In the Blog

Fight back (part I).

December 6th, 2006     by Catherine Hayday     Comments

Nicoles post Violent Times reminded me of something Ive been wanting to post about: assault and self-defense.

This entry is specifically about self-defense against sexual assault since, regardless of where you are pulling them from, the statistics on the number of women who experience sexual assault are, well, terrifying. Most statistics agree that approximately one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. In BC the numbers are even more staggering, with some studies reporting that almost 1 in 2 women (47%) have been sexually assaulted.

But the point of this entry is not to glom together yet more stats that make you want to lock yourselves and loved ones away from the big bad world. The stats above certainly are fear-inducing, and Im not for a moment suggesting that awareness of them be diminished. But if all we do is hear these sorts of numbers, the new fear I start to have is that we are just going to feel more and more helpless. And thats not how I want to live.

We need to change the way we talk about sexual assault. This was really driven home for me about a year ago while watching the news on CityTv (hardly the be-all-and-end-all news station, but I was channel surfing). The story they were covering was an attempted sexual assault. A young woman had been out for a run when she was attacked. She fought back and got away safely. And reading between the lines of the story, it was clear that she had kicked more than a little bit of ass while doing it. The assailant had gotten away, only now he had a scratched up, bleeding face.

What bothered me about this report was that there was so much possibility for a different sort of message, but it was squashed into the standard fear-mongering approach: a dangerous assailant is still at large. The woman was lucky to escape.

But heres the thing. It wasn’t luck: when women fight back against a sexual assailant, 70% manage to avoid or stop a rape.

70%. Some studies put that number even higher, closer to 80%. Only thats not what we hear about. And having a case-in-point handed to them on a silver platter, that’s not how the media portrays the situation. Its certainly not the message I received when I was growing up. Heck, where I went to school they tried to get the whole friggin (all-girls) high school to take a different route to the subway because on occasion there was a flasher on The Path (the infinitely shorter route between the school and the TTC).

That’s a minor example, but more broadly and explicitly we were told not to fight back against men who were trying to assault us. Especially not if he had a weapon. Well, this stat of 70% is regardless of whether or not the attacker had a weapon.

It’s one of the most pervasive and damaging myths I think women are told about sexual assault — that you should not resist the attack, because somehow that will make it worse. When the only thing fighting back does is dramatically increase your chances of getting out of the situation safely.

Studies have also shown that begging or reasoning with a rapist (strategies suggested by some police programs) are some of the least effective strategies. Rape is about power. It is not about sexual frustration. Begging, crying and pleading does not help to take away from the aggressors feeling of control. Not the same way a swift knee to the balls does.

And speaking of a knee to the balls, here are a few tips on fighting back:

  • Act Out. Many women find it difficult to draw attention to themselves. Not wanting to appear foolish if youre wrong about that weird feeling you have. So practice trusting your gut. Theres nothing to be ashamed of about looking out for yourself. If someone is trying to move you and you dont want to be moved, drop to the ground. Scream. Create a disturbance. Almost universally attackers do not want attention drawn to themselves. He doesnt want to be caught. Make the biggest scene you can think of making. As one source says, even if you dont think there are people coming to help you, making noise will still let you take advantage of his fear of being caught.

  • Keep it Simple. As the great little book, Kung Fu for Girls says: Keep It Simple. Simple Is Effective. Fancy high-kicks are nice in the movies, but they’re slow to execute and take practice to do properly. Remembering the complex but effective 5-step move is probably just not going to happen. So stick to some basic principles, such as:

  • Dont risk injury to yourself. This includes punching (unless you have practice and know what youre doing). Use a palm strike. Its just as effective, much easier to do, and much less likely to injure you if you dont get it right. Drop your chin to protect your throat.
  • Be vicious. This one might sound strange, or make you uncomfortable, but youre defending yourself. Make him regret choosing you.
  • Use any and everything you have at your disposal to win. Stab at your attacker’s eyes and throat with your lipstick, your mascara, your cell phone. Use keys to scratch and gouge. Use your bag to keep a weapon away from you. Put obstacles between you - whatever you can find. Control his hips and his hands.

There is so much to discuss when it comes to personal comfort, ability and safety in the face of assault. Which is why I’m splitting this into two parts. The second part I’ll post over the coming week deals with one of the fundamental myths which stops women from fighting back: “Women can’t win fights with men.”

Teaser: Like heck we can’t.

In the meantime, if you click on the “more” link below, Ive put together from a few sources some more of these myths (and realities) about sexual assault.

Are you putting women at risk by suggesting that they can defend themselves? Response: Women with self-defense skills have more options in the face of an assault. Learning to defend and protect yourself does not mean that women will put themselves at risk or in situations in which they are uncomfortable. For example: having fire drills and being familiar with fire safety doesn’t make you more likely to have a fire or be injured in one.

It is only sexual assault if weapons are used. Response: Sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature that one person imposes on another. A weapon and visible physical injuries do not have to be present in order for a woman’s experience to be sexual assault.

It is only sexual assault if a woman has been physically injured. Response: Most women who are sexually assaulted do not have visible injuries. This does not make the experience less of an assault; nor does it mean that a woman will not have any negative effects from her assault.

Women cannot be sexually assaulted by their partners. Response: Legally, women have the right to say ‘no,’ to any form of sex with anyone, including their spouse or the person they are dating. Sexual assault within relationships has been illegal in Canada since 1983, however many people still do not recognize it as a crime. Even within a relationship, each partner must give consent each time sexual relations occur.

When men become sexually aroused they have to have sex and cannot stop. Response: Although a man may want to have sex, there are no negative consequences if he does not have sex when he is aroused. A man’s desire is not more important than a woman’s right to choose who she does and does not have sex with.

If the attacker is drunk at the time of the assault then they cannot be accused of rape. Response: The attacker is responsible for their actions no matter how intoxicated they are. Being drunk is not an excuse to force sex on anyone legally. Being drunk is not an acceptable legal defense an accused rapist can use.

Women secretly want to be raped. Response: There is a big difference between fantasizing about aggressive sex and wanting to be raped. A woman is in control of her fantasies; however, women are not in control when they are being sexually assaulted. Rape is a violent, terrorizing, and often humiliating experience that no woman wants or asks for.

You can tell if a woman is really sexually assaulted by the way she acts. Response: It is important to remember that, although reactions like anger, mistrust, and sadness are common, not all women experience the same emotions or express them in the same way. How a woman responds after a sexual assault can be influenced by factors such as her cultural background, whether she knows her attacker or not, her support system, how she views her experience, etc. Because a woman does not feel or act a certain way does not mean that her experience of sexual assault was not legitimate.

I didn’t fight back, so is it my fault I was raped? Response: No. It’s never a women’s fault if she’s raped. Resisting an attacker is only one of many options for a woman. Fighting back happens in many different ways, and sometimes after an assault. Some women see reporting an attack to the police as fighting back.

The above are copied from Women Against Violence Against Women, and the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. Visit the links for more information.

Tags: advice, body politics, media savvy

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