We are in the midst of December. Darkness comes early. Many people are a little nervous because they feel that the risk for assault goes up when it gets darker earlier. I hear that over the phone, in emails, and in classes.  But is that true?  Do rates of violence vary by season?

I looked to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Every year they survey a representative sampling of the American population for non-fatal victimizations. And they too also wondered if violent crime rates vary by season.

They looked at trends over a 16-year period. And they found that yes, some rates of assault do vary by season. We’ll break them down into categories.

Simple assault is the most common kind of assault, by far. The rate of simple assault is actually highest in the fall, disproportionately affecting teenagers as they head back to school. So the single biggest shift in the rates of violence seasonally is when kids go back to school in the fall and it affects them mostly. And that actually has nothing to do with it getting darker or lighter, but has more to do with where students are at that time.

Assault becomes aggravated when the victim experiences serious injury or a weapon is involved. The rate of aggravated assault is highest in the summer. So if that’s your concern, consider a class this winter or spring.

Rates for rape and sexual assault are also highest in the summer. Next highest was spring, and then lowest in fall and winter.

Robbery showed no seasonal variation.

The last category, domestic violence, is highest in the summer.

In summary: of the different kinds of violence looked at today, only one — simple assault — was highest in the fall and that affects a very specific segment of the population. The report also found that those seasonal variations were not large — no more than 12%.   In summary, yes rates of violence vary by season, but not by a lot.

You too can review the BJS findings here.

Stay safe, live life.

February. There’s a lot happening this month. Daffodils are coming up, cherry trees are getting ready to explode, Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day, and it’s Black History Month.

I’ve read that February got the nod for Black History Month because both Abraham Lincoln and Douglass Truth have birthdays this month.

I’m not a huge fan of months getting saddled with labels. It’s overdone. Picking and choosing which I pay attention to, though, Black History Month makes the cut. Now, Black history should not be a topic only in February, Black history is a tremendous part of American history. Our received history, though, omits many significant contributions made by Black people. Putting something on a calendar can remind us to pause, take stock of how this issue touches on our own slice of the world, and set intentions for the other 11 months.

I do believe that few people are intentionally racist. Sometimes, though, we find ourselves in awkward situations. We may be under a bit of social discomfort and, before we can stop ourselves, we hear these words coming out of our mouths: “I’m not racist, BUT . . .”

We discuss the unwanted “BUTs” in classes. It’s a little word, ubiquitous in our media and conversations. It has an important role in giving meaning and color to our sentences. And it is overused.

BUT is a drama word. It’s a separator. It negates what went before.  Sometimes it’s intent is to try to soften a harsh criticism, but I think mostly it’s to soften the speaker’s discomfort.

So when someone says, “I’m not racist, BUT . . .”, they’re saying they know what will come out next is racist and they don’t want that label, they want to be teflon. People are not teflon.

Little life hack: delete the word “BUT” from most of your sentences, if you are not meaning to try to negate what you just said.  It is not easy, and you can make that your intent for the next 11 months.

Stay safe, life life.

January, besides being rainy and chilly, is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  Human trafficking is basically a synonym for slavery.  It’s a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide.  And — if you think it happens elsewhere but not here — the Puget Sound has a very lively human trafficking industry.

Several years ago I participated on a safety panel for a local transitional housing agency.  Also on the panel were a domestic violence advocate, an art therapist, and two officers with the Seattle Police Department.  At one point, one of officers went off on a tangent — they were excited because they had recently arrested a particular pimp.  The significance was this pimp’s specialty:  he prostituted young teen girls, between the age of 12 and 14.  At that time I had no idea such a specialty existed.  

