This summer, I had a burst of inspiration to try a self-defense class. I wanted to be as strong as Elaine Benes, the main character on the sitcom “Seinfeld,” who is known for her confidence and assertiveness. Unfortunately, the classes I could find were more expensive and held less frequently than I thought. I then checked the schedule for Temple Campus Recreation group fitness classes, but to my surprise, the university doesn’t offer any free, extracurricular self-defense options.
This school year, Temple has reported four rape cases on or around campus, according to CBS Philly. In 2016, Temple reported 13 rape crimes, 12 aggravated assault crimes and 212 harassment crimes within the TUPD patrol border. With these statistics, I assumed offering self-defense classes would be a no-brainer.
Temple should offer free self-defense classes to all students. Offering these classes will help students feel more prepared in an attack. According to a University of Oregon study, participation in self-defense classes can reduce a person’s risk of being sexually assaulted.
Of course, it is not the responsibility of survivors to prevent their own assault, but being prepared with self-defense classes can help.
The University of Oregon report also highlighted testimonies from women who found it easier to stand up for themselves when men were acting inappropriately around them. Most of the women said they might not have felt comfortable being so assertive prior to receiving their self-defense training.
The study read, “A significantly lower percentage of [women] who received self-defense training reported incidents of any kind.”
Currently, the College of Public Health offers an accredited self-defense course only open to women. This semester, five sections were open to about 120 female students. Although this class is a step in the right direction, it is not enough to only offer an academic option for learning self-defense, and to only offer it to women.
Although reports of sexual assault are statistically higher among women and girls, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, these numbers can be even higher for transgender people. They should have options for learning self-defense too.
“We live in a culture where sexual harassment, be it catcalling, touching, groping, misogynistic comments, is the norm,” said Tom Berendt, an adjunct religion studies instructor with a focus on feminist theory.
“[Sexual harassment is] all very situational,” said Donna Gray, the special services coordinator at Campus Safety Services. “You could call it ‘situational preparedness,’ so when people approach you, you know how to respond.”
“There should be workshops every month where it’s self-defense, awareness of what is sexual abuse, how to react to verbal abuse, what’s the difference between hate speech and…freedom of speech,” said Berendt.
Gray suggested the university offer a class every four weeks with information on sexual assault and self-defense training.
“I do think as people are confident asserting themselves, they’re in a position to better protect themselves,” said Gray.
During Sexual Assault Prevention Week, which was held the second week of September, Temple Student Government hosted a self-defense workshop. But, like most things, self-defense cannot be taught in one workshop.
“Safety needs to be routine,” Gray said.
Temple should be consistent in fighting sexual violence. Empowering people with the knowledge of self-defense may offer them confidence and safety in the event of an attack. And working harder to educate students about sexual abuse and how to recognize would be a huge step in the right direction.
Even though it should never be the responsibility of survivors to prevent assault, they can feel safer and more empowered if they participate in self-defense classes. I hope the university will work with students to offer more accessible, free options to learn to defend themselves.