I volunteered as a domestic violence advocate for several years. Over that time I staffed the crisis line, conducted orientation sessions for new clients, gave a couple of bystander intervention workshops, and assisted with support groups. Support groups were a core service of the agency, and incredibly valuable in helping DV survivors getting to and staying on their feet. It is super-important to know you’re not alone, there are resources, and you need not be isolated.

This particular group was facilitated by a staffer, we’ll call her Amy. She came across as kind and compassionate, someone you suspected you could really trust. She exuded that impression in several ways. This is one.

Those of you who have taken any of my classes know we spend time on body language. Specifically, on what’s called “open and expansive” body language. Also called the “power pose.” Feet shoulder width apart, eyes forward, arms and hands also out and not crossed or in your pockets. Basically, a posture that takes up more of your own space bubble. Body language that’s generally (at least in mainstream North American culture) interpreted as assertive and confident.

However, when in support group or otherwise speaking with clients, Amy’s body language was a bit different. She did Body language for submissive, inviting, aggressivetend to cross her feet, and folded her arms, not exactly across her body but in front. Those aspects of her body language were what we self-defense teachers may have called “submissive,” if we restrict ourselves to that narrow continuum of submissive to assertive to aggressive. Which points more to shortcomings in our attraction to oppositions, contrast, and dichotomies. Amy came across as both attentive and relaxed, not aggressive, not assertive, not trying to define and stick her boundaries, and her body language — rather than submissive — was an invitation to connect.

Consider Amy’s clients. They were people who experienced a controlling partner, and that control took the form of emotional abuse and often physical violence. The abuser’s body language would often have been domineering, at times aggressive but also the right assertive posture, combined with tension, could serve as a warning you better toe that line. Many DV survivors have become very attuned to other’s body language. And Amy’s was meant to address that.

I never did get around to asking her if her body language was deliberate, or if she had good instincts. Regardless, this is something anyone can practice. Like we do in our classes.

Speaking of which . . .

Check out our class schedule, and more to come.

Stay safe, live life.

The object of safety planning is safety, yes.  And, for most efficacy, put some effort into planning.  Someone acts, you respond, what’s next?

Over the last few months I’ve talked a lot about setting boundaries. Most of the time is it successful, in large part because most peoples’ intent are pretty good.  Also in part because most perpetrators want easy targets — they don’t want to have to work hard.

However, sometime there may be repercussions or consequences. This can happen where there’s a difference in power, where there’s an employer/employee relationship, or coach/athlete relationship, or teacher/student relationship. It can also happen when peers are involved.  Part of making your personal safety planning effective is in plotting out those “what’s next” possibilities.

Consider the other person’s possible responses when you set a boundary, and plan your responses to them. Assess the probabilities of each of the possible responses. This should be based on your past experiences with that person. If you set boundaries, could your boss deny a promotion or raise, or demote you, or fire you? Can a coworker or classmate begin a round of gossip, or even try to sabotage some of your work? Can a coach limit your play time, or even cut you from the team?  Will that person get a bit huffy, stomp away, and then nothing else happens?  Or will they just say “OK,” and it’s all good?

Assess the people around — are they likely to be allies or detractors? Is it safe for you to talk to some of them beforehand?

And, if necessary, do you have an exit strategy?

Watch the Netflix documentary Athlete A for some good examples of choices around boundaries.  I wrote about that a few weeks ago.

And even if you’re not liking some possible outcomes of setting boundaries, think of the results of NOT setting boundaries. Which consequences would you rather live with?

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.

As a self-defense teacher, I talk a lot about boundaries. Mostly about setting boundaries with other people. While some of those people may mean harm, most just have different ideas of boundaries and could use some guidance as to where theirs and yours more happily connect.

Today I’m looking at a specific set of boundaries you set with yourself. Many of us — I’m certainly in this group — want to experience a lot. I want to travel to Provence and to Tuscany. I want to learn some French and Italian. I want to learn to play guitar better, as well as bass and drums and piano. I already cook well, but I want to be able to de-bone a turkey in 10 minutes. (Why? I don’t know, I don’t even like turkey!)  I want to learn to draw.  I want better photography skills.  I want to write a book.  I want to create an online class. I want, I want, I want.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of my wants.

I’m going to tell you something that you probably already know. I certainly have known this for many years, and yet I still need reminding. Of all these wants, the ones you get will be those you MAKE the time for.

