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In light of Amber and Chelsea

Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by sending in your stories too and checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!

While March is “National Women’s History Month” and is normally spent celebrating the many achievements of women in the United States, recent events in San Diego County force us to examine another part of women’s history: violence against women.

When the bodies of local teenagers Chelsea King and Amber Dubois were found earlier this month, it unleashed a torrent of sadness, frustration, and anger. Their disappearances and deaths fueled calls for tougher laws against registered sex offenders and mandatory self-defense classes for female students in an attempt to better protect girls and women.

For centuries, women have struggled against a patriarchal society that subjected them to subservience, intimidation, and brutality. Poverty, race, immigrant status only added to oppressed conditions.

As attitudes changed over the last 150 years, more women sought equality through voting rights, civil rights, and reproductive rights. Just for standing up they were viewed by many as agitators and faced tremendous risks for their actions.

By escaping slavery and later denouncing it, abolitionist Sojourner Truth risked death. By seeking voting rights for women, suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony risked decades of ridicule and public condemnation. And by seeking better working conditions for farm workers, labor leader Dolores Huerta risked harm.

The exemplary courage and poise each of them exhibited, however, unsettled those who resisted change. Despite the progress women have made – particularly over the last 30 years – in athletics, the arts, academia, and politics, we remain targets of sexual assault and other acts of violence.

Nothing could have brought home that painful reminder more than the abduction and deaths of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois. Each was outside in public during daylight hours and yet they were still subject to violence. This violation of personal and public space is deeply disturbing for the community because it makes us all feel vulnerable. How many women have quit running alone in San Diego because they are frightened? None of us should be required to “be on alert” at all times just to avoid a physical attack. None of us should fear that being alone in the daytime increases the odds of being assaulted. Sadly, these fears remain part of a woman’s world – whether in San Diego or any other community in the United States.

The reality is that women and girls must always be vigilant to protect themselves against violence. Part of the solution may involve training girls and women how to ward off potential attackers.

Last December, a young woman trained in self-defense fought off an assailant in the same area where Chelsea King was later murdered. Her ability to protect herself is a testament to the value of, and need for, such programs.

I am considering legislation that would require self-defense training as part of the traditional physical education curriculum for middle and high school students in California. Although self-defense training is no guarantee of absolute safety, such training would empower girls and young women and help reduce assaults, abductions, and even death.

Given the world we live in today, I urge girls and women to enroll in a self-defense class. This may only be a small part of the long-term solution, but we must do what we can to increase our awareness of the dangers that still exist.

The Center for Community Solutions, a non-profit organization in San Diego, offers educational programs including healthy relationship skills, awareness of relationship violence, respect for personal space, and self-defense training. To learn more about their outstanding services, visit www.ccssd.org.

Senator Kehoe represents the 39th Senate District, which includes much of San Diego, Del Mar, and Lemon Grove.