Wednesday, December 12, 2007

OK, the ONE thing women REALLY need to know about self-defense

And that is you CAN effectively fight back. Don't need no martial arts, don't need no paramilitary or survivalist training. Average, everyday women, when they fight back, prevail in 85-90% of assaults. With no training.

Amazing. How do they do it? First, they recognized that an assault was happening. Second, they saw the situation as one where they did have choices and tools to use, and tried one tool after another until something worked. Truly amazing.

The sad news is how many women do not recognize that they have a better than fighting chance.

Note: The assaults here refer to those committed by strangers or acquaintances. The other broad category is domestic violence, which is a whole 'nuther ball of wax. In those instances, fighting back takes on different strategies. Like acknowledging the situation, planning safe escapes, enlisting allies, and learning the legal system. But most women who decide to get out of abusive relationships indeed do just that. Amazing.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

3 Things Every Woman Needs to Know about Safety

About a month ago, at a networking breakfast, one woman asked what I thought are the three most important things every woman needs to do for safety as she walks out her door. As typical at these events, each person gets only a minute or two to tell about themselves and their business, so I kept my response short yet informative. But for you, I elaborated a little.

1. You've heard this before, over and over. Be aware. Of the environment, of other people around, of the season, of the atmosphere. If anything is unusual or out of place, keep it in your awareness. One woman was just outside her office on break; she heard shouting and saw a well-groomed and nicely dressed man apparently yelling at anyone and everything as he strode down the street. Confident that no harm could come from such a well-attired individual, she turned her attention away. Moments later she found herself getting choked by that same young man. (Yes, she escaped.)

2. Many of you may have heard this one also. And if you haven't, you'll immediately recognize it's obvious veracity. Extend your awareness into yourself, particularly when out in public. Are you daydreaming, planning your current work project, fuming about your spouse's lack of consideration over washing the breakfast dishes? Or maybe you're under the weather, ill, or depressed. If you appear inattentive or distracted you are more likely to be perceived by a potential perp as an easy target. See my blog post of September 8, 2006 (it's an audio file, so you'll actually have to hear--rather than see--it).

3. Finally, NEVER let the thought of embarrassment get in the way of your safety. I routinely hear from women of being approached by a man who seems very nice and friendly, but within minutes it turns to a verbal assault and often progresses to a physical assault. And many of these women do not yell or create a scene because they didn't want to be embarrassed. Remember, nobody ever really died of embarrassment.

Monday, November 12, 2007

'Tis (almost) the Season

We're quickly coming up on that time of year when thoughts go to gatherings. Thanksgiving and Christmas are the occasions when many of us will focus on getting together with family and friends. And for many this is a joyous, even if a bit stressful, season.

For some others the stress isn't just from trying to match perfect gifts for great people, or schedule in the whirlwind of social hours. For those from abusive families, this is the occasion to remember, and sometimes re-live, those nightmare moments. Much violence happens within the supposed security of families, and I hear too often that the victim does not find support (indeed, often experiences overt hostility) from those closest.

If you are among the walking wounded and know you will find yourself (again!) in the familiar midst of the family dynamics holiday minefield , please keep a few things forefront in your mind.

Recognize that you cannot make someone else change. To change your family dynamics, think of how to change your responses to old triggers. You do not have to continually reproduce bad old patterns. Keep in mind that many in your family are truly frightened of seeing you change, especially if you grow out of your ascribed victim status. If they are comfortable with you in that role, they may be scared and try to take you down a notch or two. Remember that you are better than their expectations for you.

Second, you do not have to accept every challenge to engage with a past abusive family member. Recognize what buttons can get pushed, and do some advance thinking of better ways to respond. Planning is key to your safety, emotional as much as physical.

Finally, make time for yourself. Take walks, phone supportive friends, read a good book. If you have an exercise or meditation practice, continue them. Self-care is a critical element of self-defense, particularly in families where some members are challenged by personal boundaries. Much as you may love your family members, you need to also love yourself.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Search for Safety Borrows Ninja Tactics

A fashion designer in Japan is working with ways to keep folks on the street safer. By disguising themselves as a vending machine.

Read this article in the October 20, 2007 issue of The New York Times.

Designer Aya Tsukioka is reported to have gotten the idea from an ancient ninja trick of cloaking themselves in black blankets at night.

Just the thought that you can don a printed sheet to simulate a vending machine on the street and actually fool anyone puzzled me at first. And while it does still seem farfetched, I thought about how unobservant most people really are most of the time. As a thought experiment, at least, it could work. Until the wind picks up and the "vending maching" begins whipping in the wind.