For many years I had wanted to understand the social dynamics around domestic violence and to more effectively work with survivors. Because DV is our greatest single risk to personal safety, and as a self-defense teacher that’s an important topic. And yes there are trainings available in my area. But it’s not just a half-day one-and-done workshop. I’d have to carve out a significant chunk of time. Fifty hours of training, then at least a year of volunteer work. I’d been telling myself I wanted to do this for years, yet I never made that time. Until I did. Until I acknowledged that yes, this was a 50 hour training over several months, I may have to put aside another activity or two and re-arrange my schedule, be inconvenienced, drive more, and after the training commit to that volunteering, and was it really worthwhile?

I did it, eight years ago. I said to myself if I don’t ACTIVELY MAKE the time it was not just going to happen. Piss or get off the pot, so to speak. Yes it was inconvenient and time-consuming and some days frustrating. I did forego some income those three months. Afterwards I volunteered each week at the center working with women in different stages of abusive relationships, which isn’t easy to hear (let alone experience). And yes it was worth it. A lot of what I leaned got incorporated into my classes, partly as recognizing “red flags” and partly as how to help or support family or friends who were in unhealthy or abusive relationships.

I often ask my students how they found the class. A lot say they’ve meant to take a self-defense class for a long time, and just happened to be looking through a Seattle Central or Bellevue College catalog, or an online class listing, saw the class, saw it fit into their schedule, and signed up. That’s convenient, and how most of us live most of our lives. Not everything we want will drop into place that easily.

Right now I am looking at my list of wants. What is most essential for my professional development, for personal development, for relationships, and for self-care? What will I actively make time for this year? How about you?

The last couple of months I’ve written about recognizing (and fixing) boundary violations, finding support, and building community.  All are essential aspects of personal safety.  And, for my final post of this year (still 2020), I’m turning towards feeling safety, i.e., recognizing what is (or is not) “safety.”

  • Safety is situational.  We all move through different environments each day.  Leaving home, commuting to work or school, going out for lunch, meeting up with some friends in a park afterwards . . . each place has its own levels of safety.  What does safety look or feel like for each?
  • Safety is making choices.  Safety is the ability to navigate your course in life while minimizing the risk of harm.  The ability to make informed choices is a prerequisite for sustainable safety.
  • Does familiarity = safety?  Most of us feel safer in familiar environments.  Places we already know, when others we know, like and trust are nearby.  “Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came,” to trot out that old TV sitcom theme.  Or even if we are physically alone, we can be on the phone with someone (while we may feel safer, we may not actually be safer).  “There’s safety in numbers,” says the cliche.  At the same time, most assaults against women are committed by someone known.  Over half homicides where the victim is female is committed by a current or former intimate partner.  The assailant abuses familiarity to gain access to commit assault.

Think about your different environments.  Work.  School.  Home.  Shopping.  Commuting.  Public space.  Social gathering.  Maybe you can add something specific to your life.  Pick one.

Get out a piece of paper and a pen, or colored pens.  Consider how you’d know you’re “safe” in that place.  Make a list.  It could be bullet-point or mind-map organized, just begin putting thoughts down what safety in a specific space would look and feel like.

I picked Home.  Take a look at this video for what I consider important for feeling safety at home.  Now do the same yourself.  You may come up with similar results, or yours may be different.  Regardless, they are your choices.  Make them.

 

Safety at Home from Joanne Factor on Vimeo.

 

Over the last month I’ve written about seeking support (several posts, in fact:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  Finding family, friends, even professionals, who would be supportive should you need help.  Finding safer spaces.  While that help can be material, mostly in our self-defense classes we talk about emotional support.  This post follows Part 3, where at the end I talk about not just finding support but your role in creating a supportive community.

Here is a book that addresses those same concerns:  Making Spaces Safer, by Shawna Potter.  The subtitle says it all.  “A guide to giving harassment the boot wherever you work, play, and gather.”  Because whether you are out to make a living, have fun, or change the world, contending with the extra obstacles of harassment is an unwanted detraction.   It diverts your energy from what you want.

Making Spaces Safer

Making Spaces Safer, by Shawna Potter

The ideas Potter puts forward are based in her work with Hollaback! in Baltimore, as well as with her workshops as she toured with her band.  They are simple in concept, but as with most simple ideas they can be hard to implement.  There are folks for whom the status quo is just fine and see no need to change, or who are advantaged by ignoring harassment, or who just hate change and what it may represent.

Let’s get back, though, to the simple.  Really, it’s like all the stuff you should have learned in kindergarten.  About asking first and sharing and saying please and thank you.  Let’s get to some specifics.

