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A broad convening of Empowerment Self-Defense practitioners developed the following Code of Ethics in 2021. So far, more than 50 practitioners have signed on. If you're an ESD practitioner and would like to adopt the code, please follow this link and fill out the form. 



Empowerment self-defense (ESD) provides tools to prevent, interrupt, and heal from abuse, violence, and harassment, as well as skills to interrupt and challenge abuses of power. ESD practitioners approach our work from a feminist, antiracist, gender-inclusive, disability-inclusive, and social justice-oriented perspective, and we acknowledge larger societal and systemic factors that cause and contribute to violence.


This Code of Ethics (COE) states the values and ethical principles of ESD professionals, including teachers and practitioners. (Those two terms will be used interchangeably in this document to refer to people who teach ESD classes and/or lead organizations that teach ESD.) The following guidelines are intended for ESD professionals in addressing our work with students and families of students, such as in the instance with youth.


The ethics described in this document represent a consensus of leaders in the field and are designed to be voluntarily adopted and used by local ESD organizations, national and international ESD membership organizations, and individual ESD teachers and practitioners.



ESD has its roots in social, gender, and racial justice movements. Its purpose is to offer safety skills and strategies to people who are targeted for violence, such as people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, people of color, and women. The purpose of ESD is to help people live full lives that are not diminished by violence or abuse and to trust one’s own judgment. ESD practitioners teach skills and strategies that expand people’s choices, not limit them. ESD programs encourage students to make choices that are right for their lives, rather than insisting they follow rigid rules.


Adoption of this Code of Ethics signifies commitment to acting with integrity, defined as:

     • choosing our actions based on values and facts rather than personal gain,

     • treating others with respect and communicating honestly, and

     • ensuring that students and staff can freely consent to participate in our programs.



Ethical principles for ESD practitioners fall into five categories:

1. Physical and Emotional Safety

2. Financial Integrity

3. Accessibility, Inclusion, Empowerment, and Social Justice

4. Professional Competence

5. Professional Boundaries



1. ESD practitioners maintain training and organizational environments that are free from harassment and abuse of students, staff, and community partners. The intent of this ethical standard is not to prohibit relationships among consenting adults but to highlight and guard against abuses of power.

ESD practitioners do not engage in sexual harassment or sexual or intimate relationships with current students or staff in training.

Because the relationship between a student and a teacher is one in which the teacher always has more power, this boundary helps to guard against unequal relationships and exploitation.

Some ESD organizations prohibit all sexual or intimate relationships with former students. If allowed, there should be clear policies about when those relationships are permitted.


Parameters should include length of time since the end of the student-teacher relationship and account for age differences (such as no relationships with former students who took classes as minors). ESD organizations that are led by people who are also close friends or intimate partners have clear communication and/or written policies to ensure that close relationships are equitable and consensual.


2. ESD instructors respect physical and emotional boundaries regarding touch. All touch is either educational (to help a student learn a skill) or supportive (to offer comfort or reassurance in a difficult moment). Instructors ask for and receive consent from students before touching them, and offer alternatives to students who say no. Touch is observable and interruptible by others (not a secret) and consent is able to be freely given or refused at any time without negative repercussions.


3. Physical skills are accessible to students with different abilities and needs and are within the capabilities of the students in that course. ESD instructors are trauma informed and have skills for addressing trauma activations.


4. Instructors maintain safe and healthy relationships by engaging in respectful interactions with others (adults and children). ESD practitioners do not erode boundaries, disregard consent, offer or accept inappropriate gifts or privileges, isolate individuals from a group, or belittle, bully, or insult others. Any interaction between any child and an ESD practitioner is observable, interruptible, and not secretive.


5. Practitioners prioritize student safety/well-being if we receive an abuse disclosure or suspect abuse. We respond effectively in a proactive, trauma-informed manner. Organization policies prohibit retaliation against a person who reports abuse.


Examples of addressing abuse scenarios may include:

     ● That staff member or volunteer is removed from contact with children pending an investigation or restorative or transformative justice process.

     ● If an abuse report is made against the owner of an ESD business or executive director of an ESD nonprofit, additional protections are in place to ensure that the leader can be removed from their position pending an investigation.

     ● ESD organizations may engage in a restorative or transformative justice process that creates accountability and healing from harm. This could mean practitioners partner with others in our communities to lead such a process.

     ● ESD practitioners make referrals to service providers in our communities who can provide emergency support in situations of suspected or reported abuse by a child’s parent, caregiver, or household member in the case that the child cannot safely return home.

6. ESD students have the right to question, challenge, have choice, and set boundaries with instructors and organizations without negative consequences.



1. ESD professionals, to the extent practical for our personal or organizational financial situation, make programs accessible to all regardless of a student’s ability to pay. This may include sliding-scale fees, scholarships, or discounts. Students who receive scholarships or reduced-fee classes should not be expected to do chores that are not expected of other students (like cleaning the training room). In the case of barter in lieu of fees, arrangements are made in a noncoercive manner. Discounts, scholarships, and barter arrangements are not disclosed to other students. Public information about scholarships is provided without any way to identify recipients, unless they volunteer that information.

2. ESD practitioners do not pressure students to pay for anything. Fees, refunds, and cancellation policies are communicated to students in writing and are not changed without notice.

3. ESD practitioners never borrow money from students or their families, nor ask them to invest in a for-profit ESD business. Nonprofit ESD organizations may solicit donations from students but do not provide special treatment to those who donate or create consequences for those who do not donate.