The other puzzle for me is that, also according to this article, the crime rate in Japan is low, and still dropping. Yet concern over personal safety is increasing. Apparently that concern reflects more of a current sense of social instability rather that street assault. Which, once again, illustrates how perception is often more powerful than reality.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Real Safety Improvement or Publicity Ploy?

The University of Washington in Seattle has announced that it's trying to remove all sex offenders from the residential area just north of campus. Read this article from The Seattle Times for more info.

Will this improve the area's safety?

Given that the vast majority of sexual assaults on college students are committed by acquaintances, by peers, by friends of friends, how much impact will this request really have on the University community's safety?

What do you think? Please click here to answer a VERY short survey.

Friday, September 28, 2007

When school violence goes unreported . . . has it really happened?

The Seattle Times published a story yesterday about violent incidents at various Seattle schools that go unreported to the police. This article mentions that over the last 2 years, over 1,000 incidents that should have been reported were not. They included "assaults, threats, robberies and weapons possession." The four instances cited as assault examples in the story, however, were all sexual assaults.

Click here to read the article.

It's a story I hear too often. A parent calls me, asking about self-defense because their daughter was pushed against the locker and groped by a male classmate (the majority of the calls I get because of specific incidents are from parents of girls). Sure I can teach the girl effective self-defense skills, but I reiterate to the parent what they already know: that they will have to be prepared to assertively advocate for their child's safety with the school. And, if necessary, bring in outside parties such as the police. The self-defense skills I teach are only the beginning.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Post-Dog Days at the Market

Last Sunday at the farmers' market I saw this really cute puppy. Well, a big puppy, but not yet full grown. On the other end of the puppy's leash was a young (but full grown adult) woman (cute, but not as cute as the pup). Funny thing, though, is that there are signs all over the entrances to the market to please leave dogs outside the market perimeter. The dog owner seemed oblivious. Another patron, a somewhat older woman, passed by and must have pointed those signs out to the dog owner because the owner became belligerent. I could see her physically puff up as she demanded of the other woman's back a justification. Did the dog bother her personally? What business was it of hers anyway? Her dog wasn't causing any trouble! As she loudly complained to the ignoring crowd, she just happened to walk to the edge of the market and out onto the street (where she continued her complaint to a friend).

And the point of this is that nothing happened. Sounds a bit silly at first, but nothing happened. But that's the idea. You might not realize that over half the people in jail for violent crimes are not hardened career criminals. They were regular folks just like you and me. They found themselves in stressful circumstances, the right buttons got pushed, someone else responded, and BOOM! Violence happened. Say the second woman had stayed around to argue with the dog walker, say a few friends of both women came by to support their buddy, say one person bumped into another who pushed back who pushed back harder . . . no, not a likely occurrence at the farmers' market. But I'm sure you can recall a situation where this kind of pattern could very well have ignited.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Is There Really a "New" Kind of Rape?

The September issue of Cosmopolitan magazine features a story on what they're calling a new form of date rape. "Gray" rape, according to Cosmo, takes place in today's party environment, where there's often lots of alcohol, drugs, flirting, and the idea that women can be as bold as men about sex. Maybe they go off somewhere and begin making out, she says no to sex but he doesn't hear or pay attention . . . is it rape? About half of women in that situation will not call it rape--but they'll still end up dealing with the emotional fallout (see my April article for that issue). Most of the rest will feel it was wrong, but put a lot of the blame on themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that Cosmo is tackling the whole date rape issue--and calling it rape. This article's got some good advice for prevention and seeking help. There's even advice for guys on what consent is and is not, and mention that men too can be sexually exploited. Is this, however, a new type of rape? I don't think so.

Gray rape is still date rape, with some fresh window dressing. Cosmo attributes the "confusion" and women's self-blame to a new era of sexual freedom. In earlier generations, the excuses were that guys just couldn't control themselves, he'd have "blue balls," she led him on, she dressed "that" way, or (in the 1960s) "free love." Coerced sex, along with victim-blaming, is woven in our social fabric. Whatever the name, whatever the purported rationale, it's still rape and still not new. And still can be defended against.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tasers on Seattle buses?

This morning I received an anonymous phone call from a woman who said electrical stun devices are randomly popping up in Seattle, on the bus but also on the streets downtown. She described the perpetrators as small groups of mostly young people, girls and boys, but she's also noticed some "older" folk. They work in groups of 2 to 5, and they use very small stun devices about the size and even appearance of cell phones or pagers. They seem to text-message their buddies about who to target and when to approach. She's able to note these groups because the members appear to be trying hard to pretend they're not staring at their potential targets.

