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Intersections: Examining the self-defense class issue

April 16, 2014|By Liana Aghajanian

Two popular self-defense classes for women hosted by Glendale’s Status on the Commission of Women in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month have been postponed this month because of a letter from the National Coalition for Men that claimed the classes violate federal and California anti-discrimination laws.

Harry Crouch, president of the nonprofit group established in 1977 told the Glendale News-Press that the classes are discriminatory because anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, not just women or girls.

In the letter, the coalition says the exclusivity of the classes violates not only California government and civil codes but the city of Glendale’s own “Employee Code of Ethics,” too, which includes being respectful of and compassionate for everyone’s needs and maintaining a high regard for everyone without favoritism and prejudice.

The coalition seems to be right both legally and theoretically, but it’s complicated and its letter has brought a unique opportunity to discuss issues we tend to gloss over more than we explore.

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The idea of offering self-defense classes for women during Sexual Assault Awareness Month works under the assumption that victims of sexual assault are female, when, in fact, men and boys make up 10% of victims of sexual abuse and rape in the United States, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network — a sorely underreported statistic.

Why shouldn’t men be able to learn, without charge, how to protect themselves against a sexual assault, too? We can’t play into stereotypes and make the assumption that men inherently know how to defend themselves or wouldn't benefit from self-defense classes.

Often male victims of sexual assault and domestic violence suffer in silence and go unrecognized. Not offering them the same opportunity based purely on their gender is wrong, and does nothing to advance the “equality” dialogue.

We cannot deny, however, the fact that more than 17 million American women or one out of every six have been the victims of attempted or completed rape. Compare this to the previous fact of 10%, or just under 3 million men.

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