Have you ever been out walking, for errands or exercise, and felt something amiss?  And you realize the same person seems to be consistently behind you?  Perhaps as you’ve glanced back it seems like they’re suddenly looking away.  You wonder, are they following me?  And you search your brain for your safety skills.

That’s happened to a lot of my students.  It’s happened to me.  This video is about that incident, almost 40 years ago.  Way before I began teaching self-defense, even before I realized that self-defense was a thing.

I still remember it in detail, even though this happened so long ago.  I occasionally wonder how it influenced my later choices, who I consider trustworthy, or my foundations of personal safety and safety skills.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his recent book Talking To Strangers, proposes that unless it’s super obvious, we give people we just meet the benefit of the doubt and some of our trust.  After a while, it gets hard to change our minds about them, even when they begin to violate our boundaries and eventually cause us grief.  In fact, he infers that people who are  NOT inclined to trust others are lonely and unhappy paranoids.  (I reviewed this book on Facebook Live a few months ago.)  Not surprisingly, many students who doubt another’s intent express concern that they are paranoid.  Well, if that other person is pushing your boundaries and not listening when you correct them, you’re not paranoid.

In this story, a stranger does push boundaries.  A common response is to ignore that person, which is more likely to work when there is greater distance between you and them.  That tactic did not work in my case, and I moved on to others.  And one of the indicators of more likely success in self-defense is having a few tricks up your sleeve, and switching them until you find which works.

You’ll learn quite a few tricks in these self-defense classes, which currently are all online.

I’d have a few concerns. But I’m not a mom of a girl going away to school, I just teach personal safety skills to girls whose moms are concerned as their girls are growing into independence.

Recent headlines tell us about a young man at one of America’s elite prep schools who engaged in the school tradition of “senior salute.”  How that particular encounter turned into non-consensual sex and a rape charge.  The young man was convicted by a jury of one count of using the internet to have sex with a child, and three counts of misdeameanor sexual assault and child endangerment.  He was acquitted of the more serious charges of felony rape.

According to CNN’s legal analyst Sunny Hostin, “the jury did not appear to believe the former prep school student’s claim that there was no intercourse, but it also seemed to dismiss his accuser’s testimony that it was against her will.”

My focus, as a self-defense teacher, is less on the legal issues and more on what we’re teaching girls, explicitly as well as implicitly.

This article from the New York Times details the young woman’s testimony.  She describes a mixture of emotions during and after the assault — of politeness and pain, then secrecy versus standing up for herself.

“I didn’t want to come off as an inexperienced little girl,” she said. “I didn’t want him to laugh at me. I didn’t want to offend him.”

Afterward, she said, she felt physical pain and utter confusion, and blamed herself for the events; it took several days for her to tell anyone, in full, what happened.

“I feel like I had objected as much as I felt I could at the time. And other than that I felt so powerless,” she said, adding, “I was telling myself, ‘O.K., that was the right thing to do, you were being respectful.’ ”
This girl’s feelings of powerlessness are common among teens in this sort of situation.  Girls encounter a host of contradictory messages.  They should be polite, nice, and certainly not rude — while at the same time keeping themselves safe.
I believe respect is a very important social grace, and it should not trump safety.
My concerns include:
  • The jury’s verdict indicates that many adults still don’t believe girls could be telling the truth about rape.  These jury members are also community members, and could very well be among those from whom a girl seeks advice and help.
  • The girl not being aware of other tools at her disposal to discourage and perhaps prevent the rape.
  • The girl’s feelings of powerlessness over her own body.  As noted sexual health educator Amy Lang says, she should be the boss of her body.

Not only should any girl expect to have her “no” respected, she should have other options in case it is not.  That’s what I teach, and in self-defense classes we practice skills when unfortunately “no” isn’t enough.

Judge Thomas Lipps ruled today that the two young men who are alleged to have raped a fellow 16 year old student have been found guilty.

CNN’s report this morning emphasized the emotional heights of this ruling. The two young men, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were sentenced to time in juvenile detention. Richmond cried after the sentencing, while trying to apologize to the victim and her family. CNN’s reporter, Poppy Harlow, reported on how hard it was to watch “as these two young men — who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students — literally watched as they believed their life fell apart. . . .
One of the young men, Ma’lik Richmond, as that sentence came down, he collapsed, . . . the convicted rapist told his attorney that “my life is over, no one is going to want me now.”

Yes it is true that their lives will be changed forever.  They are now considered sex offenders, and will carry that label for the rest of their lives.  The boys, however, will not be the only ones to carry a live-long burden.  Their victim will be carrying a hefty burden, for the rape as well as for all the photos and videos that were widely distributed and viewed by her friends, family, classmates, and even people who never knew who she was before. Perhaps her promising future too has been diminished (what do you think, Poppy Harlow)?

Sure I know that much of the media feels compelled to find the “human interest” side in every story, to tug on our heartstrings in a bid for viewers.  But this “tug” felt more like a heave.

Yes, these young men’s lives have been diminished.  But it was not the sentence that did them it.  It was their own actions, for which they are now being held accountable.  And that’s how justice is supposed to work.


If you can’t see the CNN video in the viewer above, try this link to YouTube: http://youtu.be/MvUdyNko8LQ.

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.)

WARNING WILL ROGERS: CRUDE LANGUAGE AHEAD!!!

