Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Book Review: Ditch That Jerk, by Pamela Jayne

This book was recommended by a student.  She had left her abusive husband about a year earlier, and since then has been reading everything she could get her hands on about domestic violence.  Not only does she strongly recommend this book, she's bought multiple copies and given them to friends who she thinks need to read it.

Really, everybody should read this book. Consider this: over 25% of all women have been, are, or will be involved with an abusive partner sometime in their lives.  Even if that person is not you, it was, is, or will be someone you know.  I often ask students if they've know anyone who's experienced abuse. Most of the time most students raise their hands. Sometimes only half the class raises their hands.  Sometimes everyone raises their hands. Even in classes for teen girls, most of them already have a friend who's experienced dating violence.

Pamela Jayne clearly depicts what abuse is, and how it is distinguished from other normal human behaviors that may be immature, petty, selfish, stubborn, or disagreeable. She points out the early warning signs, or "red flags," of abuse. She goes into great detail, with lots of real examples, of the various ploys and manipulations used by abusive men to justify, deny, or blame someone else for what they've done. And she is clear that in order for an abuser to change, they need to take full responsibility for their behavior and really want to change.

Jayne divides the world of abusive men into three camps: the potentially good, the bad, and the hopeless. While they do have a lot in common, there are several important differences that predict whether or not any given abuser may change his abusive ways. This is an important part of the book, since so many women stay with their abuser because they believe they can change him, or if only they were better girlfriends or wives he wouldn't be abusive, or even that it's their obligation to stay and not abandon him. Jayne is clear that change is very hard, the abuser has to be willing to put in a lot of work and face some very unpleasant facets of his approach to life, and that not many will change. All the willpower and good intentions and love of the wife or girlfriend won't make someone else change.

The potentially good man (who is less likely to use physical violence and usually does not have an alcohol/drug problem) may change if he realizes the emotional costs of his behavior and its impact on people he cares about, and takes responsibility for his own actions. However, those men who seem to constantly swim in chaos, who have trouble holding a job, who have substance abuse issues, and who believe they are life's victims are unlikely to change.  And those who totally lack empathy, who use violence freely, chronically lie whenever it's in his interest, and is routinely manipulative, are deemed hopeless. (Other authors, such as Martha Stout, have labeled those who fit this "hopeless" category as sociopaths.)

Ditch That Jerk is well written and easily comprehended. It is a fairly short book, and can be read thoroughly in a weekend (or several weeknights). It's very suitable for young women, including those in their late teens, who may be less certain what abuse is or what their rights in a relationship are. I highly recommend this book, whether you believe you need it or not.

What Happens When You Tackle More Than You Can Handle

You may get a broken nose.

That's what happened to this wanna-be assailant when he tackled a woman on a jogging trail.  She fought back, and he fled. Read all about it here:  http://www.10news.com/news/22074629/detail.html

A common question in my classes is what to do if you're attacked in a relatively isolated area. Many people believe that these potential assailants are a special breed of super-being who have the strength and tenacity of Wolverine with the diabolical malevolence of Freddie Kruger.

Fortunately, most assailants occupy mere mortal human bodies.  They have vulnerable points.  They are often focused on their attacks and (particularly if their target is female) not expecting you to fight back. In most cases, fighting back will succeed in driving him off. As they did here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Make Friends and Influence the State Budget

Participate in King County's Domestic Violence Lobby Day on Thursday, February 4.   Three weeks ago Governor Gregoire released her proposed budget for 2010. The good new is that funding for core DV and SA services is intact; the bad news is that there are huge cuts to many critical services that low income people, including many battered women and their children, depend on for their survival.  Come to Domestic Violence Lobby Day in Olympia and share your voice!

Lobby day begins with a briefing at 9:30am with staff from the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who will give detailed information about this year's DV legislative priorities, pending legislation, talking points, and informational handouts.  They will provide packets tailored for your legislative district and include information about your legislators. WSCADV will provide a free lunch at noon. The afternoon is spent meeting with your legislators. These meetings will likely be in small groups with other DV advocates, survivors and allies who also live in your district.  Most groups wrap up their meetings with legislators between 3-4pm. (If you are unable to attend on February 4, 2010, the STATEWIDE lobby day is February 26, 2010.   Check www.wscadv.org for more information.)

HOW TO REGISTER: Register on-line at  www.wscadv.org/publicpolicy.cfm by JANUARY 18, 2010.  You MUST provide your name, legislative district, and email and phone number.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ghost Whisperer Needs Live People Skills

CBS, what WERE you thinking?

You had a real opportunity, and you blew it. Big time.

Perhaps you didn't realize that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You had an opportunity during the October 16, 2009 episode of The Ghost Whisperer to say something intelligent about dating, relationships, and abuse. But you blew it.

