Strategic Living

Using Your Most Critical Self-Defense Tool: Your Voice


Because using your voice will have the single biggest effect in preventing and evading assault.

Those who choose to target women (and children) are hoping for a target who can be easily intimidated into silence. They are not looking for a feisty contest.

I've heard the same story a number of times over the years I've taught self-defense. A woman (or teen girl) is walking (home, to or from the bus, to work or school) and she senses she's being followed. She's uncertain what to do, and then he is right next to her. He grabs her. She uses her voice, either screams or yells at him. And, in all these cases told to me by students, it works. The guy runs away.

Sometimes he says something like "don't scream/yell, or I'll hurt you." What he is really saying is, "don't do something that will get me in trouble." Assailants don't want to be caught.

Your voice:
  • Startles the assailant
  • Draws attention
  • Ensures you are BREATHING
  • Helps you remailn grounded and emotionally present
  • Engages your core muscles to make you stronger
  • Increases your adrenaline which gives you more speed and strength

Your voice comes from your core -- from deep inside your abdomen, your gut, your center. Use that six-pack by tightening you abdominal muscles as you exhale strongly and YELL directly at that assailant. This works to engage your core and increase adrenaline, both of which add strength.

Choosing the Words

Here we are focusing specifically on words to use in the face of an imminent physical threat. This is NOT de-escalation, that will be covered separately. The best words to use are direct commands, including:

  • NO!
  • STOP!
  • LET GO!

I'm sure you can think of others.

Sometimes profanity may be useful. That is your choice. Use of profanity generally indicates a degree of anger. Even if you choose to not use foul language, keep in mind that an attacker will sometimes use it to ascertain if you will be a good victim.


Body Language and Your Voice

There are a few key elements of body language to practice.

First, make that eye-to-face contact. You don't need to stare directly into someone's eyes, but you should be looking at their nose, cheek, forehead, or other part of the face). Assailants are looking for those they can intimindate, which they guess by submissive body language. Inabilityto make eye contact is submissive body language. Eye to face contact is assetive body language. (Staring gets you into aggresive territory.)

Second, don't smile if you are telling someone to STOP or BACK OFF. Smiling is viewed by would-be assailants as either anxiety ("please don't hurt me!") or an invitation/encouragement to continue the interaction.

Third, back straight and head up and looking forward.

Fourth, feet shoulder width apart, often with one foot slightly behild the other.

You're aiming for congruence, where your words and tone of voice and body language are all sending the same message. Even if the word coming out of your mouth is "NO," you will struggle to convice others of your intent if your body language does not reflect that same NO.



These audio tracks are from Free to Fight, a compilation CD and booklet on self-defense (you can find out more about the project on my Free To Fight page).

  1. Yelling
  2. Make a Scene
  3. Assertiveness Practice

Telling Your Stories

Many women who've been assaulted find that telling their stories in a supportive environment is an important aspect of healing from violence. For some, it gives increased strength to prosecute their attacker via the legal system (whether the criminal justice system or in civil courts). Others find it invaluable to help move on with their lives. Here are two stories, also recorded on the Free to Fight compliation, of women who used their voices for their own safety.

  1. Sarah Rides the Greyhound
  2. Laura Sister Nobody Crosses the Street
Violence thrives in silence. Break the silence.

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