Self-Defense and Individual Responsibility

lions protecting their cub

Who is responsible for your safety? Local police? The sheriff’s department? The prosecutors? University administrators and campus police? All of them may affect your safety but ultimately, responsibility for your safety rests with you.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently launched an investigation in the handling of rape, sexual assault, and harassment complaints by the University of Montana at Missoula, the Missoula, Montana, Police Department, and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. Such an investigation may shed light on the practices of these institutions and may result in improvements, but law enforcement and the legal system alone will not be able to protect you from violence.

Lion stalking cubAccording to 2008 U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, township and municipalities employed an average of 2.3 sworn police officers per 1000 residents. Law enforcement officers are not personal bodyguards. Most women are sexually assaulted by men they know in places they generally consider safe. Most rapes and sexual assaults do not happen in the streets or other public locations, but in apartments, homes, and other private places. Alcohol is a factor in a large percentage of rapes and sexual assaults. Legally valid consent is usually the crucial issue for successful prosecutions of non-stranger sex crimes.

A prosecutor’s decision to charge someone with a sex crime must be based on her reasonable decision that she has a good chance of proving all of the elements of the crime. She must prove criminal intent and lack of consent beyond a reasonable doubt. If she doesn’t have a sufficient chance of proving the crime, she may decide not to prosecute.

How about conducting your own investigation in how you can increase your personal safety? Rather than relying primarily on protection from law enforcement or the legal system, rely more on yourself. Investigate how you can increase your safety. Arm yourself with information on the avoidance of sex crimes. Educate yourself on managing risk. Work with your friends on looking out for each other. Think about setting and enforcing your boundaries. And as a back up, learn some basic physical self-defense if all of your avoidance strategies fail.

Effective self-defense training provides you with options to increase your chances of avoiding sexual violence, and of defending yourself if your avoidance strategies fail. In a real life attack, it doesn’t matter that only the rapist is responsible for his acts, and that the targeted victim bears no blame. At that point, it only mattes what options you have to defend yourself and fight off the attacker.

Lion, displaying his teeth

Your prevention training should include the following issues:

1. Statutory elements of sex crimes in simple terms; what is a sexual assault, a rape (sexual intercourse without consent), stalking, illegal sexual harassment, sexual abuse of minors, simple and aggravated assault;

2. Legally valid consent;

3. The roles of alcohol and drugs in rapes and sexual assaults (make sure you are up to date on what’s available and used in your communities);

4. Sexual assault and rape dynamics (non-stranger and the less common stranger dynamics);

5. Verbal and physical boundary setting and enforcing;

6. Justified use of force;

7. Risk awareness and recognition;

8. Risk reduction and avoidance strategies;

9. Basic physical self-defense;

10. After-care.

As a long-term civil liberties and civil rights advocate, I am dedicated to systemic change with the goals of gender equity and fairness.

Lioness protecting her cub


But as a mother, who also happens to be a lawyer and a self-defense instructor, I did not want to rely on law enforcement and the legal systems alone to protect my daughters from violence. One now lives in Brooklyn, New York, and the other one is studying at Brown University. They both know that a realistic approach to personal safety requires that they assume primary responsibility for their safety. They both have encountered situations where their training has come in handy.

Susan B. Anthony said in 1871, “Woman must not depend on the protection of man but must be taught to defend herself.”


2 Comments on "Self-Defense and Individual Responsibility"

  1. YES! You are your own defense. Law enforcement comes after. When the blood is on the sidewalk, and the sirens are wailing – that’s not the time to decide whose responsibility you are. You are the white knight, the first line. No one can predict what life will bring them, but preparing makes better outcomes. Thank you for the time and effort you put into getting this information out there. BTW, gorgeous pictures, and great choice for the article.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Lilie.
    Nature often provides great examples for self-defense. I took these photos in Tanzania a few years ago. Maria and I were driving around with our friend Said when we noticed about six female lions with a cub. Before we saw them, we heard them. The females banded together and viciously fought off a male lion that was stalking the cub. The male eventually gave up.
    The lion lounging and displaying his teeth is actually a different one. I just added his photo to show off his teeth.

Leave a Comment

Please copy the string oLtvvY to the field below: