Women’s self-defense course comes under fire in lawsuit

Sexual violence knows no gender. Women and men can both fall victim to its misfortune, and both men and women should protect themselves as much as they can against it.

Yet, it’s sexual discrimination that’s behind Sterling resident and father of three Ed Meyers, who is suing Loudoun County Sheriff Steve Simpson in U.S. District Court. Meyers believes the county’s women-only self-defense workshops are in violation of his civil rights.

In 2010, there were 46 reported rapes in Loudoun. Many of the victims knew their assailants – they were their husbands, boyfriends or someone in their circle of friends, said Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Kraig Troxell. Forty-three rapes were reported in 2009.

The county hosts crime prevention classes in different communities that are meant to be educational in nature and work to heighten sexual assault and rape awareness. The women learn how to handle themselves in threatening situations, including how to behave if they’re being attacked from different angles and what they can do to protect themselves, Troxell said. The courses, which are held at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy in Ashburn, teach hand-to-hand combat skills.

Meyers registered his wife for a May 2010 class, but when she couldn’t go, he showed up in her stead. He was denied at the door because of his gender and was denied several more times until Simpson met Meyers at the academy April 26 with a note of trespass and a plea – the women, some of which might have been raped, would be uncomfortable with men in the classroom.

Meyers did not understand this reasoning because, he contends, if the women were uncomfortable with him learning self-defense tactics alongside them in the course, they would also be uncomfortable passing him on the street or at a shopping mall.

In his complaint, filed May 20 in the district court in Alexandria, Meyers said he was not the only man present that evening—Simpson, two male police officers in uniform, the presenter and another male, who was accompanying his wife and daughter, were also in attendance. In a conversation with the Times-Mirror, Meyers hinted that a man in a uniform is still a man, citing an officer in Ashburn who Meyers thought allegedly accepted a sexual bribe for dropping a drug charge.

Still, Meyers didn’t necessarily want to attend the courses to learn self-defense tactics for himself, rather he “wanted to review the course material and possibly criticize it.”

His concerns over the educational course material and syllabus were compounded when Audra Vogel, the course’s coordinator, allegedly refused to hand him the course material for review. He also alleges that Vogel “vaguely threatened that any further contact would be considered harassment and appropriate action would be taken,” according to his complaint.

Meyers said he was interested in the techniques being taught in the courses since the classes are funded with his tax dollars. He said he does not believe in “teaching violent attacks as the self-defense mechanism.”

“I’m always concerned about what the government is doing in terms of my educational dollars,” he said, adding that he hoped “the threat of having their educational funds cut off would have the sheriff change his mind about having a discriminatory educational policy.”

While Meyers would not go into detail about what defense moves he was most concerned about, he did say he hoped the attendees were being taught how to defend themselves if attacked, not to act on offense before being attacked.

“It’s a timing thing, if you’re trained to do that when you see a potential threat, that’s offensive, as opposed to actually being attacked,” he said.

When Simpson met Meyers at the door that April evening, Meyers said he was refused entrance to the class because it was for women only. He said he “pushed back a little bit but not to the point of getting arrested.”
Meyers put up a legal fight because he believes it is unlawful to host a gender-specific course in a government-funded facility. He contends that he is a victim of discrimination based on his sex.

He also alleges that the Sheriff’s Office is in violation of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs receiving federal financial assistance. In the complaint, Meyers goes on to say that the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office is a recipient of Department of Justice grants, which also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin and religion.

This is not the first time Meyers has sued the Sheriff’s Office – he previously took exception to their uniforms because they did not technically conform to Virginia law.

Troxell said he cannot comment on ongoing lawsuits.

Meyers in 2005 also sued the Loudoun County School Board for requiring his children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in public school.

Although he believes women face sexual violence more than men based on statistics he’s seen, Meyers said the Sheriff’s Office should allow men to participate in self-defense courses if they so choose. Either that or charge for the courses, which are held at no charge to the women.

“I think its important to get the sheriff to believe in the rule of law. That civil rights are something that are important for Loudoun citizens, and if he doesn’t do that, then someone will hold him accountable for it,” he said.
Simpson has until June 20 to acknowledge the summons, Meyers said.

“If you think that we can reduce crime by attacking even the smallest infractions, I think we can reduce civil rights abuse by attacking even the smallest occurrence,” he said.

Contact the writer at hhager@timespapers.com.

This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com.

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