Lots of things about The Ghost Whisperer I don't understand. Like whether Melinda's husband is dead or alive, or both. Like how she suddenly has a five-year-old son and I never ever realized she was pregnant. Or like how merely sad ghosts can't pick up material objects, while the violent ones throw things.

But I do understand the warning signs, or "red flags," of potential abuse.

Melinda's sidekick Delia decides to stop dating Roger for screaming at the maitre'd in a restaurant. OK, the maitre'd insisted on opening a "special" bottle of wine for them even after they declined, and then spilled it all over Delia. Roger jumped to his feet, and let loose a verbal barrage (fortunately appropriate in language for prime time TV). As her mother told her, don't date a man who's mean to the waiter, and Delia saw a mean side she that just didn't appeal to her. So she does not return his phone calls.

Then strange things begin to happen. On a show about talking to ghosts, that's to be expected. But these strange goings-on were from a live person. Rose petals and roses on Delia's car. A shower of violet flowers. A mime sent to pantomime love. Delia suspects Roger is trying to woo her back.

Melissa encourages her to reconsider: "Are you sure you don't want to give Roger a second chance? But it proves he has a romantic side, and besides you told me that that maitre'd was obnoxious and had spilled things on you before! So, maybe, Roger was just, I don't know, protecting you."

Melinda had this GREAT opportunity to affirm Delia's intuition. She could have said something like, "Delia, he's still really interested in you and wants a second chance. If you do go out with him again, just look out for controlling behavior, it could foreshadow an abusive relationship." I'm sure you have at least a couple of scriptwriters clever enough to turn some of the behaviors of potential abuse into scintillating TV dialog. (If you want to know what they are, download this Signs of Batterers list and Campus DV Safety flyer. Or read Domestic Violence for Beginners, by Alisa Del Tufo.)

But no, she made excuses for a man she did not know, evoking romance.

Sure romance is sexier than domestic violence. But when all rates of violence in this country are at 40 year lows EXCEPT for domestic violence, when domestic violence is the #1 lifetime hazard facing women today, and when in all of my self-defense classes for teen girls most already know of friends who've been in abusive relationships, popular TV shows have just got to do a better job of making at least a discussion of abuse more mainstream. Abuse is not romantic, to either the living or the dead.

[To watch this episode, paste this URL in your browser: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/ghost_whisperer/video/?pid=fVzaCoSHqUzAFBWSWl5NfT_DYYVFwRmt]

Friday, October 16, 2009

What Every College Girl Needs to Know About Dating Violence and Abuse

October. The leaves turn brilliant reds, yellows and orange, shrivel and curl, and drift off their tree limbs. The touch of October air is chilly and crisp. Halloween is almost here, one evening of ghosts and ghouls, spirits and specters. The next morning it's November, time for harvest and Thanksgiving, and Halloween slithers back into the abyss . . . til the next year.

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We all know that domestic violence isn't limited to October, nor should we be aware only these 31 days. Domestic violence is a wraith that walks the earth always. Abuse victims can be haunted for a long time afterwards: they are three times as likely to engage in risky sex and 70 percent more likely to drink heavily than other women; they are also twice as likely to report that their activities are limited by physical, mental or emotional problems and 50 percent more likely to use a cane, wheelchair or other disability equipment, a recent CDC survey found.

If you know a college-age woman in an abusive relationship, please download this flyer on dating violence and send it to her. Send it to her friends also. In fact, send it to any college-age girl you know. It may save her from this nightmare later. Do your part to exorcise this demon now.

The Simple Art of Found Weapons

Here's a great story of a 72 year old woman using her wits and a can of air freshener to fend off an assailant. Great instincts!

Since you're reading this blog I'm taking a wild guess you're at your computer. Or maybe you're on the go reading this on your iPhone or other mobile device (and hopefully you're not driving). Right now pause. Look around. What is within arm's reach that can be used as a weapon?

Did you pause and look? Do it.

Next step: reach out and pick it up. How does it feel in your hand? What can you do with it? For example, I'm looking at my cordless landline phone. I can easily wrap my hand around it and use it as a hammer to the face (or side of the head or solar plexus or other soft target). Or the loose-leaf binder can be thrust into a throat.

Do this exercise every so often. You'll be better prepared. Just in case.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Girl Off to College?

Know a girl off to college this year? Show her you care - send her this Campus Safety flyer (will download a PDF file). One of my students remarked, "I wish I'd had something like this when I went to Highline Community College. I might not have been assaulted with a gun to my head." She was referring to the "pay attention to unusual behavior" directive. Download the PDF for this and more.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

This Burglar Sure Picked the WRONG Target!

In this story, a 71-year old woman was accosted by a would-be burglar. So she grabbed his ear and kicked him in the groin. Read this story here.

