Glendale women's self-defense classes

Camp Rosie participant Kyla Khouri, 14 of Glendale, learns self-defense techniques from instructor Nelson Nio at Pacific Community Center in Glendale on Tuesday, July 16, 2013. The legality of the classes was recently brought to light after a letter sent to the city by the National Coalition for Men. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / April 30, 2014)

Rather than get rid of free self-defense classes offered by a city commission for women and girls that puts the city on shaky legal grounds, the City Council this week unanimously voted to offer similar classes for men and boys.

Most of the council members voted reluctantly for the alternative classes, which were prompted after a nonprofit called the National Coalition for Men argued in a letter sent to city officials in March that gender-exclusive self-defense classes violate equal-protection clauses of the constitution.

“If we have to provide a second class, I’m all for it,” said Councilman Frank Quintero. “But all in all, I think this National Coalition for Men is a joke quite frankly.”

Following the letter, the city suspended two classes scheduled for last month that had a total of 160 females signed up with 70 on a waiting list, according to a city report. On average, 106 females annually have benefitted from the classes that have been offered since 2008.

The goal of the classes is to provide training that may help participants avoid sexual assaults and fight perpetrators if they are ever attacked, said Tereza Alexanian, an executive analyst with the city.

It has been historically structured as gender-exclusive because women need to learn unique skills as they are attacked differently than men and have a different body structure, Alexanian said. In addition, some women who have been victims of rape or abuse may feel uncomfortable taking the class with men and the level of participation may drop if the class was open to both genders, she said.

However, Harry Crouch, president of San Diego-based National Coalition for Men, has said men are prone to violent attacks, too, and could also benefit from free self-defense classes. Offering the training for one gender and not the other violates state and federal laws, according to the nonprofit, which aims to protect legal rights for both genders.

The coalition also sent a letter last week to the California Attorney General, the Los Angeles city attorney and council members as well as a host of other public officials in regards to several women-and-girls-only free self-defense classes scheduled to take place in May in the San Fernando Valley.

The classes are to be hosted by State Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks), the California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Women are more often victims of sexual assault than men, which could be considered legal justification for hosting gender-exclusive classes in public buildings, such as the Glendale Police Department and Glendale Community College, City Atty. Mike Garcia said.

However, he still encouraged the council to add another class for men and boys.

“There’s risk associated with only providing a women’s-only class,” Garcia said. “It’s a risk the council should consider avoiding because the cost to remediate is so low.”

The two self-defense classes for women cost the commission $400. They are paid for by fundraising spearheaded by the city’s Commission on the Status of Women, which traditionally hosts the classes in April as part of its sexual-assault awareness month activities.

Although the class is paid for by private donations, they are still considered a public benefit because the commission is a public agency operated by the city, Garcia said.

While sexual assault victims were more often women than men in 2012, men slightly outpaced women as victims of violent crimes, which includes aggravated assault, robbery and rape, that year, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The council did not set a date for when the classes will take place. The Commission on the Status of Women had raised the $400 necessary for the women’s-only course, but city officials said they may use money from the general fund — which pays for police, parks and other general services — for a separate free male-only class.

Mayor Zareh Sinanyan suggested officials market the self-defense class for males as an anti-bullying program.

“If no guys come in, we can cancel the class,” said Councilman Dave Weaver, who called the coalition’s complaint egregious. “At least we made an effort.”

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