In July 2021, an 11-year-old girl in Auburn met a man via the social media platform Snapchat. Over the next eight days, the alleged assailant would groom the girl online, send nude photos, exchange texts and push for an in-person meeting which resulted in her rape.
This horrific story is not the first such incident and, sadly, will not be the last. Just two months earlier, in Pensacola, Florida, another 11-year-old boy had battled a potential kidnapper.
The potential for girls to be victims of sexual violence or kidnapping forces them to learn to protect themselves. Thirty-four percent are under 12 and 66% are between 12 and 17, and 1 in 9 girls will be abused or assaulted.
So how do we start to solve this problem? Just like other countries have done, we should use our education system as a tool. K-12 schools already have a physical education program. It’s time we included an annual self-defense unit taught from an enhanced self-defense perspective to help our daughters stay safe.
Autonomous Self-Defense works in conjunction with Self-Defense which approaches real situations with simple and effective techniques. It involves discussing stereotypes, cultural norms and myths that girls go through in their daily lives.
I was involved in teaching college girls self defense in Fort Wayne for three years. Every year, the girls in my class showed an increase in confidence and awareness. More revealing, for the girls who had the opportunity to experience self-defense classes for a second year, they acquired muscle memory from the techniques I taught them.
In addition to learning physical skills, de-escalation and situational awareness, the girls engaged in conversations about bullying, harassment, and “what if I” scenarios.
For example, a girl came to me about a dance she was planning to attend. An adult had advised the girls not to refuse if a boy asked her to dance. As part of the enhanced self-defense approach, we discussed how she could use her voice, set boundaries, and defend herself. Although it may seem small, this dance-related confidence building exercise is a crucial part in helping our girls protect themselves in all types of situations.
Of course, self-defense training is not the answer to all the concerns of young people, especially girls. It is also not our only strategy to prevent and stop abuse, and worse. But it has the potential to be effective as part of a comprehensive physical education program.
The current physical education curriculum is divided into several sections, such as volleyball and basketball. The practice and repetition devoted to learning sport in physical education could potentially be devoted to learning defense.
Physical education teachers should learn the ESD approach with basic self-defense techniques. Local female self-defense instructors could be hired to teach the unit if necessary. Just as muscle memory is created by repeatedly hitting a ball, girls’ self defense and empowerment must be continually practiced.
Giovanna Follo, a resident of Fort Wayne, is an Associate Professor at Wright State University-Lake Campus, a third degree black belt in karate, and a Level 8 Commando Krav Maga instructor.