Have you, or your friends, experienced this? Please email me your reports!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

In the news, now

OK, I've been lax about keeping on top of this blog.

Here are links to some of what's been keeping me so busy.

I taught a class for the Girls Without Limits program at Olympia's YWCA two weeks ago, and The Olympian (the local paper) sent a reporter, photographer, AND videographer! The results are one story and one online video.

And I am now officially (according to this week's issue of the Seattle Weekly) 2007's Best Feminist Butt-Kicker!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Power of Transformation

This tale isn't exactly what most of you envision when you hear the phrase "self-defense success story." However, our protagonist, let's call her Annie, considers this incident not merely a success but a life-transforming event for the better.

In her early 20s, Annie was a homeless drug addict. Her life revolved around getting drugs, using drugs, and--when really she had to--scrounging for food and shelter. One evening she was in the parking lot just outside a gas station convenience store. A guy she didn't know asked her if she needed a place to stay. She answered yes, and he replied that he'd see if he could find her a place. Then he left, and in what seemed like just moments, he returned and said she could stay at his home.

Just an aside. I do not get asked if I need a place to stay when I'm at the gas station. I'll bet many of you don't either. If you have in the past, think about what was different then. If you are now, do you want it to stop? How are you presenting yourself? I'll get back to this at the end of the podcast.

Now, back to our story. I'm betting that you've figured out the rest of the evening. Annie and The Guy (she never knew his name) went back to his house. After hours of talking and drinking she fell asleep on a couch. Next thing she knew, she was awake and The Guy was on top of her. When she tried to pull away, he drove his knee into her stomach, pinning her. He grabbed her head, one hand on her scalp and the other on her chin. He twisted slightly, and she just knew he was telling her to be still or he'd break her neck. She stopped resisting, and he raped her. Afterwards they chatted some more, as if nothing unusual had happened. As the sun rose he offered to drive her to wherever she need to be.

Fast-forward about a year. I met Annie and heard her story at a women's transitional housing program. She described that evening as an awakening. It all came together for her. She realized that her lifestyle of drug use and homelessness put her at high risk for assault and abuse. She saw her rape as God's message to her to change her ways. And she's in the process of doing just that.

That transitional housing program where I met Annie and many other women with similar experiences (both clients and staff) asked me to talk with their clients on self-presentation. Not surprisingly, the body language for personal safety overlaps with the body language for daily success in finding and keeping jobs and housing. How to carry yourself and project that you are not a victim wannabe, or that you would be a reliable employee or tenant. This is personal power. Three of the critical keys are how you stand, eye contact, and breathing.

I'm now working on an ebook on cultivating your personal power. If you have stories you'd like to share on how you used your personal power to thwart an assault or de-escalate an ugly situation, please contact me.

To listen to this as an mp3 audio file click here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Resources for ANYONE Affected by Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

Last week's panel on violence against women in the Seattle area, set in the cool expansiveness of the Asian Art Museum, brought together activists both experienced and novice to discuss what's new, what's needed, and public policy directions. Merril Cousin, Executive Director for the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, provided this summary of services available to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and those who care about them. This is a great document to help anyone navigate the range of aid available. More than a summary, it also assesses the need for services and gaps in between what's needed and what's available. Please click here to download this now.

Before you read further, did you download the file? If you're like most readers, you did not. You thought, "that sounds kind of interesting, I'll get back to it. Soon. Very soon." And with the best of intentions, you'll forget.

If nothing changes . . . nothing changes.


The time to download AND read this is NOW. Before you get that 3 am call from your friend who's at the sexual assault unit at Harborview. Before you find pornographic photos emailed to your 12 year old son from his coach. Before your sister appears with facial bruises and lacerations and a story about tripping down a flight of stairs.

Because the more you know now, the better the snap decision you're likely to make when you're in distress.

According to a recent report from the Office of Crime Victim Advocacy, women in Washington State experience a higher-than-national-average rate of sexual assault. Chances are you know someone who's been assaulted. Chances are you know several people who've been assaulted, but they didn't tell anyone (including you). In my April newsletter I listed some of the long-term effects of sexual assault--most of them are not positive. Do you want to see this change?

If nothing changes, nothing changes. Do something to change.