  • Prioritize the needs and testimony of the person who experienced harassment.  That individual’s sense of security and self-determination just took a big hit.  While that sounds straightforward, many agencies don’t do this.
  • That individual should have some control over the process.  What are their choices?  Can they freely make choices?
    • If you are the person hearing the account, what is your role?  Do you manage the space where the harassment happened?  Can you find a place for that person to be more comfortable so they can tell you what happened, and the remedy they’d like?
      • For example, if you manage a club, you can offer to keep an eye on the harasser, take the harasser aside for a conversation, or remove them from the premises.  Who makes that decision?  Most of the time it is the manager, and Potter is saying it should be the person who experienced the harassment.
  • Validate that person’s experience!  I’ve used that concept for a while, in the area of self-care.  Find a trusted, supportive ally, someone who believes you and reminds you that the harassment was not your fault.

About now you may be shaking your head and thinking about how this is all well and good, but just not practical.  Well, it is.

Homeroom is a restaurant in Oakland, California.  They serve mac & cheese.  Some sides, but their raison d’etre is mac & cheese.  Comfort food.  Erin Wade, chef and owner, wants everyone to feel comfortable.  So she was appalled when she found out that some customers had been harassing the servers, and that managers were doing little about it.  They had a meeting, and she heard a lot more that had not been reported.  Not OK with Wade (did I mention that before starting this restaurant she was a lawyer?).  They instituted new procedures, and shifted control.  Really simple, too, based on color coding.  Incidents were graded yellow, orange, or red.  A yellow meant that a server reported an uncomfortable vibe or look to a manager, and the manager would take over that table if the server chooses.  An orange is inappropriate comments, and the manager does take over that table.  A red is overt sexual comments or physical touching, and the customer is ejected from the restaurant.  Please read these two articles for more details:

Note the critical change is that it is the servers who decide what level each incident warrants, and the manager has their roles already prescribed.  No need to wonder if the customer really intended that, or if the staff was just too sensitive that day.  The power is in the hands of the (mostly female) server staff, rather than the (mostly male) manager.  (BTW, Wade also then recognized the gendered job levels and was seeking to change that also.)   And this system works because it has become the company culture.  Because Wade sought to shift the balance of power, support that shift, and deliberately make her restaurant a safer space.

These last 2 weeks I’ve been outlining finding support after assault.  Self-care is a critical aspect of anyone’s overall safety plan, and the central pillar of self-care is knowing who among your family and friends could support you after any assault, regardless of outcome.  Two weeks ago I began outlining traits of those individuals, with my thumbnail sketch of what a supportive human does.

  • They listen.
  • They believe you.
  • They remind you it wasn’t your fault.

Two weeks ago I described what listening looks and sounds like.  Last week I described what believing you and reminding you it wasn’t your fault looks and and sound like.  Today I have a few more words on blame and fault-finding, and then move on to creating community.

First, some words about those who habitually blame victims for their own assaults. This is chronic in domestic violence, where the abuser is manipulating the target’s perception.  Very often also manipulating the perception of those around, cutting off ways of getting support.  This is often described as “gaslighting.”  It is a long-term strategy for you to relinquish control and hand over decision-making.

Getting support? Not from them!

Getting support? Not from them!

A major process in our culture is an adversarial approach — our justice system and political system are set up to pit two sides against each other, there are defined rules and referees, they duke it out like a boxing or martial arts sparring match, and a winner is picked. So it’s not really a surprise that some of us expand that view, that life is a brutal competition.  It bleeds into other parts of our lives, where there are no explicit rules, no referee, and it’s not a good fit.  And it’s all about power.

There does not need to be a long-term relationship for blame-shifting to occur.  People who harm others often try to shift attention away from themselves and their actions to what the victim did “wrong.”  The stereotypical ones include “what was she wearing,” “how much did she drink,” and “she was flirting.”  Others in our communities, like ourselves, want to stay safe and part of their process, though, is to find out details about what happened to others and resolve to not make the same “mistakes.” Except there’s a big problem with this approach.  The person targeted may have done something different, and it may have made a difference, or maybe not.  There are people who do “wrong” stuff all the time — they smile at strangers, they drink a lot, maybe even pass out on a friend’s couch.  And didn’t get assaulted.  Because there was no assailant present.  The common elements of all assault isn’t clothing choices or alcohol consumption or flirting, it’s the person(s) who made the bad choice to take what they wanted, regardless of consent.

