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About Empowerment Self-Defense

Get Empowered is based on decades of work by practitioners of empowerment self-defense (ESD). Nadia and Lauren have each taught ESD for more than thirty-five years, and this book is a result of their time with tens of thousands of students. 

Here we’re going to tell you more about what ESD is and summarize the research on its effectiveness. 

If you’d like to take an ESD class, you can find an ESD program near you—or one who teaches online—on our Find a Class page. 

What Empowerment Self-Defense Is—And Isn't

When most people think of self-defense, especially women’s self-defense training, they think of martial arts. While martial arts are great for a lot of things (like improving fitness and focus), they’re not practical or realistic for the kinds of harassment, abuse, and attacks people experience today. 

ESD teaches practical skills to those targeted for gender-based violence—primarily women and LGBTQIA+ people. These skills help people avoid, interrupt, respond to, and heal from interpersonal violence.


We teach those skills in the context of rape culture, addressing the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sociocultural components of advocating for and protecting yourself and others. 

ESD is grounded in an understanding of social inequality and social justice, and it addresses the whole spectrum of gender-based violence, from harassment to attack, from microaggressions to trafficking. 

In short, ESD is anything we think or say or do that helps us feel safe, strong, and respected. These are some of the core elements of an ESD program:

A list of what makes a good empowerment self-defense class

And It Works

The most profound testimony about the transformative power of ESD training is what our students say. They tell us how life-changing ESD training has been for them: they are more able to speak up for themselves; are less likely to blame themselves for harassment, abuse, and assault; are more confident and less fearful; know themselves better; trust themselves more; have healthier relationships; and are more able to create the lives they want. 

Research backs this up. Several studies have found that people who have taken an ESD class are more likely to avoid sexual assault if they’re targeted and less likely to be targeted to begin with. 


Studies also show ESD training decreases sexual harassment, sexual coercion, and physical violence. For example, in the year following taking an ESD class (sources for all these studies and data are below):​​

A list of studies showing that empowerment self-defense training works to prevent sexual assault

In the six months after an ESD program, Indigenous girls in South Dakota were 80% less likely to be sexually assaulted and 26% less likely to be sexually harassed than those who didn’t participate in the program. 

Research also shows that ESD programs increase assertiveness, confidence, and self-esteem and lower fear and anxiety. They also reduce self-blame and help people heal from sexual assault. 

Although research on ESD is solid, more is needed. For example, most of it has been done with college students, who tend to be similar in age, race, education, and social class. Research is needed that includes more people who aren’t students, are gender expansive, are BIPOC, and who have disabilities, among other identities. 

Want to take an empowerment self-defense class?

Check out our Find a Class page! 


ESD teaches practical skills: Jocelyn A. Hollander, “Empowerment Self-Defense Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ),” accessed December 7, 2022,

Several studies have found: Jocelyn A. Hollander, “Women’s Self-Defense and Sexual Assault Resistance: The State of the Field,” Sociology Compass 12, no. 8 (August 2018),

College women in the U.S.: Jocelyn A. Hollander, “Does Self-Defense Training Prevent Sexual Violence against Women?” Violence against Women 20, no. 3 (March 2014): 252–69,

College women in Canada: Charlene Y. Senn et al., “Efficacy of a Sexual Assault Resistance Program for University Women,” New England Journal of Medicine 372, no. 24 (2015), 2326–35,


Teen girls in Kenya: Jake Sinclair et al., “A Self-Defense Program Reduces the Incidence of Sexual Assault in Kenyan Adolescent Girls,” Journal of Adolescent Health 53, no. 3 (2013), 374–80,


Participants in a community class: Jocelyn A. Hollander and Jeanine Cunningham, “Empowerment Self-Defense Training in a Community Population,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 44, no. 2 (2020): 187–202,


Indigenous girls in South Dakota: Katie M. Edwards et al., “Effectiveness of a Sexual Assault Self-defense Program for American Indian Girls,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 37, no. 15–16 (August 2022): NP13245–67,


Research also shows that ESD: Hollander and Cunningham, “Empowerment Self-Defense Training in a Community Population”; Jocelyn A. Hollander, “ ‘I Can Take Care of Myself’: The Impact of Self-Defense Training on Women’s Lives,” Violence against Women 10, no. 3 (2004): 205–35,; Christine A. Gidycz et al., “Concurrent Administration of Sexual Assault Prevention and Risk Reduction Programming: Outcomes for Women,” Violence against Women 21, no. 6 (June 2015): 780–800,; Charlene Y. Senn et al., “Sexual Assault Resistance Education’s Benefits for Survivors of Attempted and Completed Rape,” Women & Therapy 45, no. 1 (2022): 47–73,


Although research on ESD: Lisa Speidel, “Exploring the Intersection of Race and Gender in Self-Defense Training,” Violence against Women 20, no. 3 (2014): 309–25,


Research is needed that includes: Jocelyn A. Hollander, “Empowerment Self-Defense,” in Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Resistance: Theory, Research and Practice, ed. Lindsay M. Orchowski and Christine A. Gidycz (London: Elsevier, 2018), 221–44.

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