This is part of your safety planning process. Being prepared isn't only for Boy Scouts. Please download and read this overview. Today. Now.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Moooving Manipulations

If you've never been to the intersection of Madison and 19th, go by it one day soon. The old Fratelli's ice cream building on the northwest corner has a painted pastoral landscape with cows under Mount Rainier. Not just any cows: one is a surrealist Dali-esque cow, one a Jackson Pollock cow, one a Pi-cow-so, and there are many others. Go by and take a look if you can, as that area is under redevelopment and the building may soon be gone.

One summer day maybe 5 years ago I was bicycling to class, stopped at the red light at that intersection. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman coming towards me, disregarding oncoming traffic. That was my first warning sign. She's still at a distance when she shouts her question: do I live in this area? I shake my head, and she continues approaching and shouting her tale:

"I was driving home from a camp for disabled kids--I'm on staff there--when my car broke down on I-90. And I need to get home, I live in on Whidbey Island, and I need some money for the ferry. Could you help me? I tried my parents, they live around here, but how was I to know they're in New York for the week, and I left my key to their house at home. I also left all my credit cards at home, and my cash, I can't believe I did that! I really need to get back, I have two dogs to feed! I asked a guy for money, and he said sure I'll give you some, if you give me some, and he wanted me to suck him off, so I decided to only ask women because I don't want to deal with guys like that."

Did I mention this is a LONG red light?

I pointed to the church across the street as the light FINALLY turns green, said I don't carry cash but someone in there may be able to help. She gave me a disgusted look as I pedaled across and away.

I'd been teaching self-defense for a while, and I knew about ploys and manipulations. I assessed her as not a physical threat, recognized the pattern of ploy with layer upon layer of excessive detail, and intellectually knew NONE OF IT WAS TRUE. Still, as I rode away, I felt pangs of residual guilt. I recognized that I felt more comfortable justifying my refusal (by saying I don't carry cash) rather than just flat-out saying NO. Like many of my students, I want to feel like a helpful human being, a mensch (BTW, that's Yiddish for "good person"); the thought that I may have turned down a person in need wasn't so easy to settle. Days later, I felt some anger at the attempted manipulation--after all, if it wasn't for connivers like her, it'd be lots easier to help the truly needy, right? Much later, by a couple of years in fact, compassion crept in. People who are homeless, or have so little in such an affluent culture, have learned a crucial lesson: you do and say what you need to survive. I learned that when I was teaching safety skills to women in day shelters and transitional housing. Who among us can't say they might do the same?

I never saw her again, and likely never will.

Go see the cow mural, before you never will.

Listen to the podcast here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Yes, we mow the lawn of our elderly neighbor

The latest buzz about Seattle is Mayor Greg Nickels' proposal of imposing fines on homeowners whose yards can be mistaken for a garbage dump. The line between private property, community rights and public health and safety is always tense. Here's how I walked that line.

When we were looking to buy a home over 7 years ago, my partner and I did look at neighbors' yards. We saw some lovely houses in North Seattle, but then looked out the kitchen window right into someone's personal excess furniture collection. A big red flag for me is living room recliners sitting out on the lawn. Another big red flag is cars with expired tabs just parked, on the street or in the yard. After living next door to one such neighbor, I vowed never again. Another clue is what happens in the neighborhood on weekend nights--yes, before we bought our house we parked in front one late Friday and it was quiet.

The home we eventually bought is surrounded by neighbors who assiduously keep up their yards. A large part of your safety is self-care, and knowing what you want and need when you come home is critical to your care. We knew that we wanted to live in a quiet neighborhood with well-tended yards. That contributes to our sense of well-being. Whether or not it contributes to our actual safety is the topic of another entry.

Domestic Violence will Not Stay in the Home

Yesterday was a sad one at the University of Washington. A young women was murdered in her campus office by her ex-boyfriend, who then killed himself.

Most of us think of disgruntled ex-employees "going postal" when we hear of a killing at a worksite. However, abusive partners and ex-partners are a far greater risk for women. Domestic violence doesn't stay domestic, it spills out and follows its victims everywhere. And sometimes spreads. People close to the intended target also become victims. One of last year's murder victims was a young man stabbed to death by his sister's estranged husband.

One out of 4 women in America will be in an abusive relationship sometime during their lives. Few go to murder. It appears, though, that suicide threats indicate a greater risk of murder/suicide. Domestic violence will not stay in the domicile. Agencies such as New Beginnings and DAWN have hotlines for anyone touched by DV to call.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Growing old ain't for sissies

A study published in the February 2007 issue of The Gerontologist found that over a quarter of senior women have experienced domestic abuse in their lifetimes. This figure correlates with earlier estimates that one in four women will experience domestic violence sometime in their lives.

