In a city where over 3,500 aggravated assault offenses were reported in 2010, Georgetown and its student groups are stepping up efforts to ensure that community members are better prepared to deal with instances of violent crime.

The university offers self-defense courses through the Department of Public Safety and Yates Field House as its primary means of preventative education. The classes teach both physical and nonphysical ways to thwart attacks.

Since the 1970s, Yates has offered a judo program, which brings in black-belt experts to instruct participants of any skill level or gender. In the past, Yates offered gender-specific women’s self-defense classes, but the program was cut due to the difficulty of finding time and space to conduct the program.

Similarly, the Georgetown Israel Alliance has brought instructors to campus to teach Krav Maga, the self-defense program used by the Israeli Defense Forces. The group is planning to publicize future events for the program more widely.

“Krav Maga is very applicable,” club president Ben Talus (SFS ’14) said. “It can be used if you are walking down the streets of D.C.”

DPS offers a gender-specific self-defense training program, Rape Aggression Defense. RAD is a 12-hour course that aims to supply female students, faculty and staff with the necessary skills to defend themselves in the event of sexual assault.

RAD is a crucial component of the larger programs offered to support students, according to JenSchweer, the sexual assault and relationship violence services coordinator with Health Education Services.

“The RAD program offered by DPS is a piece of a comprehensive approach in talking about safety issues,” Schweer said. “Education, awareness, survivor services and perpetrator accountability are also critical parts of the process. We need all of these pieces in order to fully address the issue of violence.”

But Mike Balsan (COL ’12), president of GU Men of Strength, worries that an emphasis on such programs may have unintended consequences. Laura Kovach, director of the Georgetown University Women’s Center, shares his concern.

“Self-defense may be effective, but focusing on self-defense puts the onus of protection on the victim, not the perpetrator,” Kovach said. “We believe that self-defense is only one component of a comprehensive approach to addressing gender-based violence. One thing we stress is that even if you take a self-defense workshop and you experience an assault, it’s not your fault. No matter what, it’s never the victim’s fault.”

Balsan’s group, formerly known as GU Men Creating Change, seeks to foster a campus environment where self-defense is not considered a necessity. In order to address the root causes of violence against women, Men of Strength offers bystander intervention workshops. The workshops, which take place in small groups in residence halls, bring in professional facilitators from the nonprofit organization Men Can Stop Rape. Participants learn strategies to diffuse situations and distract perpetrators as well as basic crisis management skills to assist victims after an attack.

“You should not feel like you have to know self-defense or have to buy mace,” Balsan said.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Women’s Center also plans to hold a self-defense workshop open to all genders in March.

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