Women’s self defense is a topic that always comes up in Spring for a couple of reasons. One, April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Two, it’s close to the end of the school year and a lot of young women are graduating high school and leaving home to start college.
As you know, there are many stories of sexual violence against women on college campuses in America. But the hot topic of sexual violence on college campuses is just a small part of a much larger problem. Rarely does factual data about the nature sexual violence and effective strategies of resistance get reported in the news. Perhaps that is a contributing factor to why more women don’t get self defense training.
The Bad News
1 in 6 American women will be the victim of a rape or attempted rape in their lifetime.
55% percent of the time, the attack happens in the victim’s own home.
54% of victims are 18-34 years old. Still, another 28% are 35-64 years old.
70% percent of victims knew their attacker. Only 30% of attackers are unknown – commonly called “stranger danger.”
- 45% committed by an acquaintance, friend, or co-worker
- 25% are committed by a current or former boyfriend or spouse
- 6% are committed by more than one person or the victim cannot remember
- 1% are committed by a non-spouse relative
- 28% are committed by a stranger
94% of women who are raped experience PTSD symptoms during the two weeks following the attack. 33% contemplate suicide and 13% commit suicide. Many begin to abuse alcohol and/or drugs. Many experience problems in their relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. And there is also the risks of pregnancy and STIs.
Did you also know that out of every 1000 rapes, only 6 rapists will be incarcerated? It’s probable that the legal system will fail and justice will go unserved. (statistical information above gathered from rainn.org)
There are severe financial, physical, and most importantly, psychological costs to being a victim of rape.
Let me be clear right now. Sexual assault and rape is NEVER the victim’s fault! NEVER! It doesn’t matter how you dress. It doesn’t matter how you behave. It doesn’t matter how sexually active you are. It doesn’t even matter if you are in the middle of consensual sex and change your mind. NO MEANS NO!
Rape is solely the fault of the rapist!
And this is to the men out there that may be reading this: I don’t care how hard she may be coming on to you, if she is obviously drunk or impaired in any way, DO NOT HAVE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE! Be a Man. Give her some water. Contact her girlfriends to pick her up if you can. Put her on the couch with a pillow and blanket.
The Better News (Defending against rape is not necessarily what I would call “good” news)
According to some research, women who physically fight back against a rapist double their chances of not being raped.
Another study examined the success rate of women resisting rape according to the level of resistance given.
- Victims crying or pleading were raped 96% of the time
- Victims who loudly screamed were raped between 44% and 50% of the time
- Victims who ran were raped 15% of the time
- Victims who forcefully resisted (without a weapon) were raped 14% of the time
- Victims who forcefully resisted with knives or guns were raped less than 1% of the time
In terms of injuries received during resistance, the research is unclear as to whether the injuries received were the stimulus that sparked the victim’s resistance (he hit me so I started fighting back) or sustained as a result of resistance (I fought back, so he hit me). In either case, the injuries received were usually minor – bruises, minor cuts and scrapes. Rarely are severe injuries received during resistance.
Women who get self defense training are less likely to be victimized and survivors who get training are less likely to be revictimized.
In other words, women’s self defense skills work!
The Most Common Reasons Women Don’t Get Self Defense Training
With as large a problem as sexual violence is against women, and as great as the benefits are of getting some self defense training, I’ve often wondered why more women don’t seek out training.
The following are the most common reasons/excuses that women have said directly to me in person or in text.
1) “My husband/boyfriend will protect me.”
I have heard this one more than any others. And every time I have heard this, the aforementioned husband or boyfriend was not present.
I’d like to think that if your husband were present, he absolutely would protect you. But unless he’s with you 24/7, this line of thinking is unrealistic. You can only rely on yourself in those times when a trusted protector is not present. You can’t rely on others to come to your rescue. Most people don’t want to get involved and it’s likely that you’ll be in an isolated environment away from public eyes. Police? As the saying goes, “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” I’m not saying don’t call the police or 911. I’m just saying that their response time may not be fast enough to ensure your safety.
Somewhat related to this is that we get a lot of mothers signing up their college bound daughters for our Women’s Protective Measures courses. However, the moms don’t seem to think that it’s something important enough for themselves. Remember that statistic above? 28% of victims are 35-64 years old. This is that “out of college, married, mother” age group. No one is completely immune from the threat of violence.
2) “I’m too weak. I’m not strong enough.”
This is second most common excuse I’ve heard. When actually examined with logic, you will find it completely erroneous.
Can you pick up your kids? Do you move furniture to, from, or in your house? Do you play any kind of sport like golf or softball? Have you ever slapped or high-fived someone?
If you said yes to any of the above, then you are strong enough.
No man has balls of steel. No one has tough eyeballs. If a single grain of sand can cause a 250lbs, 6′-4″ tall man to wince in pain, bend over, and cradle his eyes, then a quick finger poke can do much worse to him and buy you enough time to run to safety or draw a weapon. I mentioned picking up kids and moving furniture because you are strong enough to move heavy things. I mentioned golf and softball because those teach you how to hit targets with blunt objects. A slap to an ear can burst an eardrum. A high five to the nose can break a nose.
Women’s self defense is more about understanding attacker psychology, managing your own fear, and efficient movement than brute strength.
3) “I’ve never done self defense or martial arts before.”
At one point neither had I. At one point even the legend himself, Bruce Lee, had never done martial arts before.
I took up training as a young teenager because I would get bullied from time to time. My well intentioned mom wanted me to solve my problems with my words. But most bullies, at least in my experience, are too fucking dumb to understand words. They only respect force. Strangely, after I started training, I no longer had issues with bullies. They simply stopped targeting me. I never even had to fight.
