Sunday, December 23, 2012

More than Champaign: POP! for the New Year

Attention Parents of Tweens and Teens: wishing all of you a wonderful holiday season with your children. During this school recess, between visiting and feasting and caroling and skiing, make some time to have one or more meaningful conversations about sexual consent (and sexual assault) with your children.  Make it your New Year's Resolution to keep on engaging in conversation

Perhaps you remember "the talk" from your own youth, and you're cringing. For some help, take a look at  P.O.P!, a project of King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, and their 100 Conversations programs.

P.O.P! (Power of Prevention) is a group of young people who reach out to other young people in their communities by incorporating social media, video, written material, and face-to-face conversations. Their goal is to create healthier communities and end sexual assault by dispelling myths, encouraging positive attitudes and behaviors, and increasing access to resources like KCSARC.

I particularly like two features of their conversation lists. First is the emphasis on understanding what boundaries are, how to find yours, and how to communicate them to others. Second is the social nature of behavior, how others affect what you do, and activating bystanders to do something other than stand by helplessly. BTW, these are two essential topics I cover in my self-defense classes.

As with any other meaningful topic, safety and consent and sex cannot be a one-time conversation with those you care about. Check out the list of 100 topics on the P.O.P! site to help you keep it going, and not fall by the wayside as do most New Year's Resolution.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

After You Hug Your Child Tighter Tonight: Talking with Your Kids When Bad Things Happen to Other Kids

Like the rest of our country, I was appalled and horrified listening to this morning's radio report of the children and school personnel murdered in Newtown, CT.   The news only got grimmer as the morning wore into the afternoon. Well before dusk, the entire nation was struggling with the darkness that took 27 lives.

Perhaps you have an elementary school-age child. Perhaps they've seen or heard the news stories. Perhaps they are expressing fear or anxiety: can this happen to us?

Here are a few suggestions on how to manage the conversation.

First, limit your child's access to media (I know many of you already do so).  Right now, and for the next few days, the same images and factoids will be scrolling across every screen. Being informed is important, being inundated and overwhelmed is not. In fact, limit your exposure to the story -- believe me, there will be relatively few new breaks compared to the endless media coverage.

Next, give yourself some time to sort out your reactions and feelings. Calm is key. Your children will take their cues from you. How you say something will have far more impact than what you say, and children will pick up on your own anxiety level. While you want to project calm and control, you don't want to minimize the situation.

Reassure your children that they are safe. Point out that it is your (as parent) most important job to keep them safe. Talk about all the various ways you keep them safe, and (age-appropriate) how they can contribute to their own safety.  Talk about how rare this kind of event is (it is REALLY rare). 

And point out all the good people helping. Mr. Fred Rogers pointed out that his own mother told him to look for the helpers when he saw scary things in the news. It always comforted him that there were so many good, caring people out there ready to help. 

It may even help your children if they thought of ways they could help the other children affected by this event.

Finally, take care of yourself emotionally. At times of dramatic violence, it feels that the world has gone crazy. However, it is no crazier than it was 2 days ago. (Take a deep breath and remember that, over the last couple of decades, gun violence has actually decreased.) Find support among your adult family and friends.

And join the local and national conversation about what real safety should look like, and how we can achieve it in our children's lifetimes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Radio, Radio

I was on the air for about 12 minutes. Carol Carini interviewed me on KKNW 1150 AM the morning of Friday, August 17th, 2012.  This was probably the hottest week of the summer, and the week I was directing a kids' karate camp. Arrived at the dojo (karate school) especially early to wait for the phone to ring . . . and it rings, and it's a sales call.  But wait, the very instant I hang up my cellphone rings and it's Carol!

We talk about if self-defense can be for any woman, what keeps some women from fighting back, what can seniors and children do, etc. Then Carol tells this cool success story, when she had to fight back. Very nice to be talking with a radio host who's not asking, "but shouldn't women not walk outside by themselves?"

Please listen at

Monday, August 27, 2012

Run, Julian, Run!

Julian Assange was back in the news last week.

Assange, in case you've missed these fireworks, is the founder of Wikileaks.  Wikileaks is a website that publishes documents that their writers had hoped would never see daylight. All sorts of writings by diplomats, military men, and politicians. Not too complimentary. And he puts them online, so that we can see what our governments are really doing. As a result, he has become persona non grata to the US government.