What also made his capture significant was his success in “recruiting” young girls to prostitution.  It seemed to have everything to do with his targeting.  He would hang out in shopping malls (apparently Northgate and Alderwood were his favorites), around the food court or clothing stores popular with that age girl.  He’d be looking for girls who were by themselves.  Not just that they were alone, they seemed lonely.  Maybe they didn’t have friends, or friends in school, or were bullied at school.  Maybe there was abuse at home, or a parent had substance abuse or mental health issues and wasn’t emotionally available as a parent.  Maybe she was homeless, or questioning her sexuality or gender identity and not getting support.  Maybe she was angry at life, at her circumstances, and wanted something different.  He was looking for that sense.  He would approach a possible target, and say, “Look, I just have to tell you, you have the most amazing gorgeous eyes.”  The main response he’d be watching for was for her to drop her gaze, to lower her eyes.  That’s submissive body language, and if he saw that he knew he could get her.  If not, he might just say, “hey, just thought I’d let you know, have a great day,” and he’d leave.  He was looking for easy, not a fight.  If he saw the response he wanted, he’d keep talking, engaging her in conversation.  He was good at this, his experience gave him a good basis for saying what young girls may want to hear.  And he seemed to be a real listener.  Very often they’d leave an hour or two or three later, having exchanged cellphone numbers.  She’d maybe be thinking, wow I have a new friend, this guy seems to understand what I’m going through.  Maybe a few weeks later she’d be thinking, wow I have a great new boyfriend, so much better and more mature than stupid boys my age.  Even further down the road, after he’d rape her, have some of his buddies rape her, force her to use drugs, force her to engage in commercial sex, she’d still have a strong emotional attachment to him.  

I have no idea if this pimp’s approach was “typical,” I suspect not.  Many pimps are not strangers:  they can be family members, friends, classmates.  Nevertheless, he was successful, at least until he got caught.  

Do you want to learn more about human trafficking?  Check out these websites:

Learn more about how to recognize the signs that someone you know may be falling into trafficking, or may already be in that web.  Recognize it is a local problem.

Stay safe, live life.

Today is Wednesday, Sept 22, 2021.  The first day of Autumn!  It’s like a week or so ago someone flipped a switch, and virtually overnight we went from Summer to Fall.  That’s just the way seasons change in the Emerald City.

In last week’s class a participant shared a bystander intervention success story.  She has this neighbor who, when he sees young kids or smallish older women walking by on the street, aggressively approaches them.  He would yell profanities, gesticulate menacingly, and try to get uncomfortably close.  Those targeted, their reactions were — not surprisingly — fearful; they’d try to make themselves smaller, sometimes even apologize, and try to back away as quickly as possible.  Angry yelling dude

This student had had enough of the spectacle.  One recent day the neighbor had begun his rant on yet another older woman walking her small dog.  My student strode near to him (keeping distance of course) and told him to leave, to stop harassing people.  Yes she did raise her voice.  The neighbor was taken aback, and he left.  And, ever since then, whenever he sees my student, he retreats back to the safety of his own abode.

We had been doing more work with bystander intervention since the beginning of the pandemic in our virtual classes.  It is a valuable skill so I’ll be bringing it more into my longer classes (those would be the 5 hour Self-Defense Seminar and the 6 week Self-Defense 101).

A lot of us envision bystander intervention as something scary we would do with angry strangers on the street, or bus, or grocery store.  And those instances are important.  Most opportunities, however, will arise in more familiar settings, and involve people we know.  People with whom we’ve some history, and can often guess their reactions.  And it’s great to learn and practice some skills to make your day-to-day living smoother and more peaceful.  I’ve got a full range of classes coming up this fall, and I’m slowly getting my winter offering up online.

Do you have a bystander intervention success story you’d like to share?

Stay safe, live life.

Good morning, today is Wednesday Sept 15, 2021.  It’s another pleasant late summer morning in the glorious Emerald City.  Tonight begins Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, the most significant of all Jewish holidays.  A time for reflections, on forgiveness, on atonement, on resolving to do better this coming year, to be a better person this coming year.

One approach to becoming a better person could be how we handle the “oopsies and ouchies” that sometimes pop up in interactions.  For instance, one person uses a phrase that perhaps they’ve heard all their lives and never really thought about what it meant, and it contains words that negatively reference the identity of someone else — a friend, a co-worker, family member — who is standing right there.  In an ideal world, that would not have happened, but we don’t live in that ideal world.  In my next-best world, the listener would be comfortable pointing out the phrase as derogatory, and the person who uttered it would be amenable to upgrading their language, in part because both listener’s and speaker’s intent would be to maintain a good relationship.  Because, in my next-best world, acknowledging oopsies and ouchies is what people would do, with the hope of creating a healthier community together.  