The unusual twist to this story is that this woman is Dawn Fraser, an Australian swimmer who won eight gold Olympic medals between 1956 and 1964. According to this story, she has a reputation of being feisty. The example given in the article was that she once smacked a teammate with a pillow during a team meeting discussion.

Hello!!! There's a big difference between a pillow fight and an assault. Glad to see, though, that she's world-class at both. As I tell my self-defense classes, the second most critical element in successful self-defense is your spirit. (The first is trusting your gut.)

Dawn Fraser, self-defense instructors of the world salute you!

Friday, August 14, 2009

License to Live

Self-defense teacher and author Ellen Snortland wrote a really to-the-point article in the Huffington Post last week, which you can read in it's entirety at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-snortland/license-to-live-time-to-m_b_253316.html.

Ellen convincingly argues that teen girls should be required to take a self-defense class as part of drivers' education. I need no convincing. After all, self-defense are critical life skills for the most at-risk group of women in America.

And in case you won't be clicking on the above link, below are Ellen's most basic rules for personal safety:
  • Give up property. If an assailant wants money or the car, give it to them. They might go away.
  • Do not give up your body. Do not go with anyone to a secondary crime scene. Better to resist or run from the primary encounter. Resistance from the intended victim is apt to result in the perpetrator giving up, witnesses reporting/helping, or in the worst case, at least leaving forensic evidence for clues.
  • Work out a "code" word so your family knows you're in trouble. Agree that if and when you call and say something agreed upon like, "Is that Lassie barking?" it actually means, "Help me."
  • If you've been taken, look to escape every chance you can. Don't give up. Injuries from jumping out of a car can be less hazardous than getting further along with an increasingly desperate criminal.
  • Do not believe a person who says "Be quiet go with me and I won't hurt you." They have already hurt you by committing the crime of kidnapping. Be loud and don't go with them.
  • Insist that schools provide a state required self-defense component.
I've heard parents ask me why self-defense classes are not routinely offered in the public school system, and I have no good answer for them. Perhaps that is the next level of self-defense, making sure others in your community have much-needed tools to keep themselves safe.

For more information, visit Self-Defense for Teen Girls Only.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

If you were witnessing a rape, what would you do?

Over 4 years ago, a woman named Maria was assaulted in the New York subway. She was grabbed by her assailant in full view of a subway clerk. She was pulled down the stairs to the subway platform. There she was raped, even as a train pulled in, and then pulled out, of the station.

Both the token booth clerk and train conductor pushed their emergency buttons to summon the police. And the police came within 10 minutes. But the assailant had raped her twice, eluded capture, and is still at large.

Read more here.

Maria sued the Transit Authority. She feels that both the clerk and train conductor could have done more. Not act like police, but they could have yelled at her assailant to stop and that they were summoning the police, without putting themselves at risk. A judge, however, ruled that the Transit Authority employees did their duty, and were not obligated to do more.

What do you think?

Not so much what the Transit Authority employees did (or didn't do). What would you have done? If you saw what looked like an assault or rape in progress, would you consider summoning the police to be your only obligation? Or is that even an obligation on your part? How far would you go to interrupt the assault process? Is that a skill set you'd want to learn? Or practice? Let me know -- email me.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Looking for a New Abode? Read This!

This time of year sees more than it's share of people moving, particularly young people soon to be off to school. In looking for a new place to live, this entry by Ophelia de Serres on the Girls Fight Back blog lists all the important points to consider from a safety perspective.

One point I'd add concerns renting a house with friends. I suggest that as a group you come to an agreement on guests: inviting over other friends, or new dates, or people you just met; how late they can be there; and how long they can stay (without paying their share of the rent . . .). Not only could it save your life, it is likely to also save your friendships.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Your Responses to December's Survey

Way back in December I asked readers to respond to an article published in the StarPress.com of central Indiana. This article described new policies being considered by the local police department around domestic violence. The overall focus was prosecuting abusers even if the victim chose not to press criminal charges.

One proposed strategy was to penalize those who first report assault/domestic violence, and then later recant. "Those who actually recant earlier allegations of battery will likely find themselves the target of a criminal investigation, facing the possibility of charges ranging from obstruction of justice to false informing," according to this article. Also any victim who later wished to have the charges against her abuser dropped would be required to take a 10 hour class on the cycle of violence and abuse.

In the survey I asked readers to chose among these five statements which most accurately reflected their reactions (multiple selections OK).

1. This shows lack of understanding by law enforcement of DV and just further victimizes abused women.

2. This will only exacerbate the problem by reducing the number of reports of domestic violence.

3. Assault victims, even if the result of domestic violence, need to be held accountable for their use of the legal system.

4. Abuse thrives in non-reporting, and abuse victims need to do their part to end this cycle.

5. This does nothing to address the roots of abuse, and will have little effect.

And the winners are . . . drum roll, please, . . . Selections ONE, TWO, and FIVE!