But he's been accused of rape. One woman is said to accuse him of engaging in sex with her as she slept (after having engaged in consensual sex earlier) without a condom. Another is alleged to say he held her down, preventing her from reaching condoms, and engaged in sex with her sans protection.

Assange is now ensconced in the Ecuadorian embassay in London, claiming asylum to avoid extradition. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador has said that it can't have been rape if he was already consensually in bed with them. That his actions would not be considered a crime in 90 to 95% of the world. (Yeah, that's a problem, and why taking rape claims seriously is a big problem.)


Because there are men who believe they are entitled to use women as blow-up dolls. As a warm, wet, soft hole to cum in.

(Sex while she's asleep?  Really?  How can that not be rape?)

Unfortunately, both the British and American governments have less than stellar track records in prosecuting rapists.  So it is no surprise that Assange has a highly vocal fan base who are claiming the only reason he's "wanted" is because the US is just drooling to get their hands on him for the leaked documents. He is holed up in Ecuador's embassy because he fears being spirited off to some American-run prison, never to see daylight.  He's probably justified in his fears.

Alas, these rape charges and his role in bringing transparency to our government's activities is a bad combo for women. Is he a sex creep? Yes. Is he a rapist? If we stick with a legal conclusion, we may never know.

And, once again, women are re-victimized.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Happy 40th Birthday, Title IX! -- Part 1

That pioneering piece of legislation giving college girls equal rights to resources for sports on college campuses is turning 40 on June 23rd. It's older than many of its beneficiaries, and because of Title IX there are MANY beneficiaries.

Sports is much more than play -- it teaches lessons of persistence, teamwork, fairness, and cooperation. Even though we too often hear about teams, coaches, and players who seek unearned wins by "gaming" the rules, there are sanctions and penalties and commissions to keep cheaters in line. And sports is one of our main venues to discovering out strongest selves.

In addition to self-defense, I teach traditional karate. I train and teach at Seattle's Feminist Karate Union, and also run programs for children at Thurgood Marshall Elementary and Lowell@LIncoln Elementary. In these schools, parents most often enroll their child in this enrichment program to develop strength, balance, and coordination; increase self-discipline and goal-setting; and learn to focus. Parents in these schools rarely cite self-defense as a motivator.

Yet, in an indirect way, being involved in sports may be crucial to women's self-defense:
  • Sports develops speed, strength, and coordination, all of which are useful in physical self-defense. That is obvious.
  • Studies also show that girls who participate in sports are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, less likely to have an unwanted teenage pregnancy, more likely to get better grades and graduate school, and more likely to have a better body image and level of confidence and self-esteem. They will also participate in teamwork and the pursuit of excellence. And, maybe not so surprising, these are all risk-reducing elements for sexual assault.
  • Sports teaches the illusion of confidence. Even if you are afraid, act confident. Very important in the self-defense toolkit!
  • Finally, participating in any athletic activity teaches that your body can handle stress, and get stronger. Py Bateman, founder of the Feminist Karate Union, began her martial arts training at a time when almost every martial arts school was either overtly hostile to women wanting to train or was benignly neglectful. Bateman's school was in the latter category. In this school, women were not permitted to spar. Hence, their rankings were "junior," and the belt with a white stripe running all the way down the middle reflected that lack of status. Bateman worked to gain the right to spar, and it took a while. She recounted that after her first sparring match she was astounded that she could take a punch, indeed several punches, and still keep fighting.
This last point is the most important. Self-defense is largely a mental game. I've noticed this among my adult self-defense students. When inactive little girls grow up never having experienced a physical challenge, they are more often fearful of the harm a larger male attacker can inflict. When physically active (or formerly active) adults sign up for a self-defense class, they are more confident that there is a tool or technique they can use to extract themselves from harm. And that is the best predictor of successful self-defense.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

And the Winner Is . . .

Earlier this year Strategic Living posted a Seeking Super Sheros contest. This contest sought submissions for female self-defense sheros with their own super powers. And we have a winner.
She-Rah!, winner of Seeking Super Sheros contest
She-Rah!, submitted by Shara Bingham Mills.

She-Rah!'s powers are mind control and X-ray vision. She spends her life perched on the clouds, looking through the world with her X- Vision. She scans her territory night and day making sure that potential muggers and rapists and murderers are kept at bay. If these evil-doers get the idea to do wrong, she changes their minds - and not in a good way. Their brains turn to mush and they are rendered as helpless as infants.

Congratulations to Shara, and thank you to all other contestants!

