Good morning!  This is the final full week of August 2021.  Just one more week and Seattle Public School kids will be back in class. 

Of course some colleges have already begun their Fall term.  Many here in Washington State won’t start until a month from now.  Did you know that the beginning of each academic year sees a spike in sexual assault on and around campuses?  Largely against freshmen and other new students.  Some of you may be thinking, “those young people, it’s probably all about their parties and alcohol and drugs, and if they had any common sense they just wouldn’t put themselves in those situations.”  But more of you may be thinking, is it really that simple?   That reductionist?  The answer would be no, and LOOK A BOOK!  Sexual Citizens, by Hirsch and Khan, takes a much larger, even environmental, approach to the issue of sexual assault and college students.

[One side note first, the authors do state that while many people consider college students at high risk, there’s actually no evidence that college students are at higher risk of sexual assault than are their peers who are not in school.]

This book is about the SHIFT research program looking at what contributes to sexual assault, and how those factors can be altered to reduce the rate of assault.  The study subjects in this book were all attending Columbia University in New York City.  The authors interviewed a lot of college students, and had their graduate student researchers engage in ethnographic work (which meant the grad students went to parties and other events, and hung out with students in certain settings).  They take a three-part analytic approach, looking at patterns and events using the concepts of sexual projects, sexual citizens, and sexual geographies.  What are they?

Sexual Citizens, by Hirsch and Khan

Sexual projects are what students are wanting to get out of having sex.  A few such projects can be casual pleasure, “practicing” to get good at sex, social status, stress relief, self-discovery, and finding or expressing intimacy in a relationship.  

Sexual citizens are basically who gets to be treated as an equal, and who gets to be treated as an object.  Maybe you’ve already guessed that consent is wrapped up in this part.  As is entitlement, self-absorption, the power to decide if an incident was sex or rape, and the use of violence.

And finally sexual geography is who has access to resources that enable the social flow, to find an environment conducive for sexual activities.  Who has access to space?  To privacy?  To alcohol?  

And how do sexual projects, sexual citizenry, and sexual geographies intertwine and impact each other, creating an environment where sexual assault is easy?

But that’s not quite enough.  Pause for a moment.  Think about how and when you learned about sex.  Did your parents have more than one conversation with you?  Did they have ongoing dialogs?  When I was about 11 years old, my mother handed me a library book, which I of course read — I read anything I could get my hands on — and I don’t recall any talk after that.  Was your family also awkward and hands-offish about discussing sex?  Apparently the vast majority of the students interviewed for this book had pretty much the same experience.  The authors cite this lack of preparing children for sexual encounters, and then sending them off into a world filled with other ill-prepared children, as laying the groundwork for unfortunate encounters.

What I really appreciate about Sexual Citizens is it goes beyond that worn-out dichotomy of “teaching girls self-defense” versus “teaching boys not to rape.”  That old soundbite served it’s purpose in jolting some people into looking at rape as not only an issue to be addressed by women and girls, but is no longer a good representation of the issues.  This book is also easy to read, it’s not in academic jargon, and I think anyone going into college can, and should, read it.  And their parents.  And teachers, and school administrators, and us self-defense instructors.

I have my Fall self-defense classes all posted and ready for registration.  They are mostly in person.  Yes masks are required.  Vaccination against COVID is also required.  All rooms have good air circulation and air filtration.  Classes through Seattle Central College and Bellevue College are still online, though there is talk of shifting to in-person maybe Winter or Spring.

Stay safe, live life.

Seattle Police Chief Diaz

Seattle’s Police Chief Diaz (right) mingles with the community.

Last week I participated in Seattle’s Chinatown – International District’s National Night Out event.  There was a good turnout, and lots of food.  The Fire Department brought in trucks, and excited kids swarmed around them as hoses and ladders and other gear come out.  The Police Department also had officers present, and Chief Diaz mingled with the crowd.  I conducted a short interactive demo on some self-defense physical skills and using your voice.  There were booths with info on recycling, public spaces cleanup, assistance for those affected by the COVID pandemic, and personal safety.  The most popular booth by far was the personal safety one, they were giving out safety accessories.  Flashlights, whistles, and alarms.  These were so popular that people were allowed to choose only ONE device to take home.  Most popular device?  Personal alarm.

