your physical fitness and can be very beneficial for focus and awareness.

Maya is also an instructor at her dad’s Tai Chi club. She said she wants to help the elderly with their health and fitness.

“I say the Tai Chi helps with balance and the awareness side. It is proven that Tai Chi can help prevent falls in the elderly.

Self-defence was initially created by the Japanese to defend themselves against colonisers and threats of violence.

While Martial Arts has been expanded to become a sport and a competition, the history of the art is to defend yourself from an attacker in any means possible if there is a threat of violence.

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Last month, this mother of three was bear hugged from behind and slammed on her head by a suspected robber who followed her for 24 miles before carrying out the attack. Here are 3 bear hug defenses everyone should learn. 🙏🏼 #selfdefense#selfdefenseforwomen #safetytips #jiujitsuforwomen #bjjgirls #jiujitsugirl #jiujitsutok #graciejiujitsu #evetorres #renergracie

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TIKTOK: Self defence escapes from a bear hug.

However, not every woman finds it empowering to know self-defence, some actually find it disempowering and “fundamentally wrong”.

Antonia Charlesworth-Stack is a Journalist from Blackpool who created her campaign ‘Reclaim Blackpool’ after Sarah Everard was murdered by a Police Officer.

With many women feeling unsafe and protesting the streets, Antonia decided to create her campaign to write about women’s stories of sexual violence and assault to create change in Blackpool.

“People often question women’s stories and their authenticity and accuse women of lying. Having a place to put your story where you will be believed is really important.”

RECLAIM BLACKPOOL: A campaign which shares women’s stories and experiences. Credit: Antonia Charlesworth-Stack.

Antonia feels strongly that women shouldn’t have to learn self-defence as a safety tool because it is wrong that women are being attacked in the first place.

“Women alter their behaviour to ensure their own safety but that is fundamentally wrong we shouldn’t have to be doing things to ensure we are safe. We shouldn’t be getting attacked in the first place. What needs to change is misogynistic attitudes and violence against women needs to stop so that we don’t have to change how we behave and what we do.”

In regards to self defence, Antonia added: “Why should we have to know how to defend ourselves? In a way the idea of it is like victim blaming. If that rape victim had known self-defence would that have not happened to her? Should I have dressed differently? Should I have not walked down that street? Should I have defended myself? It’s not our responsibility to do anything differently, it’s men’s responsibility to behave differently.

“I’m not saying learning self-defence is a bad thing. Every woman should have the choice to do that if they want to. They might find it empowering and they might feel safer because of it but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be safer. On an ideological level it shouldn’t have to exist.“

TWEET: Should self defence be compulsory in schools?

Now, moving to the other side of the country to Preston can be scary and the threat of being unsafe and knowing you don’t have your family near you can be even scarier.

UCLan student, Bee Weekes joined the Karate society when moving from Surrey to Preston as a way of feeling safe and being apart of a team. She has Situational Syncope which means she can faint at any moment.

“Being a 5ft tall girl I know that both my family and I were worried about me moving 250 miles away from home and about me being safe. Learning karate at uni has not only taught me to learn self-defence but has also shown me that despite all of my medical issues, I am capable of doing hard things. Everyone in the club always encourages each other and make sure we all train to the best of our ability.”

KARATE: UCLan Karate students Bee and Liv practicing self defence. Credit: Ellie Browning.

When asked should women have to learn self-defence to ensure their own safety? Bee said: “I think we have to learn it because of society. If society was different we wouldn’t have to. But right now I can’t walk the streets without being scared.

“In an ideal word, no one would need to but I think if you feel vulnerable, I think it’s a good idea to learn something. “

Many men don’t realise the thoughts and fears that women feel everyday and they don’t know the extent of what women experience because it is not talked about enough.

Bradley Ralph, a black belt in Karate, Ju Jitsu and Judo and instructor at his dojo in Colne spoke about his experiences of training women and feeling responsible for the protection of women.

“I truly believe that learning a martial art or self-defence is vital for a woman. Not only do you learn to protect yourself and potentially others, you can create a sense of togetherness within the place you train. And in relation to making them feel safe, they can go out with their new found friends and feel like they can take on the world. “

KICK: Bradley performing a flying side kick in his dojo. Credit: Bradley Ralph.

“It frightens me as everyone should have a right to roam around freely without having those deeply frightening thoughts. Some men could take time out of their day and look at the everlasting scars that their actions leave on victims. Those mental or physical scars will never leave their mind, they will never have peace at all.“

With all the positives and negatives of self-defence, bring your attention back to the question: Is self-defence a figure of empowerment or a form of “victim blaming” for women?