If you want to learn how you can develop your safety powers, check out this summer's self-defense class listing.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Paper Rock Guns

Many inhabitants of the Emerald City (that's Seattle) are dismayed by the recent spate of shootings. We can point out that the our fair city's rate of gun violence is in fact low in comparison to other comparably-sized American cities. Reassuring to some, perhaps not so much for those who lost friends and family.

And out trots that perennial argument. Do guns kill, or do people? If Seattle had tighter regulations on gun sales and ownership, could some of these murders have been avoided? Or should more people be allowed to carry guns in more places, to stop the evil-doers in their tracks?

I am no expert on firearm legislation. I do, however, worry about the eagerness of some to bear arms. A couple of years ago, when the media spotlight was on the University District and the emailed Alerts about all reported crimes around campus, some UW students reportedly began carrying guns and organized armed patrols of the community. If their members are much like the spokesperson interviewed on KUOW, I would be more afraid of them than of most muggers. To my ears, this guy came across as just spoiling for an excuse to blaze away.

I do know some people who own guns. They have a healthy respect for firepower, practice regularly, and are very concerned with gun safety. They are not the gun owners I fear.

My concern is that some are so keen to jump to the most lethal form of self-defense, rather than looking first at other prevention measures. There are reports that states with a "Stand Your Ground" law are seeing a increase in killings. Rather than resulting in a decrease in crime, these laws may be justifying needless homicide.

As a self-defense teacher, I am occasionally asked about carrying firearms. (Most often, however, the weapon I'm asked about is pepper spray.) What I in turn ask those students is: are you willing to kill someone? Are you willing to go to the firing range and practice on a regular basis? Do you understand that there's an emotional cost to taking life? Do you have the names of a good lawyer and a good therapist? If you are not willing to think long and hard about these questions, you should not be considering carrying a gun.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Tail of Two Kitties: Lessons from the Cat #4

Lilith and Pookie were my first two cats. They were littermates. They came to live with me when they were only five weeks old. Alas, Pookie passed onto her next life over a decade ago (inoperable tumor), but Lilith will turn 18 years old next month (and she doesn't look a day over 13).

They were close even as they grew out of kittenhood into adolesence and adulthood into middle age. Whatever her age, though, Pookie never outgrew her love of chasing tail. Mostly it was her own tail (her preferred perch was my bicycle seat. which still bears her clawmarks), but sometimes Lilith's was the target. Pookie would be mezmerized by the sight of Lilith's tail swinging over the edge of the couch and begin her stalking routine. She would crouch and wiggle her rear end ever so slightly. Then she would pounce. But the tail would be gone.

Lilith the Clever
Lilith the clever had deliberately positioned herself on the couch edge. Then she would slowly swish her tail in clear sight of Pookie, drawing her attention. Lilith would pretend not to notice Pookie, but her timing gave her away. As Pookie pounced, Lilith snapped her tail up and out of reach. Without fail.

Lilith and Pookie were two cats at play. The ramifications of Pookie being lured into chasing Lilith's tail were, well, non-existent. But for us people, it is a very different tail, er, tale.

People who mean you harm will often use desirable lures to distract you from their real intent. Some can be quite clever at discerning an unfulfilled need, and holding out an offer. The idea is to physically isolate you after they've gained a small measure of your trust. When you are alone with the perp, they will make their move quickly, and you will be surprised and in denial. In many instances the assault will be over before you realize you've been assaulted. In fact, you may never even name your experience as assault.

The lesson of this tale is something you've heard again and again. If it's too good to be true, if it's too perfect, listen to your gut's reservations. Because, unlike Pookie and Lilith's tail, your consequences may last longer than 5 seconds.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rihanna and Chris Brown Remix It Up

I suffer from a lack of contemporary culture awareness.  When, three years ago, Rihanna was beaten by then-boyfriend Chris Brown, my first thought was "That's horrible . . . Chris who?" (I had heard of Rihanna, even if I couldn't think of a single song of hers.)

So now the two of them are back in the news, in The New York Times no less. Because they both performed in the 2012 Grammys broadcast. There was some disgruntled buzz about why a convicted woman-beater was allowed to perform, and then more buzz after BuzzFeed aggregated some tweets by some women who said they'd take a beating from Brown any day.* And because they each have new songs out, featuring each other (at least on the "remix" versions).**

Jon Caramanica, author of the above-mentioned NY Times article, reads into these two collaborations a need for all parties to move on and away from the "black cloud." Rihanna does not want to live as a victim, and Brown wants to rehabilitate his image. There seems to be support all around from the music community. Caramanica describes this as "a desire by both to reshape the narrative" of how much that event in 2009 affects their future(s). As if they want to put it all behind, perhaps even to forget anything bad happened. Caramanica's ending line is "You want to forget? Fine. But don't forgive."

