January is National Personal Self-Defense Awareness Month and this month’s blog gets into the serious, scary, and widespread epidemic of violence against women.  It is a heavy but important read for all adults and mature teens.

January is National Personal Self-Defense Awareness Month.

Have you ever had that dream where you try to scream, but no sound comes out?  You try to run, but your legs move in slow motion? You try to fight back, but everything you do is completely ineffective?

We often hear about the fight or flight instinct.  But what we really fear is the freeze response.  We play out scenarios in our heads and imagine what we might try to do.  Where we could go, how we could use what is sitting next to us in the car, what we would yell.  But we also fear that nothing we do will matter.  That they will be too big, too strong, too fast.  That we can’t possibly do anything that will make a difference to the outcome.  The outcome that we aren’t really willing to think about, let alone say out loud.

So, let me say it out loud for you.  Take a deep breath and let these terrible snapshots of reality land and settle one at a time.  These statistics condense the millions of heart wrenching stories and experiences into sanitized bite-sized pieces.  Let their real impact be felt as much as you are willing and able.

  • The single greatest cause of injury for women is domestic violence (The Journal of the American Medical Association).
  • 1 in 3 women are the target of some sort of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • A full 44% of women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped, and of those who were, more than three-quarters of them experienced their first rape before the age of 25 and 40% before the age of 18 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Unlike the “stranger danger” safety slogan, 3 out of 4 rapes and sexual assaults were from someone the victim knew, was in a relationship with, or was related to. Only 1 in 5 rapes or sexual assaults is committed by a stranger (Bureau of Justice Statistics).

Wow.  This staggering reality for women in this country often goes unmentioned or downplayed.  The effects of ignoring this reality have severe consequences.

First of all, we normalize objectification.  From a very young age, girls are teased and verbally harassed.  The verbal abuse increasingly eats away at what we consider acceptable.  We begin to accept being objectified by others and slowly this perception can color how we view ourselves.  We don’t step up to defend ourselves because we would spend all day doing so.  Instead we just ignore it and eventually, we don’t hear it as a problem.

Additionally, in downplaying the widespread epidemic of violence towards women, we rationalize it as someone else’s problem.  This “how sad, but it won’t happen to me” mentality is supported by classic safety advice, which puts the blame on the victim. We are told that if we don’t dress provocatively, if we don’t walk alone, if we don’t go out at night, and if we stay out of the “bad” neighborhoods then we will be safe… maybe.  And when something inevitably does happen to one of us, well, clearly, she must have been foolish in some way to invite that sort of behavior (after all, “boys will be boys”).

Here is the truth: nothing you say gives anyone the right to assault you; nothing you do gives anyone permission to harass you; nowhere you go gives anyone an invitation to touch you.  Here is another truth.  You are worth defending.  You have every right to stand up for yourself, and to feel safe.

If this is such a big problem, what can I possibly do?

Violence towards women and the justifications that lead to it are epidemics that are being fought on a global scale.  Protests rage in the streets, speeches ring out behind podiums, and social media trends with messages of solidarity and demands for change.  But the reality is, we won’t be able to eliminate violence overnight; and for many, the fear of being attacked is very real and very imminent.

In addition to fighting the systemic issue, we need to take action to protect ourselves now.  We are worth defending and we have more power than we realize.  We just have to learn how to use it.

It turns out that personal self-defense really works.  Fighting back, yelling, running, hitting, and resisting in any way you can makes a difference.  The studies and statistics support this.  The National Institute of Justice found that most self-protective actions significantly reduce the risk that a rape will be completed. In particular, certain actions reduce the risk of rape more than 80 percent compared to nonresistance. The most effective actions, according to victims, are attacking or struggling against their attacker, running away, and verbally warning the attacker (National Institute of Justice).  These are not fancy maneuvers; these are things that everyone can do.

It is also heartening to know that “women who participate in self-defense training are less likely to experience sexual assault and are more confident in their ability to effectively resist assault than similar women who have not taken such a class” (Professor Jocelyn Hollander).

Self-defense is not the same as martial arts.  It does not take years of dedication to learn how to defend yourself effectively.  Good self-defense classes focus on techniques that are easy to learn, hard to do incorrectly, and very effective against attackers.  They help you find the power you already have and learn how to access and hone it.

Reading about what to do is not enough.  Playing out scenarios in your head is not enough.  Practicing in a safe and supportive environment allows you to own it in a way that thinking does not.  You have to yell out loud to know that you can.  You have to move your body to feel what you can do.  You have to hit a target full force to really believe the power you have.  Good self-defense classes let you do this in a controlled environment.  Just one good class can make a world a difference.

Many organizations offer self-defense classes, including police departments and martial arts schools.  Here at Redwood Dojo, we have a two-hour introductory class coming up.  Click here to sign up for the Women’s Self-Defense Seminar (Sunday, January 27, noon to 2 pm).

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