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Empowerment self-defense teaches practical skills to those targeted for gender-based violence – primarily women and LGBTQIA+ people. The skills work for avoiding, interrupting, responding to, and healing from the effects of interpersonal violence.


We teach those skills in the context of rape culture, addressing the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and socio-cultural components of standing up for yourself and others.


ESD is grounded in an understanding of social inequality and social justice, and addresses the whole spectrum of gender-based violence, from harassment to attack, from micro-aggressions to trafficking.


In short, ESD is anything we think or say or do that helps us feel safe, strong, and respected in all situations.


The following are core elements of ESD practice:


  • We know that there are trauma survivors in every room, and we teach with awareness of trauma responses.

  • We actively repudiate victim-blaming, and honor anything anyone has done or is doing to survive.

  • We facilitate use of the student group for support, healing, and social connection, especially for trauma survivors.

  • We prioritize training in responses to harassment, abuse, and assault by people we know, as they make up the vast majority of aggressions.

  • Classes are taught by people who look, and who have life experiences, as much as possible, like those learning.

  • We include healing and community organizing resources to help people recover from violence and increase safety for everyone.

  • Every activity in an ESD classroom is optional, and we use and model consent throughout the class.

  • We understand the neurobiology of trauma, and use experiential and participatory learning approaches to move through trauma held in the body.

  • We understand that gender-based violence is both and expression and reinforcement of gender oppression.

  • Our classes include education about healthy relationships, including consent negotiation skills and early warning signs of interpersonal violence.

  • We understand that culture and socialization may disadvantage women (and LGBTQIA+ people) from being able to trust or act on their instincts for safety and boundary-setting, and include work to repair that.

  • We include opportunities to practice assertive communication that can be used to interrupt or de-escalate violations at any scale, as well as physical self-defense techniques that are simple to learn and effective when other options have been exhausted.

  • The strategies we use present a range of options for preventing and interrupting violence including awareness, verbal strategies, avoidance strategies, and physical resistance techniques. They recognize that there are many ways to defend oneself, and that ultimately the defender makes the choice that is right for themselves.

  • Our classes are accessible, including physical techniques that are simple to learn, easy to remember, and able to be done by people of different ages, sizes, and abilities.

  • We know that whatever a woman or LGBTQIA+ person’s decision in a given self-defense situation, whatever action they do or do not take, they are not at fault. Someone’s decision to survive the best way they can must be respected.

  • We do not tell anyone what they "should" or "should not" do. We offer options, techniques, and a way of analyzing situations. Each situation is unique and the final decision rests with the person confronted by the aggressor.

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