Teaching Self Defense To Victims Of Domestic Abuse

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Due to the sensitive nature of this article, a law enforcement officer and a licensed mental health counselor were consulted and contributed as full co-authors:
Sgt. Isaac Redmond, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Special Investigations Divison, Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Lisa Lyon, M.A., Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
William F. Murphy, Ph.D.,IBJJF Black Belt 3rd Degree, USJA San Dan Judo

Sometimes we teach self-defense to people who have been victims of domestic abuse.

If domestic violence is occurring right in front of you, contact law enforcement immediately.

If you see evidence of domestic violence, encourage the victim to see a domestic abuse counselor or to contact law enforcement themselves.

However, many people are reluctant to go to domestic abuse counselors or to involve law enforcement for various reasons.

Some of these reasons may be fear of retaliation, fear that no action will be taken, or fear of loss regarding their children, business, or other issues.

All of these are valid concerns.

Sometimes it may be appropriate to call law enforcement or a domestic abuse counselor on behalf of the victim, if the victim is unwilling and the situation appears serious (i.e. visible injuries, or repeated incidents).

Before contacting law enforcement, again, it would be recommended to first encourage the victim to contact law enforcement themselves.

If we choose to contact law enforcement as a third party, it is important to know some facts about the situation.

A few things to keep in mind would be, have we seen any acts of violence (e.g. striking, shoving etc.), have we seen any evidence of violence (e.g. bruises, abrasions, or cuts), or has the victim simply confided (or alleged) past incidents of violence.

Successful prosecution of a domestic violence offender does not rely solely on the victim’s cooperation.

Because victims of this type of crime often want to “drop charges” prosecutors can, and often do, file charges on these types of cases without the victim’s cooperation.

The success of this prosecution often depends on third party witnesses that are usually concerned friends or family members of the victim.

Keep in mind that reporting an incident of domestic violence may be what is needed to save a life.

But, we have to exercise due care not to make such a report, unless we have seen actual the physical abuse occur, or have seen signs of physical abuse such as bruises etc.

The problem with Jiu-Jitsu students is that they are always covered in bruises, so this becomes a little more complicated than usual.

And, a false report of domestic violence is a terrible violation just like a real act of real domestic violence is a terrible violation.

Now, we have to be careful as self-defense instructors.

If we are not licensed as lawyers, then we cannot practice law.

If we are not licensed as doctors, then we cannot practice medicine.

And, if we are not licensed as licensed mental health counselors, then we should not give psychiatric advice or relationship counseling to our students.

However, part of our mission as self-defense instructors is to empower our students to defend themselves, and to also use martial arts instruction as a vehicle to help teach them how to be successful in life.

Jiu-Jitsu is a fine thing to teach someone who might need to defend themselves against someone, in particular when there may be psychological barriers to using lethal force against the attacker.

But, a lot of victims of physical domestic violence have psychological inhibitions against defending themselves against their partner in any capacity.

So, even if you teach the techniques of Jiu-Jitsu to a victim of domestic physical abuse, the physically abused partner may still just take the beating from the spouse that uses violence as a means of enforcing psychological control, instead of making an attempt to defend themselves.

Any advice we give someone in these situations may backfire and expose them to more harm.

If we suspect one of our students is in a domestic violence relationship, it is best to advise them to seek help from a professional domestic abuse counselor or law enforcement officer who can assist the victim in making the best decisions for their personal situation.

If we are the instructor of someone involved in a domestic violent relations, we need to make sure we create appropriate boundaries and refrain from “rescuing” the student.

Martial arts instructors often are helpers and want to solve difficult situations.

By becoming involved in someone else’s personal issues, we may be putting ourself, our abused student, our personal relationships, our academy, and our other students at risk.

By referring a student to a licensed counselor or law enforcement officer, we can help our student find safety and can protect our training environment.

As a self-defense instructor, eventually we are going to encounter this problem.

We have to pay attention for signs of abuse, and have planned responses to handle the situation.

Sometimes, when training survivors of domestic violence, students may experience flash backs of past trauma and emotional break-downs.

This may affect their behavior in class.

We may need to be especially cautious in introducing them to stressful situations.

It is useful for self-defense instructors to meet with actual domestic abuse counselors, and law enforcement officers.

Never so that the self-defense instructor can over step their bounds, or try to act in lieu of a domestic abuse counselor or law enforcement officer.

But so that the self defense instructor will have had some training by a professional in the field on what to say, what to do, and where to send these folks to get professional help.

As in all things, preparation is the key to successfully handling any situation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, domestic violence results in nearly 2 million injuries and nearly 1,300 deaths a year.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 36% of domestic violence incidents from 2003-2012 were considered “serious violence” (rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault).

The Center for Disease Control reports that nearly 5.3 million intimate partner victimizations occur each year among U.S. women ages 18 and older.

And, most people are unaware that men get physically abused by their female partners with domestic violence just as much or more as the reverse.

The Centers for Disease Control in the United States report that in the US, non-reciprocal physical domestic violence was committed by a woman to a man in the majority (71%) of the cases (Whitaker, May 2007 Journal of Public Health).

In all of its forms, domestic violence is a crime.

But the self defense instructor must refer the victim to professional help from a law enforcement professional or professional domestic abuse counselor rather than trying to “rescue” their student or give advice themselves.

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