Self-defence course empowering Calgary women in wake of increased allegations of sexual assault

Jenna Beth has been followed and experiences threats while walking alone late at night in the Beltline neighbourhood, but the Calgary woman was further disturbed to hear of an alleged sexual assault along a route close to her workplace.

“There was an assault in an alleyway along 12 Avenue and that was terrifying to me because now whenever I’m walking down the street and people are coming at me wearing masks everything is so much scarier,” she said.

The alleged incident is under investigation by Calgary police, but Beth wanted to take matters into her own hands and prepare herself in the event she might be placed in a vulnerable position.

She enrolled in a new one month-long free self-defence course specifically designed for Calgary women in the wake of increased reports and numerous allegations online of gender-based harm.

The Brazilian jiu jitsu course, soon to be offered by 101 Academy has since taken off after instructor CJ Hollet made a post on his Instagram account.

“I had a handful of females reach out to me and they knew I had a martial arts academy and was in a position to help so when I heard a few of their stories I knew we had to do this,” he said.

“My phone blew up, we had hundreds and hundreds of messages.”

Within just one week, more than 500 Calgary women have signed up for the course, which will be offered for free and by donation with all proceeds going to women’s facilities.

Lead female instructor at 101 Academy, Fatima Eltassi was pleased with the response, but concerned at the same time with having to offer such a course to keep women safe.

“I was really infuriated when I heard about a Muslim woman that was attacked recently in Eau Claire and it triggered some past memories for me,” Eltassi said.

“As amazing as it was it was to see so many women reach out, it was a little disheartening because so many women in our city are not feeling safe.”

Eltassi adds that martial arts have given her the confidence to come out of her shell and she hopes other women will feel empowered and prepared.

“I don’t go around picking fights, but if it happens, I feel like I can get myself out safely and that’s my message to other women is to do this just for your confidence because it can do wonders for you.”

Women like Beth agree that this course will allow her to overcome some of her fears.

“I freeze up and I don’t know what to do,” she said.

“I lose the ability to think rationally and kind of lose control of my limbs so I think with that basic knowledge of just what to do and how to use my body to defend myself, it will just help a lot with the confidence.”

101 Academy will begin offering its course to Calgary women this Sunday.

“IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT”

Advocacy groups against sexual violence say self defence classes are a great way to empower women, but want to make it clear to Calgarians that women themselves are not alone.

“Sexual violence has had stigma and victim blaming for years,” said Danielle Aubry, CEO of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA).

“What we want people to remember is that it’s not the women that are responsible for stopping a sexual assault, but instead the one person that’s choosing to do those types of behaviours is responsible that so that’s a really important message.”

Aubry says trauma and isolation has compounded and prevented many women from sharing their story, but appreciates that more people are speaking out.

“More and more people are getting involved and more people know that it’s not their fault and that it’s OK for them to speak out or take a stand,” she said.

“We can’t do this alone so it does need to be a societal movement.”

Meanwhile, other male led groups like Next Gen Men are getting involved and using their voice to raise awareness.

Co-founder, Jake Stika says the social media hashtag #NotAllMen has created some defensiveness amongst innocent men who feel they’re being targeted in the wake of attacks against women.

“That may be true that not all men are doing these things, but predominantly it is men doing these things,” he said.

Stika recently wrote an online blog entitled ‘It’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility.’ He notes that men need to continue to listen and help raise awareness.

“I think that as men if we can take ownership that it’s guys that look like us that are doing this, it makes a big difference and the reality is we all pay a price for it because whenever we’re on a street and a woman crosses away from us and we’re like ‘hey’ I’m not a creep,’ it’s because other guys are,” he said.

“We can’t dodge responsibility and say ‘I’m not doing that and therefore not part of the problem.”