Happy Earth Day, everyone!  Although today is Thursday, April 22, 2021, I’m not here to talk about Earth Day. But a good discussion moment came up in social media, about media literacy and how to recognize social media hoaxes.

You may have seen social media postings about April 24. About an alleged group of six men who are said to have declared — via a TikTok video — April 24 as National Rape Day, suggesting that men go out and sexually assault women, and it would be legal.

Others on social media have been sounding the alarm. Stay at home, carry a weapon, be on high alert, etc. Except, where’s the alleged video? One TikTok account claims to have seen it, and claims to be spreading the word because most of her followers are women and they should be aware of it. Others have picked up on that warning. But I don’t know of many, or even any other accounts claiming to have seen the alleged original video.

And TikTok cannot find the offending video, on their own platform.

If I were a gambling type of gal, I’d be betting this is a hoax. That this “news” is a troll or two whose goal is to generate attention, spread fear, and kick back laughing as they watch responses roll in. Said trolls could be the purported group of six, or it could be the account that issued the warning about a non-existent Group of Six.

I personally do not plan on taking precautions other than what I would normally. Remember, an average of about 1,200 persons are sexually assaulted each day in the United States. The alleged “advice” we are hearing from those spreading the April 24 hoax is to stay safe by staying at home. I call BS. Most women are raped in someone’s home. By people they know.

recognize social media hoaxes

Wouldn’t it be nice if recognizing social media hoaxes were this easy?

This is a good example of why we — and I mean “we” as individual media consumers, and that probably includes you on occasion — why we need to practice better media literacy and critical thinking (yes, we do cover that in our self-defense classes).  Why we need to more surely recognize social media hoaxes.  This has the markings of a hoax. It pushes a hot-button issue with a claim of imminent outrageous action. It has a built-in audience, and will attract a sizable readership, especially on social media. And there’s no real evidence. Before spreading crap, please do some homework if you have ANY doubts. Click the links, all of them. No links? That’s a red flag. Google all the names. Reverse image search all images. Run a Whois on domain names. Or if you don’t want to do all that, at the very least find a reliable fact-checking site, maybe Snopes.com. I am not on TikTok, but if I were, I’d be checking into the reliability of those spreading this. Please do not empower trolls by spreading their misinformation — it sucks up your time and energy needlessly, and it sucks up the time and energy of others with whom you share, that can be put to much better use. And it contributes to a social environment where most people consider the world a suckier place then it really is.

Stay safe, and live life!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness (and Prevention) Month.  This one’s for you, aimed first at girls going away to college. But it’s really applicable for anyone moving out-of-state.  Or who doesn’t know their state’s rape laws.

Laws around crime, in this case sexual assault, differ state by state.  Maybe you already knew that, but I’m surprised by how many of my students did not.

Rape laws vary across the country. Most law around crime is in a state’s domain, the federal government only claims an interest in specific and limited situations.

So if you’re moving — or will be attending school — out-of-state, you should educate yourself.  If you’re not off to college or moving, do you know something about the rape laws where you live?

I’ve been telling teens this in my Off to College classes for several years. It came to the top of my attention a couple of weeks ago thanks to this article in the Washington Post. A man’s conviction for third-degree criminal sexual conduct was overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Their ruling centered around state law that defined a victim as being “mentally incapacitated” due to too much alcohol or drugs ONLY if said alcohol or drugs were administered without her knowledge. In this particular case, the victim had drank a lot before, went to a “party” that really wasn’t, passed out, and woke up to find the “host” engaging in sex with her. She told him she didn’t want to have sex, but he insisted and continued, and she again lost consciousness.

The Supreme Court ruled that because the woman had drank beforehand, she was not “mentally incapacitated” according to the law’s definition. And, according to this article, most states in this country have similar laws.

This reminded me of another article I’d read a few years ago. In North Carolina there was this “right to finish,” where you could not change your mind about engaging in sex after you began, even if the other person began getting violent or abusive. Fortunately, it’s been changed — after being on the books for about 40 years.

