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.

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