Not surprising, after I realized that almost all respondents worked with battered women, or had been battered women. In other words, those who had the most experience with domestic violence or its aftermath, first-hand.

Our respondents' Other Comments offered extra articulate reasons for their selections:

"My real answer is "None of the above." I feel that abuse victims can now be bullied into recanting and are more likely to break out of the situation if law enforcement can do their job."

"Maybe it would be better to teach that 10-hour class in high schools...."

"The ONLY reason I didn’t recant my report nor withdraw my protection order was because I finally fled and had friends who supported me. They would not let me think about recanting and told me that if I did, the next time I wouldn’t get help. I was lucy that I had a safe place to go to. If I hadn’t had someone to turn to, I would still be with him, that is, if I’d still be alive by now… For some, I do not think that ‘holding the victims accountable’ wouldn’t help because they’re more scared of the abuser and how he’d retaliate if they didn’t recant."

"We know why many women recant and it's usually because they have been threatened by the abuser if they do not drop charges. My view is that we need to protect reports by having no bail for suspected domestic violence perps. Until women can truly feel safe AFTER a report, they can't be held accountable for recanting."

"Unfortunately, it appears that Indiana did not take the time to consult with DV advocates. Victims who are hesitant to report or recant are not doing that because they have changed their minds, but are doing that to be safe. The highest risk of harm for a DV victim and children is when the victim(s) are trying to get help through the system or to leave the batterer. Penalizing the victim will do nothing to stop the cycle of abuse, in fact those actions will drive the problem underground, for victims will not report if the system now holds them responible for the abuse. those of us who are victim advocates have learned a great deal in the decades that we have been addressing the issues of domestice and sexual violence. We would hope that law enforcement would see the complexity of this social issue and work closely with the experts in the interpersonal violence field. The roots of violence are nutured in the soil of silence and isolation. I encourage all of us who are victim advocates to speak out; to not further silence and isolation by inaction or anger. Take the time to connect and educate your local law enforcment on the underlying issues of domestic and sexual violence. We must all work together to end violence. "

"Having been in a similar situation, I think there needs to be more understanding of where the victim might be coming from. The danger and fear can be very real, and recanting can be self-protective."

"There are many reasons why survivors of abuse recant allegations against their abusers, including coercion from their abusers, fear of retaliation by their abusers, lack of responsiveness from the criminal legal system, and the fact that prosecution may actually not make them safer or may have other negative consequences for them. Punishing survivors for not cooperating with prosecution only further isolates them, gives their abusers more tools to control them, puts them in more danger, and guarantees that they will not seek help from the criminal legal system in the future."

"This is a huge mistake and furthers a culture that blames the victim..."if only they did this or that" Most women recant to prevent further violence. Most women call 911 because they are really in trouble. Most women who are murdered by a spouse or boyfriend know they are at great risk and have told others. We don't need to put them at greater risk. It is very tricky escaping from a violent situation in a culture that blames the victim and minimizes their experiences. YOU WILL NEVER PREVENT VIOLENCE VIA THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. "

"This once again puts the onus or responsibility on victims instead of the perpetrators of violence. Often times, survivors recant because they are being further threatened with violence for having contacted law enforcement in the first place. To penalize them for changing their minds to protect themselves and their children from further harm unduly and unjustly burdens survivors."
Thanks to everyone who submitting such great replies!

Friday, July 03, 2009

TAGGED -- Are You "It"?

Online social networking is a growing industry. There is pressure is on many of us to participate in the same networking sites as our friends. And there seem to be some networking sites too ready to crank up the pressure.

I recently received an email supposedly from an acquaintance whose subject line was "Jill sent you photos on Tagged :)" (and yes the smilicon was part of the line). The body of the email had two buttons, one Yes and one No. The text around them said that Jill had sent me photos on Tagged, did I want to see them? Please respond or Jill may think I said no :( (and yes the frownicon was included). But Yes or No, I had to click!

And I thought, wow, this is really cheesy! Can the attempted manipulation get any more blatant? Who'd fall for this? Then I realized that well, yes, Jill had fallen for this! And she wasn't alone, as I've gotten this and similar ones from other acquaintance. Now these are all smart people, so I'm wondering why.

Just FYI for you all, no you do NOT have to click! Regardless of which you click, Yes or No, you're led to a sign-in page that asks you for your email password. THIS IS A BIG RED FLAG. Would you really give your email password out to anyone asking? Enabling this program will basically raid your email address book and generate similar spam for all your friends and colleagues (which I always find brings us closer) While Tagged is a legal social networking site (apparently considered one of the top ten valuable sites by some technical reviews), it's been criticized by consumer groups for this spam-like practice. The e-mythbusting site Snopes.com has an entry for Tagged (which should be a big hint), as does Wikipedia, for further reading.