The average duration of abusive relationships was about 10 years, and most women endured two or more types of abuse (physical, sexual, psychological/verbal abuse).

The researchers found that health care costs for abused women are 19% higher than for non-abused women, and costs remained higher for over 5 years after the abusive relationship ended. Researchers also suggested that this figure is likely an underestimation of the percentage of women abused because women participating in this study group had more consistent health insurance and higher levels of education than average. Both these factors correlate with lower rates of domestic violence.

However, only 3% of these women had ever been asked by their health care providers about domestic violence. How can that be? Whenever I visit my doctor, she always asks about the possibility of abuse along with my possible use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs. I had assumed this was now a standard of care.

See this article for more information.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pattern, Interrupted

A man walked into the women's locker room--and Denise was there alone. To listen to the MP3 file, click here. And read below.

Denise works in an medical research lab. Her job entails working with special mice, ones with no immune system that needed special germ-free rooms. To gain access, all the scientists and technicians have to go through special locked locker rooms, shower, and put on surgical clothing. Afterwards they needed to shower again before changing into street clothes. Denise was finishing up one Saturday afternoon. She had showered and changed, and was just drying her hair, when the door unlocked and a young man entered. Men are not supposed to know the combination to the women’s locker room (and vice versa), let alone enter! She did not recognize the man, though she knew most of the scientists and technicians. She looked straight at him as she began peppering him with questions: who are you, who do you work for, how did you get the combination, why are you here, who’s your supervisor. She stepped forward. She gave him no time between questions to answer. She repeated those questions over and over, loudly. The man turned red, began backing off, and stuttered that he really didn’t mean anything, just wanted to see if the women’s locker room looked like the men’s. She kept up her machine-gun pace of questioning until he turned and ran.

Denise used four self-defense pattern interrupts here. A pattern interrupt is where you violate a potential assailant's expectations of how you will act as a victim, which decreases your risk for assault. (1) the Question/Conversation Web, where she kept control of asking questions, putting the man on the defensive. (2) the Broken Record, where she kept repeating the same statements (here, her questions) over and over again. (3) Asserting her space when she stepped forward, deflating a possible assailant’s expectation of a cowering victim. And (4) direct eye contact, again deflating expectations of a cowering victim.

Was Denise afraid? You bet she was! But she was able to find within her the resources to turn some of that fear into anger and direct it at the guy who entered the women's changing room. Can you think of instances where someone's tried to make you afraid when you should be angry at their manipulations?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Waving Red Flags

This past Sunday's Seattle Times' front page article on one police officer's pursuit of a foster father accused of sexually molesting the girls in his care can be read as a case study of all those red flags that should be screaming ABUSE, ABUSE, ABUSE!!! The article also can be read as a case study of what happens when people waving those flags do so furtively, briefly, tentatively, fleetingly, as if they want to say something but don't want to be responsible for blowing the whistle. Please read the article for the details of all these red warning flags that signal abuse.

Redmond police Detective Jennifer Baldwin, according to this story, traced all these shadowy flags and pieced together the criminal case against Enrique Fabregas. Her work is also instrumental to the $45 million suit that the adopted and foster daughters are bringing against the state of Washington.

Described as an exceptional investigator into child sexual abuse, Baldwin was initially inclined to believe Fabregas' explanations for the allegations against him. Even though there were red flags flying during Baldwin's initial interview of Fabregas, his funny and likeable persona almost convinced her that he was OK. Until one of his victims came to meet her. Unlike most of us, when holes began emerging in his story, she pursued them and ultimately arrested him.

I take two critical lessons from this article.

  1. As a safety skills instructor, I'm always telling clients to pay attention to their instincts. At the same time, I tell clients that good con artists are skilled at quickly figuring out what YOU want to hear and see, and putting on that front. Most of us, unlike Detective Baldwin, would have created stories to confirm our view of Fabregas as a good guy.
  2. Most often, most of us don't rely on people for justice, we rely on our institutions to negotiate the truth. Our justice institutions are full of people who do really care, but they are overwhelmed with work. I know several people who've left government social service jobs because of their frustration at increasing caseloads and decreasing support. "I was accused of getting too personally involved in this case," Baldwin said. "Maybe that's because I was the only person to take it seriously." Systems on their own don't automatically crank out justice. Only people do.
In summary, (1) you and others around you will be a lot safer if you can look into yourself for what unmet needs are simmering and attracting con artists; and (2) become the change you want to see: if you see abuse, wave that flag!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Houston, we still have a problem

A week ago I posted about the arrest of Navy Captain Lisa Marie Nowak for stalking and attempted assault/murder. Here are some more thoughts on the stalking issue:

