Abena is a store attendant in her early 20s. She’s on her way home after a long day at work one day and is accosted by a stranger who tries to assault her. Abena has self-defence skills and is able to fight off her attacker before running to safety. Her attacker gets up, seeing as Abena is gone, dust himself off and keeps moving. Few miles after, he meets Ada, a student with a connective tissue disorder called joint hypermobility syndrome, which makes it difficult for her to move her limbs or do most things that would be effective self-defence. Ada is unable to fight him off so he has his way with her and rapes her.

Uma is a 65-year-old woman who was raped the week before. Deka is a 10-year-old girl who is getting raped every other day by an uncle who lives with her family. These are stories just a few of the stories that represent cases that depict the error of self-defence as a solution to sexual assault of women because even in the presence of self-defence, many women are still left vulnerable.

Self-defence? A solution?

self defence, a false panacea sold to women

The concept of self defence being a solution to rape and other forms of physical and sexual assault is a false panacea that has been sold to women by society and the media for ages. Self defence is not a solution, but immediate protection. The notion that women can protect themselves from rape by learning self-defence makes the eradication of rape a women’s issue and also shows a lack of understanding of how rape occurs.

There is still the belief that rape is only when a stranger attacks a woman in a dark or secluded place and her best option is to defend herself by fighting back. Rape can occur in this form but it is only one of the various ways rape can occur. By focusing only on this type of case, we fail to even scratch the surface of the bigger problem, and we end up painting an inaccurate picture of what rape looks like. In research in Nigeria on media reports on rape, it was found that over 90% of reported rape victims were females. And 99% of the rapists were male.

A third of the female victims were aged between 1 and 10; those between 11 and 20 years constituted 46.1% of the victims and victims aged 21-30 made up 8.4%. They also found that rapists were mainly people that victims knew, such as fathers, neighbours, clergymen, and relatives. Very few perpetrators were total strangers and the act is usually carried out in presumed safe places such as homes, schools, and churches. The high incidence of sexual abuse within the family also proves that exercising self-defence is a highly unlikely solution, considering the power dynamics and family structures in most African societies.

No! Self-defence is temporal

A renowned teacher of martial arts once said, “learning to defend yourself is akin to learning a foreign language. If you did one class you’d learn a few words that would be helpful, but you’d have to put in the work before you become fluent. It’s the same with martial arts, it depends on how much time you invest, how athletic you are, how often you train, and how long you maintain your training.”

So the women who have the time, money, physical ability, and emotional capacity to train regularly might be safer, but what about the women who don’t have the time and resource or better still, what about women like Uma, Deka, and Adah who due to physical, psychological or physiological reasons cannot learn how to self-defend? And what happens to the women who despite their training and knowledge on self-defence are raped anyway? If photos of a woman’s underwear or the fact that a woman was raped in the man’s house can be used in court to suggest she’s lying about being raped, imagine a defence lawyer trying to prove that a woman who had self-defence training was raped.

Rape has only one cause — A RAPIST

Ultimately, any reasoning on what women can do to prevent rape is absurd. Women cannot prevent rape because no person has ever chosen to be raped. The only person who had choices in rape is the rapist and until we start changing and fighting against those choices, rape will continue to happen no matter what women do or learn. Placing the focus on only women in issues of gender-based violence reduces it to a “women’s issue,” which allows men either intentionally or unintentionally, a reason not to listen or excuse themselves from conversations related to this issue.


There’s no doubt that self defence classes are empowering. Learning how to protect yourself can give you newfound confidence and assertiveness, Also, self-defence and combat sports training are valuable as a form of healing for those who’ve experienced trauma as they can provide a sense of control over their bodies and personal safety. These training are worthwhile ventures, but when it comes to rape or sexual assault prevention, they are just not effective. Instead of just recommending self-defence classes for some, we need to take steps to create a safer society for all. This is because self-defence does nothing to confront the root of the issue of rape.