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.

Today’s not-so-news is that the prosecutor’s office is going to ask to have the sexual abuse charges against Dominique Strauss Kahn dismissed.

Read all about it:  http://www.usatoday.com/money/world/story/2011/08/AP-source-DA-likely-to-drop-Strauss-Kahn-case/50085112/1

Their issue is that the plaintiff was not completely honest about aspects of her past.

However, none of the lies that diminish her credibility had anything to do with the facts of this case.

So, ladies, this has some serious repercussions for us all. Did you ever lie, even a little, about how many calories that “sliver” of cheescake had? Or about how much you spent on that outfit? Did you ever exaggerate, ever so slightly, about your last vacation or last night’s date? Sure these may have seemed harmless at the time, but your credibility is now totally, irrevocably, damaged should you ever have the need to press charges of rape.

And guess what else? A number of rapists actually seek out potential victims who would make less credible plaintiffs.

Learn how to better prevent rape, as well as get better DNA evidence, in a self-defense class.

“You can’t miss the crowd, it’s MASSIVE!”

I overheard this man giving driving directions while marching in today’s Slutwalk Seattle. To get a sense of the crowd, take a look at this YouTube video (from SeattleRex):

If this doesn’t display correctly, you can watch on YouTube at http://youtu.be/u5_psd0YZHc.

TV news reports the past couple of days had been mentioning the upcoming Slutwalk, describing it as women protesting against rape by dressing provocatively. While I’m glad this rally was publicized, I have to scold the media for their description. Yes it’s a protest against rape, and a protest to end victim-blaming and slut-shaming. Participants were welcome to dress as they pleased. You can see from this video that some (women and men) wore their fishnet stockings and pasties, most wore the usual PNW attire, like jeans and North Face jackets.

I’ll post more later, but one final note for now. The rally was held at Westlake Center. Towards the end of the rally, some participants who had entered the shopping mall were asked to leave because of “indecent exposure.” The Center received a loud mass “f*** you!” from the crowd.

I’m occasionally asked why rape is under-reported. Not asked very often, because most of us know without ever having to be explicitly told. Most of us recognize that rape victims, far more so than victims of any other crime, are made to bear a disproportionately large responsibility for their victimization.

A recent article illustrates this: http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/12/28/bahamas.baseball.rape/index.html?iref=obinsite. Actually, it’s not the article, it’s the comments. A college baseball player is accused of rape. The article is pretty bare-bones. But the comments on the article tend toward the vitriolic side, against women who report rape. See, there’s a vocal segment who feel that rape is an entitlement. Not that they’d actually phrase it that way, because rape is a crime. But what counts as rape?

Or how about this article (http://detnews.com/article/20101110/METRO/11100371/Alleged-rape-victim–14–taunted–kills-self), where a high school freshman accused a popular senior of raping her. After the allegations because public and her identity revealed, other students in her school were polarized and she was subjected to verbal attacks. Apparently the possibility that the rest of the alleged perpetrator’s life could be ruined (by his own actions no less) evoked more sympathy than anger at the possibility that he was a rapist. She killed herself. The county prosecutor initially decided to drop the sexual assault case because the one witness was gone, but since then another victim has come forward (http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/dpp/news/local/joe-tarnopolski-facing-new-allegations-20101111-wpms).

Or this article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/29/world/europe/29iht-letter29.html?_r=3&ref=julianpassange&pagewanted=all), where the author asked some of her friends (women in their 30s) if they thought the charges against WikiLeaks principal Julian Assange were rape. The responses were resoundingly no. One woman said that these charges “cheapen rape.” Really? How?

FYI, at least in Washington state, and probably most if not all states in the USA, having sex with someone without consent IS legally rape. That includes the victim having too much alcohol or drugs in their system to give consent. How about when they’re sleeping — where’s the consent there?

Or look at the reactions of many prominent personalities when Al Gore was implicated in sexual assault. Now I like polar bears and the polar ice caps as much as the next environmentalist, but to give their most celebrated proponent an a priori pass just because of who he is, well that’s too much.

Almost half of all women and girls who are raped either tell only one other person or nobody at all.

Most rapists are someone the victim knows, often someone the victim (and their friends) like. And, judging by the way we treat victims, it can’t be rape if that person is well-liked, right?

It’s not only the general populance that has issues with sexual assault victims. This recent article took a comprehensive look at how reported sexual assaults were handled by law enforcement, and found that the actual rate of false report of rape is much lower than that assumed by many people, particularly by law enforcement. This article notes that

[O]ne of the most important challenges for successfully investigating and prosecuting cases of non-stranger sexual assault is the idea that many—or even most—reports are false. As long as this belief is accepted by law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, jurors, and others, our efforts to improve the criminal justice response to sexual assault will have only limited impact. Only those cases that look like our societal stereotype of “real rape” will be successfully investigated and prosecuted.

I teach an annual weekend workshop for rape victims. Each year I ask of those who did report their rapes, by a show of hands, how many have had positive experiences with law enforcement during the reporting process. A few raise their hands. And then I ask how many have had negative experiences. And all of those who said they reported their rapes report negative experiences with police or prosecutors. The predominant issue is that the victims felt that they were being accused by law enforcement personnel of being to blame.

The #1 reason why rape is under-reported, not a big surprise, is the prevailing cultural undercurrent of blaming the victim.