Even though the diaper and "lust in space" jokes have faded from the repertoire of news columnists and late-night comics, we still need to face the real issue. Stalking is a serious crime. Over a million women and 370,000 men will be targeted by stalkers this year. Current estimates are that 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetimes. Stalking is behaviorally defined as a person embarking on a course of conduct that would cause another reasonable person to feel fear. Specific behaviors can include: following you either on foot or in a vehicle, waiting for you, leaving notes, phone calls, destroying property, and threatening violence. Most victims know their stalker. If the stalker is a current or former intimate partner, the risk of violence increases. Stalking has only recently been recognized as a potentially serious threat to personal safety and is a crime in all 50 states; California passed the nation's first anti-stalking law in 1990, and by 1995 all other states had their own measures. The first federal antistalking measure was signed into law in 1996.

What does this mean for your safety? What can you do if you believe you are being stalked?

Your most important first step is education. There are several national organizations that provide information as well as listings of local help and support resources, some of which are listed below. Recognize that your life has changed, and you will have to adapt. And while you're learning about stalking, here are some tips:

  • Do not communicate with your stalker after you initially let them directly know that you want no further contact. If they try to contact you 100 times and you respond on the 101st time, even if it's telling them to get lost, that only teaches them that the cost of a response is 100 attempts. And they will repeat the cycle, and you won't enjoy that.
  • Document EVERYTHING. Each and every attempted contact, each and every sighting, each and every phone message and note left on your car. Carry a camera to document their presence.
  • Do not trust your stalker. If they "only want to talk," RUN! A stalker is deliberately violating any boundary they can find, and will use your sense of trust, empathy and fairness against you.
  • Tell your family and friends. If they are aware, they can help watch for you. They can also watch out for themselves, as stalkers sometimes also try to harm people close to their victim.
  • If you find yourself thinking that perhaps this person really does love you, think again. Someone who really cares about you would not stalk you. It is not a sign of true love, it is power and control.
  • Limit access to your address. This slows down stranger stalkers and intimate partner stalkers after you move (yes, you may have to change your address--some victims have had to change cities or even countries). Go the the DMV, voter registration office, any agency where your address is on file and have it blocked. Do not use your address on mail or your checks, use a post office box or private mail service. Have all mail sent to this box. Destroy discarded mail.
  • Keep your cell phone with you at all times. Don't have a cell phone? Now's a good time to get one. One with a camera that can be used to document, document, document.
  • Contact your local crisis clinic or abused women's hotline. Ask how to find an advocate and support group. You'll want them.
  • Take a self-defense class. A significant minority of stalkings turn violent, and that number increases if the stalker is an intimate partner or former intimate (the majority of women being stalked by a current or former partner are physically assaulted). Solid physical and verbal skills, plus the confidence that you know you can be effective, are critical.
  • Restraining orders leave a great paper trail, but they are not bullet-proof. Most stalkers violate them anyways. Getting a restraining order in many cases escalates stalking to violence.

Other resources online are The Antistalking Web Site and the Stalking Resource Center. A good book is A Girl's Gotta Do What a Girl's Gotta Do by Kathleen Baty (a/k/a "The Safety Chick"), as she describes her experience with a stalker. Other good information is in these downloadable PDF files: US Dept of Justice's Stalking in America, Stalking Myths, and Stalking Fact Sheet.

Finally, if you believe you are being stalked, take steps immediately. When it's your safety at stake, the moves that give you more control and less fear are your best bets.

From Strategic Living's News Updates, February 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Answer: Because we often protect them

Question: Why don't child molesters always get caught?

The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center publishes information on child sexual assault, and you can view one of their excellent PDF documents here. They list a number of reasons why perpetrators aren't always caught, but left out one biggie. Because the perpetrator is often defended by people who despite overwhelming evidence cannot believe that such a wonderful, generous, helpful, upright member of our wonderful community could do such a thing. And the victim in these cases rarely comes forward.

This came to mind as I read this article about a religious community seeming to cover up a young man's sexual relations with a 13 year old girl. I have to wonder when that happens. I don't believe, at least in this case, it's at all about the community choosing one individual over the other. It's about how we want to see ourselves as embedded in community life. Believe it or not, a LOT of people need to deny instances of abuse to maintain their own sense of belonging to a worthy community. Perhaps you too feel that it says a lot about you if someone you've been close to is charged with abuse.

Which is also why a lot of battered women keep quiet. First, many feel that nobody would believe that such a nice guy is capable of battering. Second, even if they are believed, they are often also covertly shunned for rupturing the fabric of friendships.