If I hadn't emailed the acquaintances who purportedly "Tagged" me I wouldn't have found out that they had not set me any photos, and never intended for me, or their entire address book, to be spammed. They signed up because they got a similar email from a friend, without questioning why they were being asked to divulge sensitive information.

Tagged is a legit site, they have not been cited as causing any harm or attack. I am not confused that being Tagged somehow equals being Attacked. However, ploys and manipulations used by those who want to misuse your trust, regardless of physical harm or lack thereof, are the same. Your responses to their tactics can show you where the cracks in you armor may lie. Who of you are willing are you to give out too-personal information to someone who claims to represent someone you may know? From the "tags" I've gotten, it's too many.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

You Go Girl!

Great story of a 12 year old girl fighting back: http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/whidbey/wnt/news/45442782.html!

According to this article, the girl and her older sister were jogging in the evening. The older sister was ahead when a man emerged from the bushes and grabbed the younger girl. According to KIRO 7 news he grabbed her elbow and told her to "get in the car." She fought back, kicking him between his legs. He let go, and she ran.

The KIRO 7 news story interviewed their father about the incident. He was obviously relieved his daughter fought the assailant, and hoped other parents would teach their children how to defend themselves. Fact is, most women who fight back prevail.

That bears repeating: most women who fight back prevail.

It's worth learning how, and when, to fight.

Self-Protection Strategies for Women who Run

Again, another great post from Lynne Marie Wanamaker! This one's an article in a Western Massachusetts paper called The Republican/Girls Just Wanna Have Fun insert. I really like how Lynne Marie takes a really good look at your actual risks, and makes planning for your safety easy as putting on your running shoes. She's teaching this July at Special Training in Oberlin, and I'm looking forward to her classes!

I may have two karate black belts, but I am definitely a white-belt runner. But as a National Women's Martial Arts Federation-certified self-defense instructor, I do have a leg up on strategies for keeping safe when I run.

It's not that running is an especially dangerous activity. "Stranger-danger" is highly overblown -- most women are not attacked by a menacing stranger, but by someone she knows (often an intimate partner). Still, running can put us into vulnerable situations. By thinking ahead we can make workout choices to further reduce the chance of assault. And all runners -- male and female -- can plan ahead to avoid and survive injury and accident.

Here's my list of tips:

Be seen. Any time light is low-dawn, twilight, night, or inclement weather, reflective gear is de rigueur. This is one time that bilious phosphorescent yellow is a fashion "do." You will be more visible to motor vehicles, and more memorable to neighborhood folks.

Keep in touch. If your running route is not within shouting distance of populated areas, carry a cellphone.

Prepare to show ID. Order a snazzy runner's ID with your blood type and an inspirational quote -- or shove an old driver's license into your pocket. Either ensures that rescuers can locate loved ones if you are injured.

Leave an itinerary. Tell friends and family your favorite running routes, which one you'll be taking today, and when you should return. I was appalled to realize recently that my sweet darling -- a confirmed couch potato -- has no idea where I disappear to when I walk out the door with my Sauconys on. Now I leave my itinerary on the dining room table.

Use all of your senses. Save the iPod for the gym. Use your eyes, ears, nose and intuition to remain aware of your surroundings. Trust yourself if something looks, smells, or feels fishy.

Be heard. If someone approaches you in a way that feels unsafe, use your strong voice and declarative statements: "That's close enough," or "Tell me what you want." If they try to touch you or don't respect the limit you set, yell your fool-head off. Don't be afraid to make a scene in the service of keeping yourself safe.

Run. Always know where you are and where you can run for help. Save exploration of new trails for an afternoon hike with a group. When running alone, be sure you can sprint to a house or busy road. (If you experience an unexpected injury you will be glad that you don't have far to go to find help.)

Fight. It is my sincere wish for every woman reading this that you never have to fight an attacker. But if you do, go for the most vulnerable parts of his body: the eyes, nose, throat, and knees. Consider taking a self-defense class to learn simple, effective fighting techniques.

Tell. If you are attacked, seek help immediately for your physical and emotional well-being. It is never your fault that someone made the criminal choice to assault you. By alerting someone you trust, you can heal your body and mind and you may be able to prevent an assault on another woman.

Lynne Marie Wanamaker is an AFAA certified personal fitness trainer who creates and teaches customized exercise programs for adults who want to be stronger and live longer. For more information visit her online at www.compassionateconditioning.com.