The same effect has been found for many women who take up some kind of self defense training. Your confidence and attitude changes. You suddenly don’t appear to be such an easy target for attackers. With quality training, you learn to identify the behaviors and warnings that something is becoming dangerous and can avoid that situation altogether. If you can’t avoid it, you learn to assert yourself so that a potential bad guy knows there will be consequences if he continues his predatory behavior. And if necessary, you learn how to fight him off physically.
What could possibly be the downside of learning to defend yourself?
4) “I’ll just shoot’em.”
I hear this one from both women and men. This is a very short sighted perspective and could potentially land you in prison or worse.
First, do you actually train with your firearm? Or do you just practice slow fire to hit the bulls-eye? Marksmanship is only one part of being able to fight with a gun. There is also presentation from the holster, clearing malfunctions, and quickly reloading fresh magazines.
Are you financially and emotionally prepared and capable of taking a human life to stop an attack? Are your prepared to kill someone you thought was a friend? Remember, 70% of the time, the attacker is someone you know.
Is lethal force even necessary? Not every situation requires or justifies a lethal force solution. Although this article is focused primarily on defending sexual violence, that is not the only kind of attack or situation you may face. Are you willing to risk prison and the psychological toll of ending a life over a situation of purse snatching? What about a drunk woman at a bar who thinks you’re trying to flirt with her man? You may have to defend yourself physically, but not always to the point of needing to use lethal force.
Do your understand all the legal issues involved? Can you legally carry in every environment you will find yourself during your daily life? It’s illegal to carry at many or most colleges and schools, government buildings, hospitals, establishments that serve alcohol, and theaters. Can you legally carry in your work office? I can’t.
Where do you keep your gun? Is it on your person? If you keep it in your purse, 1) do you have your purse with you and 2) can you draw the gun quickly and efficiently? Is it locked away in the glove compartment of your car? In a gun safe in another room? Remember that 55% of rapes happen in the victim’s own home, so unless you keep it on your person, just shooting the bad guy may not be a viable option.
In my professional experience, most people grossly underestimate, under train, and under prepare for these areas.
Now please don’t misunderstand. I’m not putting down the use of a firearm to defend yourself. I teach and train with firearms myself. They are a very efficient tool for self defense. But you must understand that they are not magic talismans that automatically make you safe. They don’t function flawlessly 100% of the time.
Hand to hand self defense skills can buy you the space and time to get to your gun if the situation requires.
5) “We shouldn’t have to teach women’s self defense. We should teach men not to rape.”
I agree 100%. Women should not have to worry about being raped by some piece of shit excuse for a man. But, the way the world ought to be and the way it actually is are two different things.
There seems to be an all or nothing attitude or strategy for many people when it comes to this topic. Either the “don’t learn self defense because men shouldn’t rape” or the “there are rapists in the world, so women need to learn self defense.” Both are inadequate in my opinion.
Yes, we need to teach our boys and young men to respect women and not rape. This is the long term strategy to change our culture. It is necessary. But the cultural change is going to take a long time. Perhaps one, two, or three generations.
In the meantime, there are still rapists out there that are so far gone that they are unteachable. Unchangeable. Learning self defense is the immediate strategy to stay safe. This is a two front war. Not an either or. Right now, both are necessary.
Women’s self defense isn’t just anti-rape tactics.
For many women, when the subject of self defense comes up, the first thought is in the context of sexual violence. And for good reason. But what about the often overlooked areas of other violent crime in which there is no sexual component? Muggings where the goal is robbery of property. Violence stemming from an argument or perceived insult. The stereotypical “catfight.” Wouldn’t knowing how to defend yourself in those scenarios be valuable?
There are a few different reasons these excuses are given.
- Fear. Violence is an ugly, painful, bloody, confusing thing. There’s nothing pleasant about it.
- Denial. This is usually based in fear. But ignoring the danger doesn’t make it go away. The belief that “these things happen to other people, but not me” is a real thing, but wrong.
- Overconfidence. Unless you’ve tested your skills in training, how can you be so sure that you can successfully defend yourself?
- PTSD. This is an actual reason, not an excuse. Perhaps you’ve been attacked before. Contrary to what many people think, including instructors, self defense is not a replacement for therapy. The training can sometimes trigger an anxiety attack if you are not already a good distance into the healing process. If you have been attacked, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline shown below. Find a therapist and start healing.
Many of those who accept the reality of the evil and danger that is out there, and that they should learn self defense, still don’t seek out training. Why?
I’ve pondered over this for years. I asked a female friend who is an attorney that has seen many cases of women who were raped, abused, and trafficked, why more women don’t get self defense training. Her best guess is that women, especially wives and mothers, often put their loved ones before themselves. “The kids soccer game is the priority this weekend. My husband wants to watch the football game so I am going to watch the kids.”
This is a very good quality in a person – to put others before yourself. But you still need to take time to take care of yourself. Let your husband take care of getting the kids to the soccer game. He can watch the kids and record the football game. And I guarantee you that if you were attacked, your loved ones will be thankful that you were able to fight back and save yourself. That is a better outcome for both you and your family than if you were attacked and could do nothing.
Self defense is a skill every human being should possess. As self defense coach Tony Blauer has said, “Self defense is the most important skill you hope you never need.”
Have you given yourself these excuses to put off learning self defense in the past? What are you going to do to get some women’s self defense training?
National Sexual Assault Hotline
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