But now say you have outraged community members. Take this instance, of a man in Oregon who walks around on his property in the nude. This article begins as if it were a nuisance complaint, but then reveals how local school and police officials more or less either ignored or denied complaints, and finally that the gentleman in question is up on charges of kiddie porn. Community members are frustrated.

The lesson I take from these stories is BE PROACTIVE. The institutions you trust will always protect someone, but it may not be YOU.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Houston, we have a problem

Of course this is about Navy Captain Lisa Marie Nowak, astronaut, now possibly facing attempted murder charges. If you get past the diaper and "lust in space" jokes, stalking is a serious issue facing many people, particularly women.

From news reports, Nowak claimed she was only trying to scare Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman into "talking" with her about a common romantic interest. Shipman apparently recognized that Nowak was stalking her, ran and got into her car. After securely locking herself in, Shipman felt compelled to partly roll down her window to speak with a crying Nowak, only to find herself pepper-sprayed.

What does this mean for your safety? Do not trust your stalker. Do not communicate with your stalker. If they try to contact you 100 times and you respond on the 101st time, even if it's telling them to get lost, that only teaches them that the cost of a response is 100 attempts. And they will repeat the cycle, and you won't enjoy that.

Stalking has only recently been recognized as a serious threat to personal safety and a crime. Enforcement is difficult. However, if you believe you are being stalked, be sure to document all incidents and contact your police department and abused women's hotline for recommendations.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Uneasy with Change - Sound Safety Podcast

One woman's encounter with a nasty hitchhiker, and her subsequent self-revelation. To listen to the audio file of this podcast, click on Sound_Safety_2-5-07.

Barbara picks up hitchhikers. She knows it's risky, but she does it anyway. She says she meets truly intriguing and unique people and has great conversations. Mostly.

Three years ago she was on a roadtrip with her friend. They stopped to pick up a lone male hitchhiker. He was friendly and chatty and they all got into an animated conversation, she didn't remember exactly what it was about except they had lots of laughs. Nor did she remember exactly when it changed, but she noticed that the conversation was drifting. He was asking some very personal questions, and the sexual humor was becoming increasingly barbed. She became more silent, but her friend merrily chatted on with the stranger, oblivious to her information oversharing.

Barbara saw that he was "testing" them, seeing how far he could push their boundaries, what kinds of answers he could get to requests for more and more intimate information. We had covered that material just a couple of weeks earlier in the self-defense class. She was bemused that what were then merely words on a page was now only weeks later unfolding in a real-life drama. And it was her real-life drama! And her friend still merrily chatted on.

Sunset was approaching. The stranger suggested they stop in the next town for beer. He knew a nearby campsite where they'd have some privacy. They'd have a blast, he guaranteed it.

Barbara pulled into town. She pulled into the parking lot of the first convenience store. She spoke. She told the man that this was his stop, to get out of the car. He sputtered a protest. She told him get out. He called her a bitch. She told him get out. He called her a fucking bitch. She told him get out. As he got out he called her a fucking bitch again, and a fucking cunt. He kicked the car. He kept up a stream of invectives as he walked away. And she drove away.

Barbara recounted this story in class with a mixture of pride and uneasiness. Pride that she held that firm boundary when she told him to leave. Uneasiness that she had held that boundary, successfully. She'd always been her own worst critic, and she'd proven even to herself once and for all that she could change her life and get outcomes that she wanted. She sensed her own power, and it made her nervous. How about you? What are you not doing, that would make a great difference in your life, because you're uneasy with change?

Martial Arts Builds Self-Discipline and Character

In my post 2 days ago I wrote about W. French Anderson's conviction and sentencing for child abuse. How did he gain access to his victim? In addition to being a world-renown research scientist, he held a black belt in tae kwon do and taught/coached martial arts. His victim was one of his martial arts students. Since the California charges were brought to trial, a young man in Maryland (Anderson worked at the National Institutes of Health for many years) has come forward with similar charges.

Parents often put their children into martial arts programs to develop their self-discipline and character. Be careful with whom you leave you children. Pay attention to any teacher or coach who suggests "private time" with your children, especially if the don't want you around. Pay even closer attention to your child's response to that teacher. Martial arts does attract some interesting characters (I teach karate as well as self-defense, so I've met many "characters"); take some more time to look past the teacher's reputation and charm. Anything that makes you uneasy is worth investigating.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Arrogance and Admiration

Renown scientist W. French Anderson was sentenced to 14 year in prison yesterday of child molestation. He had been conviced on July 19th. According to the Los Angeles Times, the jury took slightly longer than a day to deliberate. Deputy District Attorney Cathryn F. Brougham said that the decision demonstrated that the jury "did not allow his status, his high education, and his professional reputation to stand in the way of the truth," the Times reported. (Cited from article in The Scientist.)