And that's the part I just don't get. Perhaps it's the connotations I connect with forgiveness and forgetfulness. To forgive is something you do for yourself, free yourself from the emotional bondage of trauma. You want to move on. To forget is to not only to not remember, but to also to not have learned anything. You want to move on regardless of the cost, and quite possibly risk repeating history and trauma. I've know a few people like that.

Rihanna, it's okay to publicly forgive. But please don't forget. Don't let your fans forget, either.


*I'd bet if you asked any of those women what they meant when they tweeted that it would be okay to be beaten by Chris Brown, you'd probably get a blank look as they said well, no, not REALLY, like they were just telling the world how much they love him regardless of what he does off the stage, and like since they weren't beaten it doesn't really factor into how they like feel about him as an artist or person. Like, it doesn't really mean anything because they like really didn't put a whole lotta thought before they tweeted.

** Wanna hear the songs? Try these links:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Should Female Soldiers "Expect" to be Raped? A Former Marine Says NO!

A few days  ago I posted about a FOX News "pundit," Liz Trotta, who expressed incredulity that women would enter the service and not be expecting sexual assault. The whole episode reminded me more of an old Monty Python routine ("NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!") than real news commentary in how surreal Trotta's opinions were.

Former Marine Sarah Anderson wrote a truly AWESOME piece about Ms. Trotta's inane comments, and at the end asks us to sign an online petition demanding that FOX fire Trotter. I signed, and I highly recommend you do too.

I looked up "pundit" in Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, hoping for some pithy and witty quip to quote. Nothing. I think it's the season for a new, updated dictionary.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pittance of Punditry on Women in Military Service

I really hate it when women in public positions spout off anti-feminist platitudes. For example, how does Liz Trotta think she got where she is, if not on the backs of women who pushed to be able to engage and be taken seriously in public discourse (i.e., "feminists")?  Maybe you never heard of Liz Trotta either? I hadn't, until I saw this video. Lis Trotta is a FOX News "pundit," and here she's opining about women serving in the US military who'd been raped while in service.

(if you received this post as an email and cannot view the video, you can see it on my blog online or at Media Matters. If you are using an iPad or iPhone, you may have to go to a computer that plays Flash.)

So much deliberate ignorance, packed into less than 4 minutes.  I'll just point out the parts I consider most egregious.

  • She objects to how much is spent on issues around sexual assault. $113 million annually, she says. Is that a lot of money? It would be to me personally. However, the military commands a budget is somewhat larger than mine, and this military expenditure is fiscally comparable to my buying one plain old coffee, not even a latte (double short, non-fat milk, please).
  • She is astounded that people in the military are still people. Apparently, once you join the military you can be disregarded as having any real needs other than to protect Americans. Because the mission of the Army and other services is to defend and protect us, not those actually fighting the war. I am astounded at the sheer lack of humanity of that statement. Liz, the people sent to defend and protect us ARE US. 
  • She believes that rape just happens when men and women are in close proximity. Bull. People make the choice to rape. When "pundits" spout off that we can expect men to commit rape, they are giving their permission for rape to happen. 
  • She seems to believe that this is strictly a male-female problem. While a greater percentage of women in military service are raped, a far greater number of men are raped while in military service. Funny how she doesn't mention that.
  • She objects to "feminists" wanting to be warriors and victims at the same time. Really? I've worked for years with women veterans who had been sexually assaulted. None of them wanted to be victims. Almost all of them were proud of their service to the United States, and wanted the wrongs done to them recognized and justice served. And isn't that at the core of being American?

Adam Weinstein's article in Mother Jones points out some fascinating facts of Trotta's background that make her statements appear even more ludicrous.

You can help. One female military veteran has begun a petition on to ask the US House and Senate Armed Services Committee to change the way sexual assault is handled. Because rape should NOT be expected, or tolerated, when women sign up to serve. Please sign it today; remember that sharing is caring, so pass it along to your friends.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Caution Keeps You Aware. Fear Keeps You . . .

"I am going to be raped."

Monday morning's radio, KUOW-FM Weekday with Steve Scher and his guest Willie Weir. Weir is an "adventure traveler," predominantly by bicycle. He has a tale about a "fork in the road," an event that could be life-changing. Could have been life-changing, and not in a positive way. This happened about 20 years ago, alone in a foreign land by the sea.