Do you want to wait until after an assault to figure out who your supportive friends are?  Probably not.  Rather, you can be cultivating those relationships now.

My colleague Yehudit Sidikman of ESD Global suggested in a recent blog post that you practice talking about “what-if” scenarios with those important people in your life.  One of her examples is, “mom, if something like this [kind of assault] ever happened to me, how would you react if I told you?”  Or begin a conversation with a good friend like, “ I’ve never had this happen to me, but I am wondering how you would react if I came to you and told you that [add story].”  Maybe there was a recent assault in the news, you could use that as your example.  Or a particular #MeToo story.  Their responses can give you some information about what they think about assault and blame.  We do all know that there’s often a gap between what a person says and what they will do, so please temper this with what you already know about them.   But, perhaps more importantly, it will also give them food for thought. And this does not have to be a “one-off” discussion, and should not be a one-off.  You transition that “what-if” into a conversation on what it means to be supportive, to be a friend, do you want to be supportive, when do you feel it important to be supportive.  When these conversations happen with a few people in your circle, and it becomes less awkward, you get a better sense of where people are at.  You find those who share your values, and you maybe even move others to really think about what support means.

Building these relationships takes a while.  And it is critical.  And that’s how communities begin, one relationship at a time.

Why don’t you begin with the very next conversation you have with someone close?  Today is not too soon.

Today, November 11, is Veterans Day.  The one day where we as a nation formally thank those who served our country with their military service. Parades, taking out old photos and uniforms, visits to memorials.  We recognize all those who served.  At the same time, as a nation we are less caring about veterans’ getting support they need.

For about 12 years (between 2003 and 2014) I worked with Dr. Wendy David, Dr. Ann Cotton, and the VA Medical Center in Seattle on the Taking Charge project.  This 12-week self-defense program was for women veterans who were suffering from long-term, chronic PTSD as a result of sexual assault while in military service.  (Unfortunately, the program ended when Dr. David retired.)  If you are familiar with PTSD, you know it’s not pretty.  Watch this short video for more on the effects and possible causes.

While this blog post not an exposition on PTSD, I have to note there’s a significant correlation between social support and the likelihood of an assault survivor developing PTSD.  One commonality all the participants in Taking Charge had was a lack of support from those around them after their assaults.  Our culture does come with a large victim-blaming component, and sorting out those who can be supportive from those who won’t is likely to be critical to your long-term health and happiness.

Last week I began outlining how to find those individuals who would be supportive, with my thumbnail sketch of what a supportive human would do.

  • They listen.
  • They believe you.
  • They remind you it wasn’t your fault.

Last week’s post was on the first bullet point, listening.  Today I’m moving on to the other two.

They believe you.  Most women are assaulted by someone known to them, particularly in cases of sexual assault.  They may be a friend, a co-worker, a classmate, a colleague, a family member.  Because of that, others you know will also know that assailant.  When you confide in someone in that same circle, it can get complicated.  That person may be struggling to wrap their brains around what you are telling them, which may be totally counter to their own experiences with the assailant.  They’re trying to figure out how someone they know as a kind and generous soul could have done something so wrong.  We humans do not do well with that sort of cognitive dissonance.  That can come out as questioning your account of what happened, which comes across as non-supportive.  One option is to confide in someone from another social circle.  Another is to cultivate relationships of support, which is the topic of next week’s blog post.

Finally, a supportive person will remind you that the assault was not your fault.  Period.  End of sentence.  It is so common for the person assaulted (or targeted) to go over details again and again and again in their heads, trying to figure out if they could have, should have, done something different.  Maybe there is something they could have done differently.  It may or may not have made a difference.  It’s overlooking the fact that someone else made that choice to harm someone.  That’s right, the assailant is not like a fast-moving river into which you slip and fall.  Rivers don’t make choices to injure or drown people.  But people do.  The assailant is the person who is responsible for their actions.  If you are the listener, please make it a point to remind your friend/family member of that.

And, in a nutshell, that’s how you know someone is supportive.  But, do you really want to wait until you are in need to find those trusted, supportive folks?  No.  Next week we’ll look at building supportive communities.

I’ve been teaching self-defense for over 25 years.  And for most of those years I’ve been teaching that self-care is an essential part of everyone’s safety and self-defense planning. Self-care covers a wide range of actions, like exercise or meditation or listening to music or watching funny cat videos on YouTube or a glass of wine or seeking medical care or . . . pick your top three ways to calm yourself when upset or anxious.  My personal favorite is playing music — drumming along to some of my all-time favorite songs, or muddling through a guitar chord progression with overdrive and reverb.

