By Ted AYALA
Following a letter directed to Glendale accusing the city of gender discrimination, the council voted in favor of opening up a series of self-defense courses provided by the city to both men and women. Previously, the courses had been women-only.
Council’s decision was a reluctant one, though, with Councilmember Frank Quintero calling the allegations of discrimination to be “a joke.”
The classes, which have been offered since 2008, have seen on average an enrollment of about 160 women a year.
Tereza Aleksanian, executive analyst of the city’s Dept. of Community Services and Parks, delivered a report on the courses, which are provided by the Commission on the Status of Women.
The courses, she explained, are one way to teach about sexual violence and to help women gain skills that could defend them in the case of an assault.
“The goals of the classes are to provide training and information to the participants to help them avoid a situation,” she said.
Based on Glendale Police Department (GPD) statistics, between 2011 and 2013, 88% of sexual assault victims were female.
Classes are structured for girls and women according to the instructors. Because there are different skill sets for men and women, Aleksanian added that women-only classes were designed so women would not feel uncomfortable around men.
But the classes were put on hiatus earlier this year when the city received a letter on March 17 from the National Coalition for Men (NCM) alleging that the classes were discriminatory. The letter asked that the city treat men and women equally and to allow members of both genders to apply for classes.
The same group also sent similar letters of complaint to the office of California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and to the Los Angeles City Council decrying similar classes offered in the San Fernando Valley.
Councilmember Laura Friedman questioned Aleksanian as to whether the classes provided any real benefit for the investment.
“Do we have any data, not anecdotal evidence, that this type of class actually helps prevent attacks?” she asked. “I’m sort of surprised that staff didn’t look. This is kind of the obvious question here. We should know whether any program we’re spending any money on is going to work.”
Aleksanian said that the city had not conducted any such studies, nor did it research other studies involving the subject.
Mayor Zareh Sinayan said that whether studies prove the classes are helpful or not, the matter ultimately is “subjective.”
“But [women] do come out of [the classes] feeling empowered,” he said. “It is going to be a huge [positive] psychological effect on anybody that takes them.”
Lisa Raggio of the Glendale branch of the YWCA gave her testimony in favor of the classes as they currently stand. She explained that she was a two-year recipient of the classes, as was her daughter.
“There is something compelling about a class taught by a man that it’s important to say ‘no,’ to draw boundaries, and to continue this image of being a self-empowered girl,” she said.
One of the supporters for allowing enrollment of the courses to both genders was Councilmember Ara J. Najarian, who said that men, while constituting the minority in such cases, are also victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse.
“You can’t exclude them,” he said.