Back to Minnesota. If the rape law is that clear, why was the defendant originally convicted, and the conviction upheld by an appeals court? I’m not an attorney, don’t play one on TV, and certainly not a law expert. However, I did find a very useful resource. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) has a webpage that summarizes state sex crimes definitions and penalties. I looked up Minnesota. I have to restate that I know nothing about the case other than what I read in the article in WaPo. And there is another definition under third-degree criminal sexual conduct: physically helpless. One of the characteristics of physically helpless is being “not conscious.” Which, according to the article, this victim was.

I cannot say if the lower courts were relying on one definition in the law, and the Supreme Court chose a different definition to take priority. If so, that is an issue of power, of which ruling body has the power to take possibly contradictory sections of law and decide whose view prevails.

My advice to girls (and boys) off to college: get familiar with the law of that state (check on the RAINN site). And don’t count on it to be obvious.

Stay safe, live life.

In self-defense we talk a LOT about saying NO and STOP and BACK OFF!!!  But more often in our routine lives saying YES could be the more satisfying option.  What if the request is coming from a stranger?  Here I’m going to describe one instance of my process.

This happened to me only a couple of years ago. I live in a little house in the part of Seattle called Beacon Hill, which is south of downtown and even south of the baseball and football stadiums. A quiet residential area, except for the nearby highway and airports, which can be a bit noisy in a droning sort of way. Not exactly a cul-de-sac, but limited cross-streets and little traffic. That nearby highway is Interstate 5, and I could just cross the street, walk a few feet to the fence, go through the gate, and I’m a hop, skip, and jump from the road.

It was middle of the afternoon, middle of the week, in the summer.  I had arrived home after teaching a morning class, pulled up in front of my little house. Got out of my car, locked the door, and turned to go up my walkway. From the corner of my eye I saw a person. Now my neighborhood sees few pedestrians, especially in the middle of the day, so a pedestrian is noteworthy. Especially one carrying what looked like several gallon plastic jugs.

He called out to me, “Miss, hey Miss!”  I turned. He was on the sidewalk in front of my little house, and I was half-way down my walkway (so there was quite a bit of distance between us). He said his car’s radiator sprung a leak, and he asked if he could get some water.

I could have run into the house and locked the door, but like most humans I prefer to be helpful.  Saying YES would fulfill that, and how could I make sure I stayed safe at the same time?  I noted he did seem to be stressed. Could have been from his car’s breakdown, or considering that if I said no he may have to knock on doors which would be more stressful. Perhaps he didn’t have access to AAA or other roadside assistance. But the most important clue was that he stayed on the sidewalk. He did not try to get closer by coming onto my walkway, and seemed mindful of boundaries. So I said YES.  I would bring out the garden hose and he could fill his jugs. He asked if it were OK to come back a second time, and I said sure, just let me know when he was done. And I got the hose, brought it close to where he was and still kept over 10 feet of distance. I left him to his refilling. Of course I watched periodically as he filled jugs, left, returned, filled them again. When I figured he was done I went to my doorway, we made brief eye contact and he thanked me and left.  He even smiled! He looked less stressed. After he crossed the street and disappeared onto I-5, I retrieved the hose.

If you’ve taken any of my self-defense classes, you may remember that all attackers need both a target and an opportunity. If you short-circuit either, you’ll be safer. Signs of opportunities, also called red flags, I could have been looking for would be distracting chatter, self defense using your voice saying yesquestions of a personal nature, or questions about my neighbors that feel intrusive.  And simultaneously trying to stealthily move closer. Because any attack depends on proximity. That was my key indicator then, and it in this instance it worked out well.

Keep in mind this was MY response at that time. It does NOT make it the best response or the correct response.  I believe the thought process is far more informative than the specific decision.  And while I made a decision, I did keep the young man on my radar and was ready to re-assess that decision should the situation change.  Saying YES is an important choice, one which we should be able to consider.

And that’s all for today. Stay safe, live life.

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.