Women’s Self Defense Against Sexual Assault

I first published this article on this Blog in September of 2014 .  I am republishing now as part of my end of the year review of past articles which I believe can still be useful to folks in this country and around the world.

I am a 5th Degree Black Belt in a Japanese style of Karate. I occasionally teach a self defense class to women in my area. The following are my notes from my basic class. Hopefully they will be of some use to you.

This course is not intended to make you paranoid; your chances of being attacked in a particular situation are very small. However, you do need to be aware that it can happen. Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. One out of every six American women has been the victim of a sexual assault in their lifetime. Statistics show that any woman, young or old can be the victim of a sexual attack. Two thirds of the attacks are committed by someone the victim knows, at least casually. Many assaults are never reported.

Let’s talk about how women can avoid being attacked. Awareness is always the first step in being prepared.   At the end of this class I want you to be better prepared to prevent assaults from happening in the first place, and better prepared to survive one if it happens to you.

Q. What is the most important thing you can do to not become the victim of an attack by a predator?

A. Don’t put your self in the position of being attacked in the first place.

Let’s take situation that could happen in real life – to someone who is blissfully unaware that she could be a victim. As you read through this scenario, see if you can determine what this women is doing wrong which will leave her vulnerable to an assault.

A woman normally works regular hours in downtown office building. She usually gets off around 4:30 so she usually walk to her car in a nearby parking garage a couple of blocks in the daylight when there are usually a lot of people around.

Lately, however, her workload has increased dramatically and she been working nearly late every night on a big project. Often she feels that she could work all night and still not get everything done, but she has her limits and has been routinely knocking off at about 8:00 every night.

Every evening at about that time she walks, in her high heels, a couple dark, usually deserted city blocks from her work place to the deck where she parks her car.

After a long hard day she wants to relax usually inserts her ear buds before she leaves so she can listen to favorite music during her walk to her car and/or she checks her latest texts and emails on her phone.

She the most direct route – the one she always took when walking to her care during the day time when plenty of folks are out about – including the short cut though a park.

She enters a poorly lit parking deck and walks to her car which she normally parks in about the same spot every day.

But usually when gets to her car she remembers nothing of her walk because she has been listening to her music, playing with her phone or replaying the events of the day in her head.

When she gets to her car she usually fumbles around in her purse trying to find her keys.

She then opens the back door rearranges some packages that were on the back seat, but have fallen to floor.

She would probably be totally shocked, and therefore practically defenseless, if she encountered a predator one evening during her walk to her car.

We’ll see in a minute how well you did picking up the mistakes the Vicky made which left her more vulnerable an attack, but first you need to understand how predators operate:

–     They usually want easy victims that they can attack with little or no danger to themselves.

–     They don’t want to get caught and go to jail.

–     So they don’t want anything or anyone to draw attention to what they are doing.

–     They don’t want witness, and unfortunately that often includes the victims.

–     Often their primary motivation is not obtaining sex; though they may tell themselves that is why they do what they do. Most often it is the opportunity to exert power, control, and domination and/or to channel anger that is their real motives. Sexual attacks are crimes of violence. So it is often the vulnerability of the victim that attracts a sexual predator.

So what can the woman in our example, any woman do to make herself less vulnerable to attack?

–     Don’t walk alone at night in an area which might be unsafe if you can avoid it.

–     If possible, get a trusted male friend or associate to walk you to your car.

–     Or buddy up with a female friend or associate and walk to your cars together.

If you walk alone:

–     Vary your routine – predictability can make you a target.

–     Walk only on well lit, well traveled streets if at all possible

–     Don’t take short cuts through alleys, parking lots, or near trees or bushes where an attack can occur without being seen or heard.

–     Wear shoes or clothing that will not prevent you from making a quick escape.

–     Keep mace or pepper spray in you purse where you can quickly find it at the first sign of trouble.  Make sure you know how to use it in advance.