Chinatown - International District National Night Out Safety Booth

This safety booth was giving out flashlights, whistles, and personal alarms.

I already have a flashlight (in fact, I have multiple flashlights), and a couple of whistles, but not a personal alarm.  So I picked one up to play with.  Pretty easy to work, just pull the pin and voila!  loudness.  At least if you are right next to it.  Not so much if you’re a few yards away.  Down the block, not really.  Its effectiveness is mainly on the person(s) right in arms’ length.  You turn it off by re-inserting the pin, which you hopefully you would not have dropped.  Or you can pop the battery.  It’s plastic, probably not particularly durable, and if you don’t use it for a while you’ll want to check to make sure the battery’s not dead.  I spent a few minutes working with it to see if I could operate it with one hand, that was a bit awkward.

Any time you consider carrying a personal safety accessory, please learn how to use it, and practice.  Even something so simple as a personal alarm or a whistle can be surprisingly difficult to wrangle when you are under stress.  Will you remember which end to pull on this alarm?  How strongly do you have to blow to get sound from the whistle?  Where’s the flashlight’s on switch?  And sometimes, under duress, people even forget what they have in their hands.

At this Night Out event there was a definite emotional undercurrent.  You probably have heard, and everyone at the gathering had this on the top of their minds, in the last year and a half Asians in the United States have experienced an increased number of street assaults and hate crimes.  Many in the Asian communities are alarmed about not only these assaults, but also that there seems to be little concern from the greater Seattle community.  One local activist, Jolene Jang, is organizing allies to be more effective in bringing not only attention but solutions to anti-Asian hate crime.  Can you participate?  Check out her Facebook group.

I’ve got my fall class schedule up, lots of new offerings for both the six-week course and single-session classes.  Some of these classes include de-escalation and bystander intervention.  Most people don’t help because they don’t quite know how, and you can get to practice some skills and get more comfortable with the idea of actively creating a safer city.  Contact me if you want to know which classes will have more of this content.

As always, stay safe and live life.

#StopAsianHate #BlackLivesMatter

Good morning, it’s another sunny day in the glorious Emerald City. Summer is already more than halfway over, at least if you’re a student in the Seattle Public Schools.

This last week and a half I’ve spent far too much time late at night watching the Olympics on TV. Not that I’m following any particular sport or athletes, I’m just overall impressed at the training and skill levels and performances. Their dedication, focus, and persistence is inspiring.

One of the bigger stories out of this Olympics is Simone Biles’ withdrawal from some events. You know who she is, right? Gymnast for the American team, and one of the top gymnasts of all time. She’s amazing. I admire Simone Biles.  And she withdrew from some events, my understanding is due to a lapse in mind-body connection. Something they called the “twisties.” Frankly, I cannot fathom how anyone can keep their mind-body connection during their routines, but again I’m not a gymnast and don’t have that concrete experience. And that’s what makes those athletes’ performances so engaging to me.

There’s been a lot of opinion expressed on social media and broadcast media. Some of it is actually informative, some not so much. I am very impressed with Simone Biles, and not just for her skills and performances. Her recognition that she has to have her own priorities straight (in this case, her wellbeing over pressure to compete), that she can and did take the reigns of control over her participation, and her openness in making it a public discussion. Given her level of achievement and drive, I am certain she did not make this decision lightly. And I trust her judgement about her readiness to spin and flip in the air over and over, and once again land intact.  And for that I even more admire Simone Biles.

Simone Biles does not need my validation. I’m not talking about this for her. I’m talking about this, amplifying her, for us more everyday people, who sometimes feel pressured to please someone else at our own expense. Simone Biles is a truly exceptional athlete, and she is still as human as the rest of us. While the pressures on her may be more public than those on most of us, we too can face intense scrutiny over our choices and decisions. And we too can decide what’s best for us, what can be harmful to us, and figure out how to prioritize our well-being in concrete actions. So, let’s do more of it.

On another note, July’s classes were all in-person, August’s self-defense classes too will be in-person, and I’m happy with how they are going and students’ participation. Yes, I’m still asking that all students be fully vaccinated, and even for outdoor classes we’re masking up. I’ve got a lot happening in August, and my Fall schedule should be posted soon. I may even have to cut back on blogging, such as I did last week, just for increased class time. Stay tuned for more updates.

As always, stay safe, live life.