Weir was looking for a place to pitch his tent. He accepted an offer to be led to a secluded site by a local man. The site was perfect, in a grove of trees just away from a hotel. The threat of sexual assault had never been part of his world. Until then.

Denial, fear, acceptance, and then clarity. The local man was bigger and stronger (not to mention he had a machete). Weir realized that he needed to get closer to the nearby hotel, so he feigned compliance to lull the man into letting his guard down. He began drawing the man closer to the open area near the hotel, breaking the isolation of this perfect camping site. He saw an open door at the hotel, and people just within, so Weir used his voice to attract attention. And the man ran. Weir was now alone.

You can hear Weir's telling at (note: this is the whole show, Weir's tale begins at about the 31 minute mark).

"This trip was over." He considered going home right then. He sat on the beach all night, and by morning he had changed his mind and resolved to keep on going.

"Caution keeps you aware. Fear keeps you away."

Weir felt that if he gave up on his trip and went home, he may never have traveled again. This was about who he wanted to be, and he knew he did not want to live in fear.

After three decades now of bicycle travel, Weir has the experience to exercise caution while still enjoying travels off the beaten path. He understands the risks and the rewards. And the beauty, people, laughs, and adventure outweigh the risks over 100-fold.

I've taught self-defense skills to women who travel, with others or often solo. They all have said they learn from their experiences, and wouldn't give it up for anything. And, as a result, they feel safer, more confident, and more alive.

Aware or away -- where would you rather be?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Announcing Seeking Super Shero Contest

If you could have a super power, what would it be?

Who would you save?  Why?

I've been asking my self-defense students that question for about a year now. The answers range from invisibility to flying to super-speed to mind-reading to future-seeing.  Now I want to hear from you.  This is a contest, so yes there are prizes.

First prize: iPod shuffle. Second and third prizes: and iTunes gift cards.

Check out this video describing the contest:

Now visit Strategic Living's Super Shero page to check out the requirements and online entry form. Get your stuff together and submit. Deadline is April 15th at midnight (Pacific Coast time).

Evil-doers need not apply.

Friday, January 20, 2012

When Good Men Do Nothing, Part 2

A critical part of self-defense is the ability to seek help and redress. But what if nobody wants to believe you?

Two months ago I posted about the Penn State football scandal, where former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct. In that post, Good Men Did Nothing, I outlined several things you could do to keep your kids safer. Those points still hold.

Since then, there have been more revelations. Head Coach Joe Paterno, as you know by now, was fired rather than having his resignation accepted. He was not indicted, nor did he do anything criminal. He fulfulled his obligations to the letter of the law. But that was not enough, especially for a man of his stature in the community. His error was not following up on those he reported to, and himself notifying law enforcement. Penn State President Graham Spanier was also fired for his quick defense of two other indicted staff members, as well as for not keeping the school's Board of Trustees properly informed of the situation. Penn State student rioted, not as a response to the rape of young boys on their campus, but because their beloved coach was axed for inaction.

In the months after Mr. Sandusky's arrest, there have been a whole lotta fingers of blame pointing all around. Indeed, there is more than enough blame to go around. Who knew, who reported, what did those who received the information do?

Some blame has been kicked to assistant coach Mike McQueary. He was a witness to what has been described as Sandusky raping a 10 year old boy in the Penn State football shower facility. What actions he took is unclear. Initial reports said he phoned his dad and went home, and told Coach Paterno the next day. Paterno reported to athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz (who oversaw university police), who did nothing. Both men have been indicted for perjury for testifying that they only heard that Sandusky was horsing around with young boys (not exactly in the same league as rape). Emails obtained by a local newspaper say that McQueary did stop the assault and spoke with some police officers. Police records have not yet confirmed that.

When there are conflicting interests, reporting gets harder. When there's pressure to preserve the status quo of an individual, or a sports program, or a school, those who report may be stymied. McQueary's reports go nowhere. Sandusky is also seen engaging in sexual activity by janitorial staff, who do not report to police because they fear for their jobs. A 1998 report ends when the then-District Attorney, Ray Gricar, decides not to pursue (Gricar vanished in 2005, so we can't ask why).

We self-defense instructors and advocates always propose telling those in authority. It seems we should be adding to our repertoire better ways to speak truth to power, so that the victims can be heard.

Related stories: