It’s about 11:30 p.m. on a Friday in February. Miranda and Jessica had spent the evening at the mall after closing up the office. After shopping, dinner and a late movie, the two women say good bye to each other and head out into the now deserted parking lot.
Jessica had parked under a street light close to the theater mall exit. She scans the parking lot area around her car. About 20 yards away, she sees a man in a parka standing by a van. He looks like Bob, the new janitor at her office. Bob seems to be staring at her. Since he started a month ago, he has given her the creeps. She looks straight into Bob’s eyes, acknowledging him without smiling. He looks away. With her chin up and her shoulders straight, still scanning her surroundings, she walks directly to her car. With her automatic key ready, she unlocks the car, gets in, locks the doors, puts her seat belt on and drives off.
Miranda is loaded with shopping bags, fumbling for her keys with one hand and pressing her cell phone to her ear with the other hand to call her husband. She can’t remember where she parked, and is searching for her car in the dark parking lot. The high heels of her new boots are hurting her feet. She is preoccupied with wondering why her husband isn’t answering his phone.
A man in a parka is walking towards her quickly. She doesn’t notice him until he is only six feet away. Then she recognizes him as Bob, the new janitor. He makes her feel uncomfortable because he always seems to try to hang around her in the supply room. Suddenly she’s afraid, but she thinks that’s silly and she doesn’t want to be impolite when he comes closer and calls her name. She has always been taught to be nice.
Jessica recently attended a self-defense workshop. She recognizes that being in an isolated place like a parking lot at night is potentially dangerous. She’s aware of her surroundings, the time of day, and the people and the circumstances around her. She planned ahead and parked under a light close to the exit that she would use at the end of the evening. She notices the man in the parka. Even though she recognizes him and “knows” him as Bob, the new office janitor, she trusts her gut instincts. She is aware of her verbal and physical boundaries and will preserve them. If he comes any closer she will yell at him to back off. And if he doesn’t and grabs her, she will knee him in the groin or punch him in the throat or do whatever it takes to get away from him.
Miranda said she didn’t need any self-defense courses. She lives in a safe, small town and she’s a mature woman in her late forties who doesn’t expose herself to high risk environments like big city night life or subways where strangers might attack pretty, young women.
Awareness is one of the most important aspects of self-defense. Research and interviews with offenders have demonstrated that predators select victims based on their assessment that they will succeed in easily controlling the selected victim both verbally and physically. Most predators don’t want to fight. They want to humiliate, control, and dominate their victims, all without getting caught or physically injured.
A critical part of any self-defense class is education in risk awareness, recognition, reduction and avoidance, based on up-to date information and research. Women need to relearn to trust their gut instincts and to internalize that their safety comes first – before being polite and “nice.” And they need to unlearn myths. Most women get attacked by men they know in places they consider safe. Only a small percentage of women become victims of strangers lurking in the bushes. Many myths about attacks on women still persist.
Awareness education and practice in assertiveness and in setting physical and verbal boundaries should be a major part of your training. To be effective, your training should also include physical self-defense techniques that are practical, realistic, and specifically geared towards the type of attacks most commonly used against women, including restraints and strangulation.
Unless you are a highly trained martial artist, fancy jump-spinning kicks, joint manipulation and pressure point techniques probably won’t do you much good in a real attack. Instead, your training should focus on simple, basic techniques that use your gross motor skills. Women need to learn to use their natural personal weapons – their fists, elbows, knees, feet, voices and, most importantly, their brains and common sense. And they should be able to learn and practice these skills in a supportive, women-focused environment.
No self-defense course can guarantee your safety – the only guarantee is that you will be better prepared should you ever be targeted or attacked. You are your best self-defense investment – and because of that it makes a lot of sense to learn how to prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically.
By the way, that night, Jessica may have saved both herself and Miranda from being Bob’s next victim.