Monday, May 04, 2009

How to Talk About Safety with Your Six-Year Old Daughter

My post of Feb 21 was about Lynn Marie Wanamaker's article on raising a strong-voiced girl. Lynn Marie has a way with words, and she's done it again. Lynn Marie has her own blog, and in this posting she winds her way to talking about how to talk safety with her young daughter (who is 6 years old). Here's an excerpt:
An episode of playground self-defense offered an opportunity to help Small listen to her instincts and step up to protect others this week. Yesterday Small and I were noodling around on the computer when she wrote this:

“I need help ceeping my friend Corey safe from Leo”

A lot of prodding led to this story: When Small and Corey run too close to Leo on the playground, he tells them, “Get away or I’ll kill you with a knife.”

Small said, “I think it’s a game because it’s fun.”

Then she said, “Corey is really scared.”

Then she said, “I’m not sure if it’s a game.”

Fortunately, we know Leo and his parents and we think he and they are pretty great. So we weren’t too worried about an impending playground massacre.

But the teaching moment was before us. My parenting instincts were clear:

And if you want to read the rest, click here. You'll go through a few paragraphs before getting to this story, but the journey is worth it.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Peer-to-Peer: Beyond Napster, into interrupting assault

This article in a California college paper describes a peer program of men learning to recognize when other men are setting women up for sexual assault, and how to interrupt it. There should be programs like this on every college campus. Only a small handful of men commit most of the sexual assault, and until other men hold their buddies accountable and call them on bad behavior, that handful will continue to get away with rape.

One drawback, however, to this article is that is characterized all self-defense classes as a "fad" and of limited use because they focused on stranger danger, where the real risk is from acquaintances. The author got it part right. Yes, the real risk is from acquaintances. And yes there are lots of classes marketed as "women's self-defense" that do focus on physical skills and stranger danger. However, that is not true for all self-defense programs. Like any other service marketed in this country, anyone looking for a self-defense program needs to do a little research.

The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault's Ad-hoc Committee on Self-Defense set these guidelines for assessing a self-defense instructor and class. The National Women's Martial Arts Federation certifies only those instructors who demonstrate in-depth knowledge of real risk factors, assault dynamics, and patterns of violence against women. VITAL Self-Defense's website has a questionnaire you can use to assess a class you're considering (you have to, however, contact them for the answers to the questions).

After all, the best defense against anything is education.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Surprised Yet Again!

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer opened a recent article with these words:
"It would come as a surprise to the six Seattle women he's been convicted of attacking, or the family of another he's accused of killing, but Curtis Thompson is a victim.

At least according to him."

A surprise? Really?

Maybe you think that others also think like us. A bad guy is a bad guy, right? (Check out reader responses to this article at the P-I's Soundoff.) But even if you could clearly label certain people perpetrators, can you expect them to agree with and own those roles? Really, most perps don't consider themselves Dr. Evils. Rather, they see themselves as regular guys who just can't get a break, who always get the short end of the stick, who are abandoned by family and friends and society. They are simply not getting their due. They feel entitled to take what should rightfully be theirs. If that sometimes involves a tad of intimidation or even a bit of violence, oh well.

Maybe "surprise" wasn't the best word choice. Maybe the article's author should have used the phrase "slap in the face" instead. Most perps don't consider their actions wrong, but their targets and the larger society feels damaged, and the denial of wrong-doing offensive.

The fact that so many perps claim that they are the real victims should no longer be surprising. To anyone.

Read the article here: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/401457_thompson26.html

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Just Yell . . . Every Parent Should Read This

My colleague Lynne Marie Wanamaker wrote this great article, Raising a Strong-Voiced Girl:


Every parent should read it.

In my last blog entry, Just Yell . . . Part 2, I mentioned that one young teen was confident she'd never be an abduction victim, while her peers worried. Why should any young girl have to be afraid? Aware, yes. Living in fear? Is that what you want for your daughter?

Why not teach children, from an early age, to use their voices with spirit?

Lynne's new blog (not entirely about self-defense, but a lot of parenting) is at http://www.mindbodymama.com.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Just Yell . . . Part 2

Eleven-year old Carlie Brucia was kidnapped and murdered in Sarasota, Florida, in 2004. Her case made national news when a car-wash surveillance video showing the abduction was broadcast across the country. Many young girls, as well as their parents, were deeply troubled by the apparent ease that this young girl was taken, and later raped and killed.

Among viewers were 13 year old Dallas Jessup and many of her friends in Vancouver, Washington. Dallas was certain that because of her martial arts training she'd never be an abduction victim, but many of her friends were not so sure about their own safety. According to Dallas' website, she was asked over and over to show her friends some moves to thwart potential kidnappers. Dallas was inspired to make a home video that could show her friends how they could fight back against a much bigger assailant and still prevail. And that's how Just Yell Fire began.

