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Woman Strong

Self-defense classes for women and girls

Danny Peterson | 11/21/2017, 2:40 p.m.
With multiple disclosures of sexual assaults by men against women making national headlines, from movie producer Harvey Weinstein to actor ...
Girls learn about self-defense, safety and setting boundaries in GirlsStrength, a companion program to WomenStrength.

In addition to the self defense skills taught at WomenStrength, 40 percent of the course also teaches non-physical safety workshops and verbal de-escalation training.

“I think simply by teaching women boundary setting, more comfortable boundary setting, is a prevention tool,” Johnson said.

A 2014 article at University of Oregon showed that female college age students who took self-defense classes experienced fewer and less severe instances of sexual assault the following year than those who didn’t.

WomenStrength also teaches a program to males called BoyStrength, which they are also accepting volunteers for and can be taught by men. Instead of teaching self-defense, though, the course teaches things like yoga, breathing and meditation techniques, and lessons healthy relationship to teach boys how to become leaders of non-violence in their communities.

“Men have more power in this country than women, so men have more power to help end violence against women,” Johnson said.

According to a 1997 U.S. Department of Justice report, 99 percent of sexual assaulters in single-victim incidents were men and 6 out of 10 were white.

Johnson said some of the ways men can be allies to the cause of preventing sexual violence against women is by donating to a shelter or violence prevention organization like WomenStrength, getting involved with the Portland-based advocacy group Men Engaging Now (find them on Faceboook), and empathizing with women who may have experienced past trauma.

“The other thing I think that men can do is gently ask the women in their lives about their experiences, not that they have to tell them to you. But be open about, 'I don't know how to respond to this, how can I help you?' And I think we need more of that from men, we really, really do.”

For more information about volunteering for WomenStrength or attending the year round classes, which occur twice monthly on evenings and weekends at a rotating venue, visit portlandoregon.gov/police/womenstrength.