Thursday, December 28, 2006

Life changes in the ordinary instant*

Here is the third Sound Safety podcast. Use the link to listen to this mp3 file, or read the text below. In these podcasts I focus on stories, some great successes, a few with not-so-happy endings. Women sharing their stories encourages and empowers other women to take action. All stories are true, though some details have been changed to preserve confidentiality.

Amy started off in this self-defense class skeptical that she would learn really effective skills. She'd been the victim of an especially brutal rape and beating at the hands of a former boyfriend. The memory kept coming back, triggered by particular sounds and odors. She had recurring nightmares. She struggled to trust anyone. She really wanted to finish school, but had difficulty leaving the safety of her home to go to campus. Forget about a social life! On a therapist's recommendation she enrolled in this self-defense class hoping it would help.

Each session was the same. She diligently worked on the physical skills, studied the manipulations used by perpetrators, worked with her body language, and gained proficiency in all these. Yet still she felt doubt that any of it would ever help.

Until the day she confronted the young man in the parking lot. Amy saw him on an intercept course as she left the college to go to her car. He whined at her for a ride to the other end of the lot. He whined it was hot, it was so far to walk, he'd miss his bus. Amy recognized he was trying to play on her reflex to help, her gut feeling was she did NOT want to be isolated in her car with him. And she then heard the voices. All were voices she knew, from her self-defense class. Myself, the other instructors, the other students, all urging her to breathe. To keep her distance. Keep a barrier between them. Make eye contact. Tell him NO, for however long it took. Do NOT let him into the car. When he tried to force his way in, she hit him with her car door and struck his throat with the edge of her hand. He backed off and doubled over, and she drove off, alone. The next day she reported the incident to campus security.

That week she came to self-defense class still shaken but confident. She realized that she didn't have to be the victim forever, and could confidently and effectively handle threatening encounters. Amy no longer had to imprison herself to stay safe.

This happened over two years ago. Amy finished school, is working, and even taking dance classes and dating. She's become more sure of her skill to read people's intentions, and feels more comfortable assessing possible risks and making plans to compensate. Amy said she's enjoying life in a way she never thought would be possible again since her assault.

Often the most critical aspect of self-defense is giving yourself permission to keep yourself safe, and knowing you have friends cheering you on.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and safe New Year.

*Tip o' the nib to Joan Didion.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Keeping Secrets

The Seattle Times has an ongoing special report on sealed court records. These are cases where as part of a settlement the entire proceedings have been made inaccessible. While Washington law does allow this in rare circumstances, the Times is filing to unseal cases that do not fit the legal criteria for sealing, and many of these cases are definitely of public interest. Cases include product liability, sexual assault, abuse, guardianship mismanagement, and malpractice. Visit their page on this series of articles for more details.

Abuse thrives in the darkness of secrecy. Our legal system, if it's to function for justice, needs to be open and accessible. Parents may want to know about teachers who touch students inappropriately. Patients may need to learn the importance of all features on medical devices. Families may seek redress for industrial accidents that injure or kill loved ones.

The prospect of public disclosure is a strong incentive for good behavior. Please read these stories, and support our right to know what our courts are ruling.