The Seattle Times noted that, despite support from several prominent scientists, the sentencing judge rejected Anderson's argument that "his imprisonment would deprive humanity of the benefits of his medical efforts."

"I wish they had seen the evidence," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said at sentencing. "You had a choice to stop, and you didn't because of intellectual arrogance."

How do you think you'd feel if someone you respected was accused of child molestation, or domestic violence, or rape? How about if the accused was respected by not just you but your community? How would you reconcile the good he's done in the community with the harm he's done to some individuals? Let's reframe the question a bit. How would you reconcile the good he's done in his field of work with the harm he's done in his community? Because sexual assault, on children or adults, destroys trust. Particularly when committed by those whom we privilege with our admiration.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

In the ordinary instant

In a highly unusual assault, an attacker splashed lighter fluid on an elderly man and tried to ignite him, but the intended victim fought back. The attacker then turned his attention to 2 women a few yards away, splashed them with lighter fluid and did set them on fire.

Dawn Atkission became an ordinary hero yesterday. According to KING5 Seattle News, her acute observations and quick response the saved the two women from severe injury when she used her coat to smother the flames. Dawn also directed other bystanders to get the assailant until the police arrived.

The Seattle Times' report of the same incident focused on Gus Jones, the 82 year old man who fought back by striking that assailant with his cane until the assailant backed off.

In the ordinary instant, both Dawn and Gus were able to connect their observations with immediate and decisive action. I admire people who show those qualities, and hope that if I'm faced with an analogous incident, I would also act positively. And I appreciate the news outlets focusing on the pro-active actions we could all learn to do.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Crooked Need the Gullible

A recent article in Sunday's Seattle Times (1/21/07) reminded me once again that there's no shortage of potential victims even in this age of instant information. The author, Prof. Jack Guttentag of the Wharton School, begins thus: "I seldom publish long letters in their entirety, but I'm making an exception. The letter below is so wonderfully descriptive of the gullible mindset of a victim waiting to be plucked and the modus operandi of a predator poised to do the plucking that it is worth the space." He goes on to list the three major characteristics of predatory lenders: a) they appeal to their targets' hopes that there's an easy fix, b) they appeal to their targets' hopes that they are that easy fix, and c) they work fast. See the entire article: Crooked Lenders Need Gullible Borrowers

This article resonates with personal safety, not only financial security. The tactics may be different, but the strategies are the same. Most perpetrators a) test potential targets for compliancy, and b) threaten them with consequences of non-compliance. Many c) work fast so before you realize it you've become another statistic. However, many also d) work over time to groom you for assault. This is most pronounced in cases of domestic violence, and assault on children where the perpetrator cultivated relationships with the parents to gain access to the children.

For parents, one big red flag you can look for is this: is this recent friend habitually offering to babysit so you two can get some "quality time" together? Or, if you're a single parent, so you can have some personal time? Let me rephase this. Is this friend constantly offering you something that overworked (who isn't these days?), borderline overwhelmed parents would so dearly love?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

P-I Report on Homicides in Seattle

Yesterday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an article entitled "Homicides on Rise in Seattle."

Murder is horrible. Murder is also rare.

As a personal safety instructor/consultant, I field questions on assault risks. Invariably the likelihood of homicide arises. I emphasize the infrequent incidence rate and low risk factors of the vast majority of my clients. We identify and practice de-escalation skills and last-resort tactics in some settings. But I also discuss the role of the media. Stories in which there's a clear and often sympathetic victim and a tragic or sinister perpetrator form a critical part of our national mythology. We buy them, often uncritically. And we focus on them, to the detriment of other important issues. I encourage my clients to look a little deeper into the story to discern the "truth," not about the reported incident but about media patterns and cultural motifs, and how their acceptance influences their own safety choices.

Accurate information is key to accurate risk assessment. Calling something a "trend" is labeling the type of information. I find it difficult to call the increased number of killings from last year to this a "trend" yet. While the number of homicides increased, there are other factors. For example, how does it relate to Seattle's increased population? Or how do you count the Capitol Hill shooting in March where seven people died yet there was one gunman?

Imagine how the story would read if the headline was "Despite Slight Increase in Number, Homicide Rate in Seattle Remains Low."