I used to hear the phrase “that’s so gay!” to refer to something considered stupid.  Rarely do I hear that these days.  A lot of people are good with asking others to upgrade their language in certain situations.

This notion is fundamental to understanding communication.  True communication is not just what is said, it is also what is heard.  Yes intent is important, and so is the impact on the listener.

For this to work, participants actually have to agree that they want to get along and make an effort.  That the impact of one’s actions, even well-intentioned actions, can adversely affect someone else.  Are you willing to consider that?

We look at these issues and skills in some of our classes, esp the six-week Self-Defense 101 course.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling New Year!  Stay safe, live life.

Good morning.  It’s another fine day in the glorious Emerald City, though I can definitely feel the chilled fingers of autumn reaching out.  Today is the first day of school for Seattle Public School students.  Full days in person, mostly.  I think there’s still some remote learning.  It’s going to be an interesting year.

But, moving on.  Maybe 20ish years ago, my mother got her first email account.  She and her friends all “hung out,” if you can call it that, in the same chat rooms.  I have no idea what else they chatted about, but one of the BIGGIES was exchanging jokes.  These were not good jokes.  They were kind of off color, questionable taste, and — most importantly — really not funny.  

I have to state that in my whole life I don’t think I heard my mother ever tell a single joke.  Yet here she was, finding all these bad jokes and sharing them.  Not re-telling them, but using that other email feature, the FORWARD.  Yes, for a brief time she forwarded ALL the jokes.  To me.  Between 15 and 25 per day.

This was clearly a time to set boundaries.  But setting boundaries with a parent can be touchy.

So we had our own chat.  Over the phone.  I told her the jokes were bad, as in not funny.  And there were way too many.  And they really were really bad.  So I put her on a joke diet.  She had choices.  She could email me up to three jokes a day.  Pick out the “better” ones and forward those.  She agreed. 

Two things happened.

First, she stopped forwarding jokes.  Turns out she never thought they were all that funny either, and just the ease of hitting “forward” was driving it.  She thought we all were supposed to “share” stuff (she didn’t read that part of the memo where you’re supposed to “share” good stuff).  As a result of the joke diet, when she had to actually go through and select, it was just no longer worth the effort.

Second, it got a little easier for me to set other boundaries, in terms of my state of mind.  Just the thought of having to set a boundary can be stressful, accompanied by a whole range of emotions and what-if scenarios.  What if she got angry, what if she was upset, what if our relationship was damaged, et cetera.  I’d been feeling resentful that I even had to set that boundary.  After setting that joke boundary, I felt less resentful about articulating my limits.  And when I felt less resentful I was more OK with acknowledging that my mother and I were not going to agree on a lot of stuff, and that was fine, and I could move on without carrying so much extra baggage.  And getting into fewer arguments left me in better moods.  

I can’t say I planned all that, but I noticed that setting some small boundaries where the other person can agree may just have given me the boost to feel better about other boundaries.  Build on your successes.

And while you’re thinking about your next tricky boundary-setting, we cover this in our six-week self-defense courses.  Next one begins Sept 11.

Stay safe, live life.

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.

Today we’ll look at numbers.  Yes, more fun with statistics.  Not crime stats like I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, but what Americans overall think about crime stats.

Most students in most of my classes initially think the rate of crime has gone UP over the past 25 years. At the beginning of class we do a little “pop quiz” about beliefs around crime rates and violence. When asked, the majority who thought the rate of violence had gone up cite the prevalence of violence in the media. The Gallop Poll too tracks this kind of opinion but in a more rigorous way and over the nation; they’ve found that most Americans believe the rate of crime nationally has gone up just about every year over the past 25 years. For instance, in 2016, 70% of respondents believed there was more crime in the US than there had been the prior year. Despite the fact that the actual rate of crime has gone DOWN overall over the past 25 years. The most dramatic drop, BTW, was seen between 1993 and 2000.