–     In advance think about what you could use for a weapon if you are attacked.

–     Mace or pepper spray

–     Car keys.

–     A heavy briefcase or laptop case you could swing.

–     Anything else you could use as a weapon, including anything around you or laying on the ground.

–    Stay alert and pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

–     But don’t act like you’re afraid; walk strong and confident like you’re not someone that anyone would want to mess with.

–     Pay attention to your intuition, if a situation doesn’t feel right, act accordingly.

–     If you are uneasy about your situation, and you feel you have time, consider calling 911 on your cell.

–     If a man approaches you either walking towards you or starts following you, make eye contact. Let him know that you are aware of him, that you can identify him.

–     If you are the least bit uneasy about the situation, don’t hesitate to cross the street or walk in the other direction.  In other words make him declare his intentions early on while he is still some distance from you.

–     If you feel it is necessary take off running before he gets anywhere near you

One of the most likely times for an attack to occur is when you are trying to enter your car. The attacker hopes you will be distracted, fumbling around in your purse for your keys.

–     You should have already parked in a well lit, well traveled area. Even if you arrive in full daylight, you need to keep in mind what your parking spot is going to be like when you get back to your car.

–     Avoid parking in isolated areas, and be especially alert in parking lots, parking garages.

–     Long before you approach your car, your keys should already be in your hand.

–     You will need your keys to make a quick, safe entrance to your car.

–     A key makes an excellent weapon.

–     Approaching your car, look around to ensure that no one is a position to reach you before you can get in your car and lock the door. Check places where someone could be hiding nearby, inside or behind another car or in back or other side of your car.

–     If you are the least bit concerned, go back and get a security guard to walk you to your car.

–     Be especially cautious if there is a van parked next to your car. Vans are the often used by predators, because they can easily pull you into a van and subdue you. If there are vans on either side of your car, take special precautions.

–     If you have remote car entry button on your key or keyring, unlock your car right before you reach it.

–     If you have a “panic button” on your remote entry fob, be ready to press it at the first sign of danger; don’t hesitate to press it.

–     When you reach your car, quickly unlock it if you have not already done so remotely, enter, lock the door and drive away as quickly as possible

–     If someone approaches your car, drive off, even if they point a gun at you. If they step in front of your car in an attempt to stop you, make it clear that you are quite willing to run over them. Do so if necessary.

Some of these principles apply to safely entering your home or apartment. Predators often like to attack just as a woman unlocks and opens her door. By pushing her in and then closing and locking the door quickly, the predator believes he is cutting down the chances that his attack will be seen or heard.

–     If you are going to be entering your home at night or when no one else is around, for your long term safety, get rid of any bushes around your door that are big enough for someone to hide behind.

–     As you approach your entry way, check any possible hiding areas around your door before you attempt to enter.

–     Again you want your key ready in your hands, ready to insert into your lock, or use as a weapon

–     Be leery of anyone close enough to attack you before you can safely enter and lock your door behind you.

–     Unlock your door and enter quickly, then relock the door and set your home alarm if you have one.

But some women don’t enter their homes through the front door. They first drive their car into their garage, then enter their home though an inside door.

–     Pay attention as you drive in, someone could follow your car in before you can close the garage door again.

–     Stay in your car with the doors locked and close the garage door. Watch for intruders and don’t get out of your car until the garage is closed and you are sure no one has entered behind you.

–     If someone does follow your car in, don’t get out, leave doors locked.   Back out immediately and don’t let anything stop you, even if the intruder brandishes a gun, or tries to block your exit with his body.

What to do if attacked:

So what do you do if despite your best efforts, all that doesn’t work and you are confronted by a predator? There are some things that you need to understand in advance (like now) and internalize:

–     You need to know that non-forceful tactics such as pleading, reasoning, crying, etc. will not work and they make you appear to be even more vulnerable to attack.