4. ESD practitioners pay workers a fair and living wage. ESD practitioners follow local, regional, and country laws regarding taxes, insurance, payroll, and financial dealings.



1. ESD practitioners welcome trans and nonbinary/gender nonconforming people in classes, use appropriate pronouns, and make classes relevant to the types of violence that trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people and members of other marginalized groups experience. This may include understanding that a person’s gender may not match their biology.


2. ESD organizations have antiracism policies and practices. These may include: a) recruiting, training, maintaining, and supporting people of color for staff and leadership roles; b) educating staff, board members, and volunteers; and c) offering programs serving communities of color.


3. ESD instructors use explicitly antiracist language and perspective. ESD instructors understand the history of racism and colonialism and the ways self-defense has been unequally accessible based on race. ESD practitioners name racism explicitly and challenge the part racism plays in the ways people perceive and understand safety and danger. ESD practitioners acknowledge the barriers to accessing help and support from different systems (e.g., law enforcement, social services, etc.) due to systemic racism.


4. ESD practitioners work to build the skills to make techniques accessible to people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities.


5. ESD instructors establish and uphold guidelines for behavior and speech affirming human rights.  


6. ESD programs value promoting and expanding choice and encourage students to trust their own judgments rather than requiring that they follow rigid rules.



1. ESD instructors engage in continuing education on a regular basis. Some areas of continuing education include:

     • Trauma-informed teaching

     • Best practices for verbal, nonverbal, and physical skills

     • Training in racial, gender, disability, and social justice

     • Learning about how to respond to suspected or reported abuse.


2. ESD organizations have clear processes for training instructors and ensuring that we are qualified to teach. ESD practitioners do not teach skills or concepts that are outside our expertise or training.


3. ESD practitioners teach skills and strategies that are consistent with the research evidence. ESD instructors keep up with current research and update curricula accordingly.


4. ESD practitioners demonstrate responsible use of data, research, and curriculum materials by appropriately recognizing others’ work and citing sources for any statistics or research results.


5. If ESD instructors are evaluating programs, we conduct research ethically and responsibly with appropriate permission and supervision. We present the results of evaluation research truthfully.



1. ESD instructors acknowledge we are responsible for our own personal, professional, and business needs and therefore don’t place responsibility for fulfilling these needs onto our students. ESD instructors will identify and have available our own support system (outside of our students), which might include practices of self-care, taking time off, peer support, accessing mentoring or counseling, and additional training.


2. It is not the role of students to take care of their instructors or to be responsible for their instructors’ well-being, trauma, or physical or emotional needs. The role of instructors is to maintain a safe space for their students.


3. ESD instructors are intentional about sharing personal information. Any sharing of personal information with students should have a teaching purpose.


4. ESD practitioners keep students’ experiences confidential. We do not share identifying information about students outside of class, and we communicate our expectations regarding confidentiality to students at the beginning of classes.


5. ESD practitioners don’t sell mailing lists or share students’ personal information with others without students’ consent.


Adi Wimmer

El HaLev

Alena Schaim


Allison Hui

Hanuman Muay Thai


Anne Kuzminsky

Independent ESD Teacher


Ariana Gomes



Aude Mulliez

Independent ESD Teacher


Bianka Urbanovska

Independent ESD Teacher


Brianna R. Hamlyn


Carol Middleton

DC Self Defense Karate Assn

DC IMPACT Self Defense


Carrie Slack

Independent ESD Teacher


Clara Porter

Prevention. Action. Change.


Coty DeLacretaz

Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self Defense, NFP


Darla Bolon

Independent ESD Instructor


Gentiana Susaj


Jay (Janet) O'Shea

Independent ESD Teacher


JB Ramos

Combat Science: Warrior Arts of Asia

Jessica Stainbrook, Jocelyn Hollander, Justine Halliwill

University of Oregon Empowerment Self-Defense program

Joanne Factor

Strategic Living LLC


Independent ESD Instructor


Julie Harmon


Karen Chasen

Prepare Inc

Kim Rivers

Labrys Empowerment Self Defense


Lauren Bailey and Lindsey Ross

Thrive Empowerment Center

Lauren R. Taylor

Defend Yourself

Linda Leu


Linda Stucbartova

ESD Czechia

Martha Thompson

Independent ESD Teacher


Mary McQueen Alford

Independent ESD Teacher


Meg Stone


Michelle Johnson Blimes

Be Empowered

Michelle Pereira-Henriquez

Soul Warriors Empowerment Self-Defense

Nagin Cox

Independent ESD Teacher


Nikki Smith

Independent ESD Teacher


NWMAF Self-Defense

National Women's Martial Arts Federation

Pacha Leal

Autodefensa Femininja


Rachel Piazza

Feminist Self-Defense


S. Renee Wentz

SHE Thing Self-Defense


Sally Van Wright

The Leopard School of Martial Arts


Shay Mooster

Soaring Phoenix / DWWD

Silvia Smart

Naga Martial Arts |  Self-Defense | Community

Stephanie Cyr

Strength Within Self Defense

Tara Brinkman

IMPACT Chicago Self-Defense


Tasca A Shadix



Tasha Ina Church


Thomas Rogers

Stand Strong! Stop Violence!


Tim Brown

Personal Strength

Toby Israel

Mujeres Fuertes Costa Rica

Wendi Dragonfire

Dragonfire Dreams Unlimited


Yehudit Sidikman

MyPwr Ltd

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