Just Yell Fire grew into a much bigger project, garnering donations, professional production support, and cameo appearances from stars of a popular TV show. Dallas and her friend Catherine Wehage star in multiple scenarios depicting assaults, generally with Catherine portraying the target who falls victim by inaction or ineffective responses, and Dallas then showing the Just Yell Fire response. Interspersed between these vignettes are a "Dating Bill of Rights," with Dallas and Catherine affirming a teen girl's absolute right to control her own bodies and sexuality.

Dallas Jessup was a girl on a mission. After releasing the video (available free online), she began running classes for girls and even a "teaching the teacher" program (she purports that "anyone" can become a Certified Instructor in a mere 8 hours) to make the Just Yell Fire method more widely available. The project has lots of energy and resonates with its audience.

The vignettes in Just Yell Fire focus on stranger abduction. This is a horrible event, and for many parents their worst nightmare. The video re-enactments are "ripped from the headlines," which does focus on the more sensational and less common forms of assault. Only the last scenario concerns date rape. It's easier for most of us to demonize strangers (just think "stranger danger"), rather than recognizing that the more frequent threats are much closer to home. One of the most important lessons I teach parents of young children is that 90% of sexual assault on children under the age of 12 in Washington State is from people the child (and often the parents) already know, rather than the seedy stranger. This is still true as young children grow to become tweens, then teens, and young adults. For women, the more common assailant is someone you know. Of all the women to whom I've taught self-defense and who had previously been assaulted, the vast majority were targeted by those to whom they gave some measure of trust.

According to Feeling Safe: What Girls Say from the Girl Scout Research Institute, kidnapping is a significant concern to girls ages 8 to 12. This concern decreases as girls get older, replaced by rising concerns over being forced to do something sexual, car accidents and disease. As girls get older, act more independently, and have to make more safety judgments and decisions, their awareness and worries do change.

Dallas Jessup, young woman still on a mission, is older. Her first project reflected concerns of a younger teen. Now she and her friends have become more independent, and have undoubtedly been dating. Their experiences have changed. I am very interested to see what she comes up with next.

Friday, February 13, 2009

All The Presidents' Days

[Warning: this post has nothing to do with self-defense.]

Once upon a time we commemorated separately the birthdays of two of our most prominent presidents. George Washington, the Father of Our Country, had his own birthday party in January; Abraham Lincoln, who presided over one of the most difficult and divisive periods in our nation's history, got his day in February. More recently, added to our nation's pantheon of great men was the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most influential and inspiring figures in recent history. Rather than adding another day, our presidents are now sharing a birthday. Which we celebrate not on anyone's birthday, but rather on a nearby Monday in order to make it a 3 day weekend so that we Americans can spend the day and our money shopping Presidents' Day sales or taking a trip. So please do your part to stimulate our economy by refraining from productive work -- just buy something.

However, if you do feel the need to celebrate a birthday, my mother will turn 88 years old on Monday. Happy birthday, Mom!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Self-Defense 101 Pop Quiz: The Movie

Here's a short video of the usual beginning of Self-Defense 101, a 4 week class. This pop quiz helps you recognize your risk assessment skills.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Importance of Not Being Ernest

My ideal Sunday morning has 2 ingredients: brunch and the Sunday paper. The first section I read is the comics. Every strip gets some notice. This past Sunday's Frank and Ernest, however, deserves closer attention (click on the name to read the strip).

Frank is telling Ernest why his relationship with girlfriend Ernestine is in trouble. The dialog goes like this:
Frank: You criticize everything she says.
Ernest: That just shows I'm a good listener.

Frank: And you constantly tell her what a poor dresser she is.
Ernest: That just shows how comfortable I am sharing my feelings.

Frank: You spend 6 nights a week out with the guys.
Ernest: I'm in tune with giving her lots of space.

Frank: She says you show no sign of changing.
Ernest: That just shows how stable I am.

Frank: Ernie, do you realize your relationship has a serious problem?
Ernest: I sure do! Ernestine doesn't appreciate me!
This is kind of humorous and witty, and it's also close to identical to how abusive boyfriends and husbands begin to justify their violence.

So I'm taking this strip on a test-drive. I will begin using it in my self-defense classes to open a discussion about domestic violence, and see how it flies. And, sometime in the future, will report back in this blog about how it went.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Brain Rule #8: This is Your Brain on Stress

I'm reading Brain Rules by John Medina. Medina is a molecular biologist who's been looking at how the human brain works. So of course he spends a LOT of time telling us how much we really don't know about how the human brain works. Nevertheless, he has come up with a set of 12 heuristics that can still guide us to making more aware and smarter choices.

Rule #8 is that your brain learns differently while under stress. This has a few implications for your safety. Here I'll look at one in particular, because it relates to some of my recent posts: learned helplessness in domestic violence.

According to Rule #8, our brains evolved to deal with short-term stress. Like 30 seconds. Or less. Way back in prehistory our threats came primarily from 4 legged predators and accidents. OK, we've still got plenty of accidents, but our predators are bipedal, just like you and me. Some of those predators are those bipeds closest to you.

