The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Los Altos High School, teach me to defend myself!

Dorie Xie

Content Warning: This article discusses topics that may be harmful to some readers, including sexual assault and rape.

Someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds. “Every nine minutes, that victim is a child,” according to the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN). So, in the time it takes for you to read this article, imagine how many innocent lives are changed forever. You might know some of these people: an old friend, a mother, a classmate or simply a person you smile at in passing on the street.

Los Altos High School needs to provide students with an effective self defense course. The current course, only taught in sophomore Physical Education (PE) classes, is a downgrade from a previous four week workshop led by André Salvage and Associates, an Oakland business that specializes in assault and rape prevention classes. The funding for this program was lost, so I call on our school and wider community to secure funds needed to implement a thorough self-defense course in both freshman and sophomore PE classes.

The realities of sexual violence

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81 percent of women and 43 percent of men report experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). It is important to recognize that this issue affects people of all gender identities, while also recognizing that it disproportionately affects women. Those two facts can coexist.

Rebekah Park

As a woman, I have had to grapple with this reality from a young age: a supposedly innocent hand on my back, unwanted comments about my body and even having middle-aged men yell sexual innuendos at me — when I was 12.

Girls aged 16-19 are four times more likely to be raped or experience sexual assault than the general population, RAINN reported.

There is an overwhelming fear that, because I am a woman, I will eventually become a statistic. A fear that mothers seem to pass on to their daughters, a fear that daughters have to carry every time they step out into public. A fear that I’m powerless, and I’m tired of feeling powerless.

Our society normalizes sexual violence because of its prevalence — but nothing about it is normal. In fact, it comes from a repulsive culture where women are constantly objectified. Children grow up watching their favorite characters treat and talk about women in a degrading manner and believe they should do the same. When we are surrounded with such messages, what may seem to be small comments or jokes can quickly escalate into violence.

Self-defense saves lives

I suggest we fight back — literally. And no, I’m not proposing a fight club. I want to flip the narrative by empowering individuals instead of binding them in fear. Teaching self-defense can save lives. It is our school’s responsibility to do so.

Self-defense, with the intention of sexual assault prevention, doesn’t encourage violence. First and foremost, it stresses de-escalation: The best outcome is always one where you don’t need to defend yourself.

Self-defense creates muscle memory. Mimicking the intensity of real-life situations in a safe space prepares your body so that, if you are attacked, your adrenaline will trigger an immediate response. Studies show that self-defense courses decrease one’slikelihood of being assaulted and or raped.

Additionally, self-defense classes teach lifelong lessons of self-advocacy and boundary setting, all of which can empower individuals to feel less anxious and to increase their self-esteem. And I can personally attest to it.

Rebekah Park

My experience with self-defense

I attended The Girls’ Middle School (GMS), a private school in Palo Alto with a very self-explanatory name. For a week, all eighth graders at GMS take a mandatory six-hour self-defense course instead of their PE class. This course, run by Impact Bay Area, covers everything from setting boundaries with friends and family to fighting off an assailant who attacks you from behind.

Possibly the most powerful feeling is knowing that you have the ability to protect yourself. This course did that for me. I believe it is every school’s responsibility to ensure that their students feel the same. School is meant to prepare us for the real world, a part of which are the harsh realities of sexual violence.

“As a mother, I tried to make sure that my daughters were confident and strong,” my mother, Gina Haney, explained to me when I asked her why she decided to send me to GMS. “It was really important to me that they had a component of self-defense in the middle school years.”

Self-defense at LAHS

Currently, LAHS has a new four-week-long self-defense and gymnastics course in sophomore PE classes, set to begin after spring break on Monday, April 15. It’s well intentioned, but it isn’t enough.

Implemented last year largely due to the work from PE teacher Bob McFarlane, the program is centered around four instructional YouTube videos. These videos range from “five most common attacks and how to stop them” to “five choke hold defenses women MUST know,” and outline basic blocking and striking moves people can use to protect themselves from an assailant. The course will be taught for the first 45 minutes of every block period, and once students learn each move, they will (gently) practice with a partner and review the previous week’s material.

However, this curriculum replaces a self-defense program taught by André Salvage and Associates, which was significantly more in depth and effective. The former workshop, which ran the same length as the current one, seemed to be very similar to the class I took in middle school. Salvage explained in an interview with The Talon last year that his course focused on three main things: awareness, assertiveness and an introduction to blocking. With his team of five, students were able to practice de-escalating situations using their words, as well as blocking and striking with full force on a padded instructor.

“We live in fear all the time, always telling young people to be afraid. This helps us to not be so afraid,” Salvage said last year. “That is freedom.”

Without trained professionals running our current course, I question how successful a collection of YouTube videos will be in teaching such essential life skills. And I’m not alone in my sentiments.

“We do the best we can to teach a self-defense unit, but the value is definitely diminished compared to having the experts come in and teach the unit like we did in years past,” McFarlane said.

Salvage agreed, saying, “It’s always good to have someone who really knows what they are doing, to teach nuances and so people don’t get hurt.”

A lack of funding

It is apparent that programs like Salvage’s are significantly more in-depth than the current curriculum. So why did our school downgrade?

The simple answer is a lack of funding. Dr. Harise Stein, Adjunct Clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University and a former LAHS parent, generously sponsored the program taught by Salvage from the time her kids graduated in 2003 until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. She received financial support from the PE Department of a couple thousand dollars per year, according to the treasurer of the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), which collected funding through direct donations. Once in-person learning returned, Dr. Stein said she was not contacted again and assumed the program had been picked back up without her help.

The program costs about $20,000 a year — certainly expensive, but I don’t think it’s out of reach for the PTSA and LAHS parents. The PTSA receives direct donations through their website for the self-defense program, which goes to the school to give to the PE Department. If recommended by the administration however, this number could increase to cover the cost of a more robust self-defense program that focuses on sexual assault prevention.

PTSA President Mara Starkey said that she “100 percent agree[s]” that a better self-defense course is needed.

Rebekah Park

Self-defense should be expanded to freshman classes

Currently, self-defense is only taught in sophomore PE classes but nothing keeps us from implementing the same course for freshmen. Currently, only 180 sophomores are enrolled in PE, significantly less than half of the class. There is no point in creating a more robust course if it is not accessible to every student on campus.

“If we find it effective… Why wouldn’t we want to take it to our freshmen?” PE director Kiernan Raffo said, explaining that their current curriculum may be added to freshman classes if it is successful this year.

I applaud the teachers who worked hard to make do with the situation at hand. However, I still call on the PTSA and administration to implement a course for both freshman and sophomore PE classes that teaches self-defense and brings awareness to the reality of sexual violence. Truly I believe this is the bare minimum. In order to change a culture that leads to the prevalence of sexual violence, we must begin discussing it.

“Changing attitudes early on is crucial,” Stein said. “We shouldn’t need to have a self-defense class — it shouldn’t be incumbent on a person to have to protect themselves, but rather on everyone treating each other with respect and humanity.”

She could not have put it more perfectly. My hope is that my daughters won’t have to fight to be respected, that it will be an expectation to treat each other as human beings. But for the time being I would like to know how to throw a punch when needed.

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About the Contributors
Matilda Haney Foulds
Matilda Haney Foulds, Staff Writer
Dorie Xie
Dorie Xie, Sports Editor
Rebekah Park
Rebekah Park, Copy Editor

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