–     You need to remember that acting forceful, bringing as much attention to your situation as possible and fighting back if necessary give you your best chance of successfully avoiding being a victim because they are exactly what a predator does not want you to do.

–     Even if the attack cannot be avoided, experts say women who fight back later feel better about themselves after the attack than those who don’t.

–     Keep your wits about you, don’t concentrate on your fear – that could paralyze you – concentrate on what you can do next.

So how should you react if someone who you believe will attack approaches you?

–     If there a clear avenue of escape, use it:

–     If you can get in your car and lock the door, before the attacker can reach you, go for it. Then get the car started and drive away; don’t let anything stop you.

–     If you believe you can escape by running without being captured, take off!

–     If don’t think you can escape successfully – face your attacker.

–     Ready any weapons you might be able to use (above).

–      Keys, mace or pepper spray, laptop case, anything in the environment you can use as a weapon, but don’t show your weapons until you have a chance to use them.

–     Again, don’t freeze up, because if you do you are toast. Keep your wits about you.

–     Use very loud, very forceful voice to warn the potential attr. “Stay away from me!”, “Back off!” Call out for help!

–     If the attacker continues to approach you, start screaming at the top of your lungs, and don’t stop. Do anything to call attention to your situation – set off a car, a house alarm, fire alarm, if your are inside throw a vase through a window – do anything to call attention to your situation.

–     If an attempt is made to grab or subdue you, fight back with every thing you have, using every weapon at your disposal. Fight like a psychotic cat.

–     Continue screaming the entire time and don’t quit fighting. You will not believe the strength you have inside you.

–     When you are scared because you are in fight or flight situation, adrenalin flows through your blood stream giving you enormous strength. (Examples)

–     Even if confronted with a knife or a gun, never allow yourself to be put in a car other vehicle.   It is the worst thing you can do because the predator will drive you to a remote location where no one can hear or help you. If you allow yourself to be placed in a car, you could be signing your death warrant! Take your stand where you are because that will usually give you the very best chance of drawing attention to the situation and getting help.

–     If you are captured by a predator don’t panic. Do everything in your power to call attention to your situation and escape, even it means hurting yourself in the process.

Now there are a number of other situations we could discuss in a class like this. We could talk about dealing with potential predators when you are driving, jogging, or even when you are at home. We could talk about protecting yourself when you are out on the town and we could talk about date rape, etc. Hopefully we can discuss such topics in follow on class, but now we need to proceed to what you should do if you are actually attacked.

How to fight back:

Keep screaming the entire time – again doing everything you can to draw attention to your situation, to summon help

Use hard parts of your body as weapons – fists, base of palms, elbows, knees, feet….against soft parts the attacker such as his eyes, nose, ears, solar plexus, groin…. (We are going to keep it simple – complicated techniques are hard to master and are easily forgotten in a desperate situation.)

When your attacker makes a move to grab or attack you, attack first:

–    Mace or pepper spray – keep it hidden until the last second, then spray the face and eyes.

–    Use of a key as a weapon – keep hidden with handle held tightly in your fist with the blade sticking out of the top, then slash across the face and eyes.

–    Palm strike – get your entire body into it – strike with the base of your palm and drive up and through the nose. (A palm strike anywhere on the face or throat can be effective.) Yell when your strike!

–    If none of that is available to you, or it doesn’t work, use your fist to hit, your feet to kick, your nails to gouge or scrape – again aiming for soft spots.

–    If you can temporarily disable your attacker, make your escape.

Next Steps

Normally at this point I have the women in my classes practice simple techniques which they can use to fight off an attacker and other techniques to break away from an attacker holding them. Unfortunately words are not really adequate for describing these techniques; they must be demonstrated and then practiced until perfected. You might be able to find video on the web where some these techniques are demonstrated, but it would be best if you attend a women’s self defense class like mine somewhere in your area to get the instruction and practice you need.

Cajun      12/29/2015   (originally published 9/1/14)