A couple of more numbers: Back to 2016, 60% of Americans said that the crime rate was either “extremely” or “very” serious, and 79% reported that they worried about the rate of crime and violence. Yet in that same year only 14% of Americans felt that the rate of crime in their area, where they lived, was either “extremely” or “very” serious.  You can find these numbers, and many many more, at https://news.gallup.com/poll/1603/crime.aspx.  These Gallop people have serious fun with statistics.

Why do so many of our neighbors believe the crime rate is increasing when it was in fact decreasing? The prime suspect is likely mass media reporting. Violence sells, violence leads, and in our current 24/7 news cycle over myriads of channels, the theme of violence gets ingrained. Something repeated over and over and over, true or not, seems to take on a life of its own.

This is not news. This was discussed decades ago, before there were hundreds of TV channels, cable channels, and social media to disseminate highly lucrative disinformation. Crime sells.

Way back in the 1970s, Dr. George Gerbner at the University of Pennsylvania put forward “cultivation” or “mean world theory,” proposing that prolonged exposure to violence on television gives rise to increased fear of crime and a view that the world is a more dangerous place than it really is.

Gerbner testified before a US House of Representative Subcommittee in 1981 about possible political effects:

“Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong tough measures and hard-line postures,” Gerbner said in 1981. “They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities. That is the deeper problem of violence-laden television.”


And it’s not just the news, fictional programs too contribute to this “mean world” approach. How about social media?

Back to the beginning — what do Americans think of crime stats? Mostly we don’t.  Most people are uninformed, rely on information several times removed from sources, and spun to sell something.

Are better sources hard to find? No. And I’ll leave it at that today.

Did you know that women in the United States were signing up for boxing and jui-jitsu classes over a hundred years ago? Her Own Hero, by Wendy L. Rouse
March is Women’s History Month, I teach self-defense for women, and I like books. Here’s a happy convergence. Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self-Defense Movement by Wendy L. Rouse (NY: NYU Press, 2017) goes into the social herstory of women’s self-defense in the Progressive Era (1890s through 1920s). We most often associate women activists of that time as fighting for the vote, and here they were also fighting for fighting back against misogyny and mashers.
Sure you can buy Her Own Hero on Amazon. But you can also get it at a local independent bookstore. Both Elliott Bay Books in Seattle and Powell’s in Portland have it listed on their shelves (as of today).
I have not finished reading it yet, so no review today.  What I’ve read so far is great.  I did hear Dr. Rouse give a talk on this research at the Self-Defense Instructors’ Conference of 2018, and was fascinated.  I had not considered before that there was a history of self-defense and personal safety organizations before the second wave of feminism.  But, yes, here it was.  Check it out.
And if you’d like to become your own shero, do check out our current class listings.

It happens to everyone.  You say or do something that offends or upsets another.  You care about that other person, and you recognize why your actions or words caused them grief.  You acknowledge it to them, and say you are sorry.

While knowing how to apologize is an important safety (and social) skill, it is not today’s topic.

Today I want to emphasize that your setting a boundary is not cause for an apology.

You should not have say sorry for treating your needs and peace of mind as priorities.  You should not have to say sorry for taking your own safety and comfort into account.  You should not have to say sorry for self-care.

You should not have to say sorry for taking up your personal space.  You should not have to say sorry for having your own opinions, and voicing them.  You should not have to say sorry for taking time for yourself.

But still, you may find yourself apologizing just to get by, just to get through the day.  Because it seems you’re judged more harshly when you dare to assert yourself.  And you still need to get along with others at work, or in some social settings.  If that is the case, if you decide to make that tactical decision to use the “s” word, do it with no guilt.  Because it’s your choice.  Sometimes, in considering personal safety, you have a choice between being safe and being right.  That is your determination.  You may not want to fight every battle, so choose which are most important for you.  Do remember, however, that this is the result of a specific power dynamic, a tug-of-war over who gets to define what is “acceptable” or “appropriate” or “normal.”

And remember that a truly crucial element of your personal safety is the choice you make to keep yourself safer.