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.

Students who have taken my six-week self-defense course for women already know this:  the rate of violence has been in decline for the past couple of decades.

But that was not at all obvious a couple of decades ago.  In fact, the early 1990s saw a spike in youth violence.  Some experts were predicting the worst was yet to come, and felt they needed to deploy hyperbole on what they saw as the inevitable.  The term “superpredator” was coined by political scientist John DiIulio to describe teens who were increasingly violent.  These teens were supposed to unleash chaos upon our fair Gothams.

It never happened.

Almost as if on cue, after these predictions hit the mass media, the crime rate began dropping.  And dropping.  And dropping.  Today’s rates of violence are at record lows.

(if the embedded video is not visible here, go here.)

However, hyperbole won out over fact.  Punitive punishments and harsher penalties for juveniles became the law.  Panicky policy repercussions from that era have lingered a long while.

When you consider your personal safety risks, what do you value?  How do you distinguish the hype from the fact?  Predicting the future will never be easy, but you can do better when you winnow out the alarmist labels and recognize the “dog whistles” for what they are.

In local news, some residents of Seattle’s Capitol Hill are getting fed up with street assaults.  According to this article in The Seattle Times, a new neighborhood watch group is in the works.  Dubbed “OutWatch” and modeled after Q-Patrol in the early 1990s (which was modeled after NYC’s Guardian Angels of an earlier decade), the current plan seems to have patrols consisting of 4 persons.  Initially, at least 2 of the 4 are supposed to have self-defense training.

[Which is all very nice, except that self-defense may or may not be what they need.  I sure hope their self-defense training included de-escalation training and bystander intervention, which are more valuable skills for this endeavor.  I hope they are also planning on background checks for all volunteers.]

According to the article, it seems the patrols’ primary aim is to escort people safely to their cars, homes, or other safe place.  This should be useful — after all, the police do advise us to keep with a group to reduce risk of assault.  Simply having a presence can also remind us to keep safety and awareness of our surroundings in mind, as well as send a message that people are watching and won’t put up with violence in their community.

I wish them luck organizing and sustaining this project. 

This afternoon I taught a class for tween girls (and a mom or two), and afterwards one mom and I were talking about this “blaming the victim” of rape nonsense.  She mentioned that one of her friends, many years ago, was raped right after her high school graduation.  The girls was at home in bed, and a robber with a gun broke into the house. He raped her.  The police later asked her what she was wearing.

I remembered a speaker from the 2011 Seattle SlutWalk with the same story.  I asked if the women spoke at SlutWalk and the mom said yes.  Got the speaker’s name, found her on YouTube, and here she is, just as I remembered.

If you do not see a video here, or it is not playable on your device, you can view it directly on YouTube.

And the most important takeaway is that she was raped because a rapist made a choice to commit rape. True then, true now.  True always.

Anne Munch has certainly seen her share of rape cases. A prosecutor for the state of Colorado, she  she spoke to a full auditorium at the University of Washington on October 19, 2012, about the all-too-often occurrence of victim blaming in sexual assault.

First she asked the men in the audience what they did on a daily or weekly basis to avoid rape – there was dead silence. “Nothing, right?” Same question to the women and answers popcorned out: go to parties with friends, carry pepper spray, don’t walk alone at night . . . Ms. Munch asked the guys, “Did you know women – your sisters – think like this?” You could almost hear jaws dropping.

Only a short while into her career as a prosecutor, Munch realized that in addition to the victim and the accused, there was always a 3rd party in any rape case, which she dubbed The Unnamed Conspirator.  It’s a petri dish for enabling predators, made up of societal attitudes towards rape victims and women in general. And it is these overall societal attitudes that guide police and prosecutors, judges and juries, in determining how to let the vast majority of rapists off the hook.

[Note: this concept has been around a long, long time. At least 3 or 4 decades. It’s generally called “rape culture.”]

Munch cited 2 cases from Colorado that she had worked on.  Both cases had incredible amounts of physical evidence and no indication whatsoever that the women had consented to sexual activity.

In the the first case, three out of 12 jurors would not vote to convict. The Unnamed Conspirator likes safety “rules”, and the victim had broken a biggie. One of these societal “rules” is that if you don’t go out alone at night you won’t get raped. This survivor had ventured out, all by herself, at 9 pm in a small resort town to get a slice of pizza. Uh-oh. The Unnamed Conspirator: “She should never have been walking alone at night.” Hence three women on the jury refused to vote guilty, even though the defendant’s culpability was clear.

Munch believes the way to negate The Unnamed Conspirator is through education, which is why she now travels around the world speaking, training, and consulting on sexual assault and domestic violence cases.  The two most pervasive and insidious myths she works to banish are:

  1. Sexual assault can be prevented by following a large and highly restricting list of “rules” (one of which was referred to above), and
  2. Men cannot control themselves (so women become responsible for some men’s actions).

Let’s return to the Real World, where neither of the above “rules” are true. Vulnerability by itself means nothing. It’s only significant when someone tries to take advantage of it. In other words, the only person responsible for a rape is the rapist.

In every self-defense class I teach, you will not be getting those “laundry lists” of people and places to avoid, activities to not engage in, or limiting dress codes.  Because they do not work — they do not keep you safer.

And the second Colorado case – it had a pile of evidence as high as the Rocky Mountains but never came to trial. The accused’s name was Kobe Bryant. Celebrities will rarely be held accountable for bad behavior (and that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post).

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 Change.org 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.

“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 http://www.kuow.org/podcast/WeekdayA/WeekdayA20120206.mp3 (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?

Your voice is your most critical self-defense tool.

In this news story, a woman out walking was assaulted. Her screams attracted the attention of another woman, who came to her aid. They were then able to fight off the attacker, who ran. According to this report, the woman was not seriously hurt but was shaken and upset.

And that illustrates Reason #2 (of 6) of why your voice is important: because it can attract attention. Attention can mean help. Help can thwart an attack. Thwarting an attack can mean less pain and a shorter recovery time from trauma.

Attracting attention sometimes also results in the attacker getting caught. And attackers don’t want to be caught. What do you want?

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.

Because sometimes those charged with keeping a safe environment act with indifference.

Here’s a current example:  http://www.news-leader.com/article/20110816/NEWS12/110816008/Lawsuit-filed-against-Republic-School-District-over-rape-claim
and http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/08/17/297888/missouri-school-sued-for-allegedly-making-special-ed-student-write-apology-letter-to-her-rapist/ (same story, 2 articles).

In this story, a special education middle-school girl is penalized for reporting harassment and assault by a classmate. She’s even made, by school authorities, to write an apology and hand-deliver it to her rapist. Then she’s expelled from school, for allegedly making a false report.

When she’s allowed to return to the school the next year, she is again harassed and assaulted by the same boy. School authorities again do not believe her, but this time her mother takes her to a Child Advocacy Center for an exam. Seems the exam showed she had been raped; semen found on her is said to match that of the boy. Boy is arrested, charged, and plead guilty.

Family files lawsuit against School District. School District replies that the girl failed to use reasonable means to protect herself, the suit against them is frivolous, and hence the School District defendants are entitled to be awarded attorneys’ fees.

So, it’s the girl’s fault. Again.

And that’s still another reason that sexual assault is rarely reported.