The sound of high-pitched, energetic chatter greets me as I enter a multipurpose room at Northeastern Illinois University. I am in a room filled with young, college-aged women, some may even be the same age as myself. They have just finished a class with IMPACT Chicago and are enlightened, engulfed, and empowered by something. A “something” that I came here to learn more about.
IMPACT Chicago is a self-defense program for anyone who identifies as a woman. The organization has been in existence for over 30 years. The Chicago chapter was founded by Martha Thompson in 1987. The non-profit is committed to ending violence by equipping women and girls with, “the tools they need to prevent, minimize, and stop violence.” The violent acts being sexual assault. According to the Washington Post, 1 in 5 women will experience a nonconsensual or unwanted sexual incident at some point in their lives. It’s so hard to believe that there have been repeated studies just to confirm this alarming fact.
The statistics show why an organization like IMPACT is so important. Through its programs, IMPACT provides every woman and girl the skills to prevent violence, by using their unique anatomy to protect themselves against a single unarmed assailant. The programs vary and are even built for teens as young as twelve years old. Throughout each class, the no matter the age or audience, the message remains the same, that women are worth protecting.
“We are teaching women something that most of the world feels is impossible… to win with a knock-out, that’s revolutionary,” shared Molly Norris, a new mom, career woman and instructor for IMPACT Chicago. During our interview, we discussed the inspiring transformation that women experience when they participate in the IMPACT programs, including her own, from student to instructor. “I grew up very independent, stated Molly, “but tacitly, I experienced an education of not being good enough, not being worth defending and not capable of defending myself.” An idea that has historically been presumed for women.
Our conversation shifted from transformation to proactiveness. Having been a bystander to public arguments between couples or witness another woman be insulted, I often wonder in those situations, how should I intervene? “We are about choice. We teach to ask the person who may need your assistance if they would like your assistance,” said Molly. It’s the idea of bystander support, an opportunity that becomes more imperative the organization is working to address this in their future curriculum.
In the meantime, Molly shared with me that in any situation, bystander or defender, using your ‘strong voice’ is the first method of defense against a possibly violent situation. “The voice is way more powerful than we give it credit for,” said Molly. The voice sets boundaries, as just like we would use to scold a pet or command attention in a professional setting, our tone of voice can greatly control a situation. Molly was sure to emphasize that the physical tools learned through IMPACT are to be used as a last resort, to make verbal boundaries stronger.
As we came to the close of our interview I asked Molly what role, if any, men played in IMPACT. Men are allies in the fight against sexual violence. In some cases, men play the role of assailants and instructors all in the effort to better the women who enter into these programs. As Molly put it the true definition of an ally is one who says, “let me make a sacrifice for you so you can become a better person…improve your self-worth.”
Worth, that word again. It’s a word that I have personally been learning to connect with lately. The idea of being important and valuable. So important and valuable, that like any fine piece of jewelry or influential celebrity, I have the right to be protected, and that I can do the protecting myself. This is why IMPACT is so good for the city of Chicago. This organization strives to reach women of any age, class, race, or religion who is acknowledging that she is worthy of being protected.
This was an incredible interview. I cannot thank Molly and Martha, who initiated the interview enough for this opportunity. Being so moved by this organization and in my efforts to champion against acts of violence towards women, myself and the founder of the fashion blog, Runway Addicts, will host a workshop with IMPACT in April. The 90-minute session will fall on Denim Day, a national recognition of wearing denim as a means of protesting misconceptions of sexual assault. Be on the lookout for registration details and more information about this event, taking place on April 26th. In the meantime, check out the full schedule of programs currently being offered by IMPACT for 2017. Learn how you can support this organization by visiting their volunteer page.
You do not want to miss any part of my interview with Molly. Please check out the full audio on the Good Seeker podcast on iTunes or by listening to the audio below.