Domestic violence can create one of the most insidious and misunderstood forms of learned helplessness. When someone is under constant (or even unpredictably sporadic) pressure from another, when they would definitely rather the pressure was stopped, and most importantly feel they have no control over the source of stress, you have the makings of a problem-solving breakdown. Your brain on such stress just does not work well.

Many forms of stress are beneficial, and indeed necessary for personal growth and learning, but stress that seems to have no end and that is spiraling out of control leads to just the opposite. Women in abusive relationships are subject to that kind of unpredictable and controllable stress, and the end result is often an inability to take self-preserving action.

And if that's not enough, here's the kicker: most people outside the relationship who see the abuse wonder (often out loud) why she just doesn't leave. The abused ends up getting more harm in the guise of help; when well-meaning family and friends tell an abused woman that she needs to take a specific action, they further diminish her ability to make good decisions.

So in the spirit of Brain Rules, I have a positive suggestion for more aware and positive choices.

Recognize stress. Distinguish stressors that are growth challenges from those that are destructive (easier said than done, and to abuse another cliche, hindsight is 20-20). One idea on how to do this comes from Rule #4 on Attention. Your brain pays great attention to whether or not you've seen "it" (whatever "it" is) before. That does not mean you have to experience abuse in order to recognize it. Your big brain can learn from others' experiences. Learn the red flags that are screaming "abuse," and learn how to better aid your family and friends who may have become entrapped. There are lots of web and print resources (see my Resources and Readings pages for some), and if you ask around you'll probably be surprised how much experience is in your own backyard.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New! Hot Off the Press!

The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence has issued a new report with far-reaching implications on fatalities in domestic violence. This report includes:
  • Key data findings about domestic violence homicides and suicides in Washington for 1997-2008
  • Findings and recommendations based on 11 fatality cases reviewed in depth by local review teams
  • Analysis of higher rates of domestic violence homicide affecting victims of color
  • Exploration of critical gaps in services for Protection Order petitioners
  • Recommendations for change specific to law enforcement, judges, employers, health care and mental health providers, chemical dependency, and domestic violence advocates
  • Tips for how to use the report to make change in your community
About 80+ percent of my students and clients say they know someone who was or is in an abusive relationship, or had themselves been in one. Reading this report can give you more ideas on how you can help your family and friends, should they become enmeshed with an abusive partner.

Also, listen to KUOW-FM's interview with Kelly Starr, one of this report's authors, on The Conversation here: http://www.kuow.org/podcast/Conversation20090112.mp3. In this interview, Ms. Starr expressed concern that while the overall rate of violent crime has been decreasing, the rate of DV murder has remained steady.

You can find the WSCADV report on http://www.wscadv.org/docs/08_FR_report.pdf. Download (it's free) and read it today.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Judy Judges Josh

Sometimes, late at night when I'm finishing up in the kitchen, I watch Judge Judy on TV. I confess, I have a grudging admiration for her. Not just the New Yawk accent (soothing to my ears, as a expatriate New Yawker). This post, though, isn't really about her, but about some of those summoned to face her.

See, every so often a case comes up where one person clearly took advantage of the generosity and goodwill of another. Not only took advantage, but then walked away laughing.

One case: a 19 year old woman we'll call Ruth claimed that her 18 year old ex-boyfriend (we'll name him Josh) owed her a few thousand dollars. When they were together Josh was 17 and because of his age could not sign a contract with a cell phone provider and get his own phone. So Ruth, 18 and a legal adult, signed the contract and got a phone for him. Josh ran up big and BIGGER bills, and then wouldn't pay. (This may have been one of the reasons they split.) So Ruth hauled him in front of the Judge.

What do you think Judge Judy said?

Think a moment, then read on.

Judge Judy pointed out that there's a reason the cell phone company would not give Josh a phone. He was underage and not legally responsible. The cell phone company knew that very well. Ruth ignored that little fact. Ruth had no legal basis on which to sue Josh. Judge Judy ruled against the plaintiff. Josh was not liable.

After the Judge rules and the parties exit, there a brief clips of interviews with them. Ruth was clearly disappointed at how unfair it was, but acknowledged she learned a hard lesson. Josh was clearly smiling. He said it was Ruth's own fault for believing him and getting taken so easily.

Most of the people I've seen standing before Judge Judy seem to have had more or less honest disagreements and need help clarifying their legal responsibilities. But every so often one like Josh comes on who deliberately set out to steal by seeking out someone like Ruth. Someone who will fall for their charm, who wants to be in love, who wants to show kindness and caring. Ruth probably saw the warning signs, and ignored them.

Still, be kind. Be generous. And be careful. Learn the red flags that signal a Josh is near. More importantly, heed them.