It is said that 3/4 of assaults on women are performed by people they knew prior to the incident. This is something I tell participants in my women’s self-defense classes. The scenario of an anonymous, malicious attacker coming at them from an alley or other remote location that women fear most is actually rare in comparison. This is a very important fact to address and should affect the way people teach self-defense for women.
More Common Assault Scenarios
So if the men are usually people that the women already know, what are the scenarios? Firstly, assault doesn’t necessarily mean an attack. An assault can be unwanted touching, like a sexual harassment situation at a night club, party or even at a workplace or at school. On the other hand, it could be more than that. Most rape situations that occur are date rapes. Another consideration is domestic violence involving a husband, boyfriend, father or brother, which is actually a very different type of situation, the scope of which I can’t really cover in this particular post. So what does this mean when it comes to teaching women’s self-defense?
First Line of Defense: Awareness
Awareness is the first line of defense. When it comes to dealing with people previously known by a woman, this can mean different things. It may mean recognizing potential miscreant behaviour in an individual like a man openly eyeing women, making demeaning comments, being very drunk or high, etc. Once a woman is aware of such behaviour, she can avoid situations in which she might come into contact with him or be alone with him, or she could report his behaviour to a bouncer, supervisor, teacher, etc. It could also mean being aware of the actions of people around you, like if a man she knows appears to be following her as she leaves a party, walks home from school, to her car after work, etc.
And even if no “warning signs” are going off, a woman should still take precautions with men she is less familiar with. A woman should not go into man’s home alone when she doesn’t know him very well. She should make sure that people know where she is when she is going on a date, what time she should be home, where she can be reached, etc. And every woman should carry a cell phone. These are just a few precautions.
Second Line of Defense: Boundaries
Once a potential threat has been identified, and a woman is unable to avoid being in contact with the man, she should set boundaries to prevent assault. If possible, the woman should keep physical distance between her and the man. If he is approaching her in a way that makes her fell threatened, she should stand in an interview stance (strong leg back, hands up, palms facing him). If he makes overt advances on her in a way that makes her uncomfortable (verbally or physically), she should tell him to back off in an assertive, non-aggressive tone. If the man persists in his advances, she should increase the strength of her tone as necessary.
Third Line of Defense: Combat
If the threat develops into an assault, the woman may escalate to physical combat as a defense. Now if it is a social situation and the assault is fairly minor (i.e. unwanted touching) and using words and an assertive tone have done nothing, a woman might choose to use a less violent combat method (i.e. sharp kick to the shin, stamping on a foot, etc). I also teach women to combine this with words to gather witnesses, yelling “No!”, “Stop!” or “Let me go!” This will usually be enough in a social situation in which other people are around.
If it is a more serious assault situation, like rape or a violent attack from a man, it makes no difference whether they know the person or not. She may use as much force as is necessarily to nullify the situation. As a woman, of course, she is justified in using more force than the attacker is using on her to make up for her lack of size or strength as compared to her attacker.
Awareness and boundary-setting are the most important skills for women to learn. They are the ones that help women keep out of trouble in the first place. Combat is nice to know and helps with confidence, but ultimately the other two skills are the ones that will be used most often.