But, if I had to pick just ONE self-care practice as most critical, it has to be getting support from other people. We humans are social creatures. Any assault, or attempted assault, regardless of outcome, often feels isolating and like a loss of control over important aspects of life. Connecting with another human helps offset that, but only when that other human is supportive. We do live in a highly victim-blaming culture, and have to recognize that not every one of our acquaintances (or even family or closer friends) will be open to supporting you.

Over the years I’ve heard from several students that, when confiding in those who they assumed would be supportive, were met with statements such as “what did you expect,” or “you sure won’t make that mistake again,” or “I hope you learned something from that experience,” or “how could you let that happen to you.”  As humans, we will often look to safety, or at least to mitigate and manage risks.  Some people’s interest in hearing about others’ misfortunes is to “inform” themselves so they won’t make the same “mistakes.”  And sometimes they will think they are helping by informing you of their conclusions.  It may not mean they are a bad person, but it does mean they don’t have (or are not willing to make available) emotional bandwidth for you.

But let’s get back to getting support. How would we recognize that supportive human? Is there a covert signal or secret handshake?

By what they do. Here’s my thumbnail sketch of what a supportive human would do.

  • They listen.
  • They believe you.
  • They remind you it wasn’t your fault.

    One woman is getting support from another.

    Getting support from a trusted friend or family member is an important component in healing from assault.

I’m going to go over each of these three items.  In this blog post, it’s listening.  Next couple of weeks will cover believing and not blaming you.  And then we’ll tie it up with steps for the future.

First, though, I strongly suggest that you give a potential listener a heads-up that you’d like to share something uncomfortable.  Give them a chance to assess their readiness to offer support.  Or, if necessary, set their own boundaries.  Even the best supporters are not available 24/7 to everyone (self-care, remember?).  An important part of getting support is that the support has to be voluntarily given!

Someone who is listening is really LISTENING, rather than trying to figure out their snappy reply.  Listening is NOT letting you talk for 10, 20, or 60 seconds, then interrupting with “hey did you try THIS?  You coulda done THAT, you shoulda done THAT, I woulda done . . . ”  Thank that person for their time, and move on.  They don’t have bandwidth for you.

Rather, listening involves taking in what that other person is offering.  A really good listener will treat what you’re saying as a gift, and if they have the emotional space they will be paying attention to what you are saying and the event’s impact on you.  You may hear something more like, “That sounds horrible, I’m so sorry you had that experience!  I am here for you.”  And now is where listening is super important.  The listener could assess if you need to just talk, or if they are looking for advice, or if they have their next steps and want your help.  And, dear listener, it’s OK to ask.  Do keep in mind that part of the trauma of assault is the feeling that control over ones life has been torn away; one goal of the listener is to help empower those hurt by making sure their choices are really theirs.

Next week, we look at the other two items on my list, believing and reminding that assault is not your fault.

“Found weapons” is a common class topic.  What do you have in your pocket, your purse, your backpack, that can be used to help fend off an attacker?  A common response is “keys.”  Yes, keys can serve as a self-defense weapon.  However, most students show me a very awkward way to hold them, poking out between fingers like brass knuckles or Wolverine (the superhero) claws.  A better way to hold keys is how you’d open a door — it’s more stable and easy to aim, more maneuverable, and less likely to injury yourself.

I’ve heard that, in the right hands, anything can be used as a weapon (good chance you’ve watched the same bad movie and heard that too).  So watch this video (from my Facebook Live of 10/14/2020).  I do use some technical terms, such as “pokey” and “thwacky.”  These, along with “projectile,” describe different types of weapons.  Look around you, and pick up an object.  Is it pointy and fairly rigid?  Maybe it can be used to poke someone in the eye or throat or other soft tissue.  Does it have heft?  Maybe it can be used to hit someone.  Can you throw it?   That would be a projectile.

Now pick up an object of your choice and try to use it on an inanimate object (such as pillow or box).  Does it slip out of your hand?  Maybe find a better example, or alter your grip.  While it’s great to have an idea and even an object for a weapon, trying it out a couple of times is even better.

This year is winding down, and I’m considering my class schedule for the beginning of 2021.  Anything you’d like to see?  Contact me.  Or check back to see what’s currently online.  Maybe we’ll have a short session on found weapons.