…There are a lot of dangerous misconceptions about sexual assault in this country...
Data collected by the Department of Justice and the FBI over decades show that rape and sexual assault are crimes experienced by 1 in 6 American women and 1 in 33 men. Eight out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, usually either an acquaintance or a former/current partner, and over half of all rapes take place in or near the victim’s home. In cases of sexual assault against a juvenile, the percentage of crimes committed against them by someone they know is 93 percent. The use of weapons in sexual assault, apart from the assailant’s own hands and feet, is relatively rare — 11 percent total, and slightly more guns than knives.
The truth is that for most victims, rape and sexual assault aren’t random acts of violence. They’re typically perpetrated by someone the victim knows — the hookup who had some time alone with her drink, the person in a position of authority she doesn’t feel she can say “no” to, such as a prison guard, or maybe the roommate’s boyfriend who keeps hanging out in their dorm room. This degree of familiarity brings a lot of complication with it. It’s easy to visualize violence against a predator you’ve never met before, but much harder when it’s someone you know, someone who your family likes, someone you thought you were friends with, or someone you might have to see and deal with every day…
RECOIL OFFGRID has assembled a panel of experts in the field of women’s self-defense to cover common questions about how to prevent and protect yourself from sexual assault. This panel consists of myself, martial arts trainer Cath Lauria; SIG Sauer Director of Training and Special Events Hana Bilodeau; and Rhonda Lent, who also has a background in law enforcement.
What verbal de-escalation techniques can be used to thwart an attack, and what’s the overall role of psychological self-defense?
CL: The most effective de-escalation techniques start early, and they don’t even have to be verbal to work. Setting and maintaining boundaries is the best thing a person can do to help protect themselves against assault before things get physical. Does that drunk guy at the office holiday party keep coming up to you asking for a hug? Offer a handshake instead. If he insists, tell him you’re just not interested in a hug, thanks. What if he calls you a bitch? Well, who cares what he thinks, as long as you’re safe.
If things get to the point where threats are being made, where physical boundaries are being crossed, and where you feel unsafe — this is the time for more forceful de-
escalation techniques. Volume goes up, hands go up — put a physical and a sound barrier between you. You don’t have to curse and threaten in turn, and it’s better if you don’t. Be clear: Tell them to back off, to leave you alone, shout for others to call the cops. Do this loudly. You want people to hear you, to rip away the veil of privacy and secrecy the assailant is trying to create. If they continue into physical assault after this? Then, it’s all systems go, because you know that you’ve done your best to de-escalate the situation by letting them know that attacking you is going to be a big mistake.
HB: Verbal de-escalation is an invaluable skill. As was discussed in the article, despite common misconceptions, most sexual assaults occur by someone known by the victim. Because of this familiarity, most often there’s a grooming phase prior to the actual assault. Due to manipulation on behalf of the suspect, the victim is often left confused and scared and, in many instances, doesn’t verbally or physically resist. Because of the shame that the abuse leaves behind, we find a large majority of victims don’t report the abuse immediately, if at all. It’s the responsibility of modern society to fight the root of the problem if we intend on making a notable difference. We need to breed into our youth body positivity and respect. Teach them to have a voice and how to use it. Whether a stranger or a trusted loved one, implementing “verbal Judo” could potentially be the defense that changes the outcome.
RL: I’ve been accused of “victim blaming” when discussing the development of soft skills. This is what I always say, and I will say it again. If we lived in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to lock our houses or lock our cars. If everyone had the same moral and ethical compass and 100 percent abided by a set of rules, we wouldn’t have to take measures to protect our personal belongings from theft. The same logic applies here. The purpose of developing hard and soft self-defense skills is to minimize risk.
Verbal De-Escalation Skills
If the threat isn’t imminent, be clear on how you want things to unfold. Self-confidence is key to verbally and nonverbally delivering what your needs are in that moment. This is about creating boundaries and is an excellent way of testing the waters in how logically the other person will respond.
Say “NO!” loud and clear. This will tell the attacker that whatever happens from that point forward isn’t consensual. When a threat is imminent, you’re past the point of verbal de-escalation. This point requires action. Look around for avenues of escape — if you can escape safely, do it! If you cannot safely escape, you must assess whether or not it’s feasible to physically fight off the attacker...
If you get the sense that something isn’t right, listen to your gut. Intuition is a primitive survival mechanism. Don’t allow your brain to convince you that your gut feeling isn’t warranted! Get beyond a possible mentality of “it won’t happen to me.”
CL: If it comes to the point that an attack is unavoidable and you’re fighting back, remember that the best targets are the ones that can’t be strengthened with steroids. The face — the eyes in particular — and the groin are excellent targets, and a strike there doesn’t require a lot of force to be painful. You don’t even have to hit the eyes or the groin square on to get someone to back off — the body’s flinch response is built-in. As for the old saying that you should never hit a guy in the groin because it’ll just make them madder … it’s true, it will make them mad. It will also be really, really painful, so let them be mad and doubled over holding their junk while you get to safety.
The best thing that martial arts and combatives training can bring to a basic skillset is a better understanding of how to deal with and use adrenaline. Your adrenaline is triggered in assault situations — the fight-or-flight response becomes engaged, and when that happens a lot of fine motor skills go out the window. Gross motor movements are your best bet and practicing those skills under the effect of adrenaline is an excellent way to improve your chances of actually remembering how to protect yourself once the fight is on. It’s imperative to have a basic understanding of grappling and ground skills as well, given that all rapes take place at extremely close range. People don’t become rapists because they want to go toe-to-toe with someone — rape is a crime of power, revolving around being able to intimidate and control someone else. The harder it is to control you, the less inclined they’re going to be to try...
In our area, there are many martial arts and firearms instructors. You can find women’s self-defense classes at the following locations, though there are probably many others: