Self-Defense Programs Help Sexual Assault Survivors

Sexual assault can significantly change how a woman lives her life. Many women who have been sexually assaulted look for methods of protection in order to avoid being victimized again. Some purchase guns, tasers or mace. Others acquire dogs for protection. And many women enroll in modern self-defense training (MSDT) classes in order to gain a sense of empowerment, strength and to reduce feelings of helplessness. “The primary goal of MSDT programs is teach participants how to avoid and resist sexual assault,” said Kimberly Ball of Health Professions and Technologies at Oakland Community College. “Traditional martial arts (TMA), boxing, and wrestling skills are typically taught, as well as preventative skills. Contrary to this misconception, karate, one type of TMA, is geared toward both fighting and tactics that can be used for escaping assault.”

Ball and her colleagues conducted a study comparing MSDT and TMA. “Researchers typically evaluate modern self-defense training (MSDT) programs against a control or comparison group,” she said. “Evaluating the effectiveness of TMA versus MSDT programs in reducing fear and enhancing efficacy would provide more information to program developers and potential participants on the relative merits of each type of program.” For her study, Ball evaluated 69 female college students who underwent a MSDT class, TMA class or typical stress management (SM) class.

“The MSDT course was specifically designed to teach women skills to avoid sexual assault and to fight back if an assault occurred,” said Ball. “The TMA class instructor taught Shotokan Karate which is designed to focus on the total development of the student (i.e., physical, mental, social, and spiritual growth).” Ball found that the women in the MSDT group had significant increases in levels of self-efficacy and also saw tremendous reductions in fear. “In particular, the increase in efficacy to defend one’s life and the decrease in fear for one’s life are, arguably, very empowering cognitive and affective changes.” Ball added, “In summary, our findings provide some moderate support for the effectiveness of MSDT interventions for reducing life-threating fear and for enhancing self-defense self-efficacy.”

Ball, K., & Martin, J. (2011, November 14). Self-Defense Training and Traditional Martial Arts: Influences on Self-Efficacy and Fear Related to Sexual Victimization. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025745

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jace


    November 18th, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Classes like these can make you feel so empowered as a woman and have you kicking butt in no time! I have never been assaulted but I feel so much more confident and self aware since I started karate training with my daughter. I now have not only gotten in shape, found something that the two of us can share together and discovered a new way to take care of me and mine. Now that’s what I call something worth talking about!

  • ann


    November 18th, 2011 at 9:17 PM

    what these defense techniques teach you is not only to fight for yourself but also help you no longer feel prone to danger and feel that safety inside.I think that is a very good added advantage of these kind of programs.

  • Tatum


    November 19th, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    You have to be so careful these days that I think that it is a good idea for anyone to get involved in some sort of self defense class. I know that there have been times out running at night that I have wondered what exactly I would do if someone came up and attacked me, would I know enough about how to fight back to at least save myself from too much harm. This gives me the idea that I really need to look up some course offerings in self defense in my area and get signed up pronto. I don’t really want to have to hurt someone but if it comes down to me or the attacker I want to be able to take them out.

  • Rhonda Frey

    Rhonda Frey

    November 20th, 2011 at 7:35 AM

    I live in a small town where you think that something like this could never happen to you. But this is why women become targets. They become too complacent and have too little fear and that is exactly when an attack happens. Someone sees that you have let down your guard and that see you as easy prey.

  • E.R


    November 20th, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    After having had an ugly incident one morning on my jog,I took up self defense classes and am a lot more confident when I step out give you that confidence that no protection mechanism can. Being capable of defending yourself is a great thing to have indeed.

  • Shirley Phelps

    Shirley Phelps

    November 20th, 2011 at 10:22 PM

    I find modern self defense training and traditional martial arts as two unequal processes of defending one’s self and, is not an either or situation for learning to defend one’s self. MSDT and TMA both teach self-defense; but TMA is an art, ergo martial art. MSDT is for the immediate skill learning of ways to defend one’s self when being attacked physically, verbally and/or mentally as well as empowering one’s self to take up more space because one isn’t living in so much fear and can do more things. A woman can learn basic self-defense skills in many different leveled workshops. A woman practicing a TMA is definitely learning to defend herself but also is pursuing a certain kind of philosophy based on the teachings of her traditional art. Both are wonderful instruments to learn self-defense. Just depends on what kind of self-defense, and really important is if there is a time frame in which self-defense skills are needed. I believe everyone should learn self-defense skills, and I believe that traditional martial arts is a different kind of commitment.

  • stressmom


    November 21st, 2011 at 5:16 AM

    have never had a self defense class but does not sound like a bad idea. . . but I can promise you that I am gonna put up a fight no matter what’s comin’ at me!

  • Ashley


    November 21st, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    A pepper spray or something could protect me more than my punching and kicking skills if Im surrounded by a bunch of guys,dont u think?

  • Roberta


    November 21st, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    And a great way to let some of that anger out too!

  • Cody


    November 22nd, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Self-defense training not only equips you physically but also mentally.When I was surrounded in an alley by three guys,I was clearly outnumbered.But I did not panic because I was trained for it.Fighting three guys was not going to be easy but I did not let my guard down mentally and got out of the situation with nothing more than a lot of running,a few things flung around and the guys being caught in the end :)

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