Let me begin by saying that I am sincerely sorry for everyone — male or female — who has been sexually assaulted. You are brave for speaking up. You have my compassion and my prayers. Take note, while I feel the focus has been on female victims, keep in mind that the male species — this includes little boys and youths — are also susceptible to sexual assault (one could argue that this is where rapists and sexual predators are developed, but that’s a discussion for another time).
I myself have never been sexually assaulted. I would probably consider myself a rare and fortunate person after the #MeToo campaign. I’ve been mind-blown this past week as to how many people I know personally who have been victimized. I am well aware that this could happen to anybody, and I cannot claim to know what a victim truly experiences, despite listening to dozens of stories, reading and listening to explicit details, and researching the physical, emotional, and psychological strain that typically lasts a lifetime.
It has left me wondering from time to time: Why was I never targeted? And if I ever was, how come nothing ever happened?
One could argue that I’ve managed through luck, but I’m going to dismiss that one now, because when you’ve been there, walking amidst predators at different points in your life but have not been touched by a single one even when they might have had a blink of an opportunity, you’re doing something that most victims probably haven’t done…
You’ve become a hard target.
I’m going to say this now: this post is not intended to shame victims or tell them what they should have done to avoid assault in the first place, but instead to provide them, and others who have not been victimized, ideas and tools for avoiding any future assaults.
Let me ask you: Would knowing that you’re a hard target make you feel more confident? Predators need easy targets. The less strain on them, the better. If their target keeps putting themselves in situations where it’s too difficult to isolate them, or if they exemplify a certain level of assertion and awareness, they’ll label them as a hard target and move on to something easier. I’d know personally from a very recent experience since I was briefly followed by a duo of purse-snatchers, but because I was looking and listening carefully, walked assertively, and took absolutely NO chances, I evaded what could have ended as another horror story. (Look for the complete story in a future post!)
Now, I understand there are victims who are assaulted when they are not fully aware or conscious (e.g. someone who’s been drugged, made drunk, etc. and wakes up with no memory of the assailant or the assault itself), and while there are some things that could be done to prevent such events in the first place, it’s not always possible. The rest of the assaults, where the victim is fully conscious and physically mobile (discounting the heartbreaking occasions where an infant, incapacitated, or infirmed person could do nothing to protect themselves), there are things that can be done on the part of the person who is being targeted to make themselves something that no assailant wants to deal with — a hard target.
The Target with a Tough Facade. I remember when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, this punk of a kid was going around with a live cockroach, trying to scare a bunch of other younger kids. As much as I tried to avoid him in the first place, the kid managed to approach me and tried to wave it in my face, saying “Hey, you want this roach?” to which I gave him a stern look and firmly responded, “No!” I didn’t even have to start walking away when he moved on to his next target. I revile cockroaches, but I wasn’t about to let someone think they could overpower me with fear. I didn’t run. I didn’t scream. I stood my ground. I showed no fear and spoke firmly and with authority, even though the kid was clearly older than me. And I was proud of myself for doing so!
Admittedly, this situation cannot truly compare with sexual assault, but the concept does bear some similarities.
- A (seemingly) fearless target – Fear is perfectly normal for a target. In fact, there are plenty of times when the predator is scared too. Put yourself in the predator’s shoes for a minute. What would scare you the most? Fear of being caught? Fear of the consequences you might face should you fail? It’s a real question that bears consideration to better understand the predator’s mindset. Even if the predator is a pro at keeping a poker face, you automatically make the them nervous when you demonstrate that you’re not scared. An assertive posture, a commanding voice, a look dead in the eye — pick one, pick them all! The more you can demonstrate that you’ve taken command of the situation, the more likely they are to leave you alone.
- A target who’s willing to fight back – This isn’t limited to physical defense. You might not even need to get physical. Ever tried raising your voice to a shout or scream when a loose dog comes charging at you? I know I have, and I freak them out every time by shouting at it, making myself seem bigger, and even advancing on it a bit as though I could inflict some serious harm. In many cases, simply creating the illusion of power is enough to make anyone think twice about crossing paths with you. You’re not worth the risk to them.
- A target whose will to survive is stronger than the will of the assailant – It really boils down to this: the assailant wants to hurt me, but I don’t want to be hurt. There’s only one winner here, and that winner had better be me. Why? Because I value myself — I respect myself — more than the assailant values or respects me.
Now sometimes the predator can be persistent or attempt to cross physical lines. On top of the above basic, no-special-skills-or-training-required concepts for scaring away the predator, I introduce in the martial response, but it’s probably not what you expect.
The Hard-wired Reflex. I never learned martial arts until I was in college, but that didn’t keep me from picking up a couple of basics and fostering intuitive responses to potentially dangerous scenarios. Ever since I was young, I developed an uncompromising reflex response to predator-related behaviors. As sad as it is for little kids to have to be told what “bad touch” is, I think it’s important, but even more importantly is for kids to have a sense of strength and empowerment should they find themselves in a potentially dangerous scenario with a predator. From childhood, all the way through adulthood, I set a perimeter for myself so that if anyone skirted or entered that perimeter — even on accident — SMACK! they automatically got my sweeping arm before they could even blink. If it was a real accident, “sorry, reflex.” If the intent was anything beneath an accident, “yeah, you’re not trying that again.” This has only grown stronger with a larger arsenal of blocks, strikes, locks, and escapes for a host situations.
That’s nice and all, but what if they’re crazy enough to try again? Or what if they put you in a situation where they could easily assault you? Heck! What if you’ve never taken ANY self-defense or martial arts training?
Good point. Here’s where it gets interesting…
I’ve heard plenty of stories of women (and men) who have trained in the martial arts or took self-defense, and still fell victim to sexual assault when they could have easily won or stopped it from happening. How was that possible? Usually, it was because they limited themselves to only what they’d been trained to do. Seasoned blackbelts have nearly lost their lives from an assault because the predator “tapped out” and the blackbelt, out of habit, let them go. These people were fortunate if they survived at that point.
So we’re all toast then, right? Martial arts isn’t effective and won’t save you? ABSOLUTELY NOT! It’s wonderful when you have some solid martial arts training or self-defense courses behind you to give you that extra confidence and martial edge when it’s needed, but when the rubber hits the road, when the predator has you in a situation you’ve never trained for, you can still do something. It’s a mindset called “beast mode.”
The Suckerpunch to the Seasoned Warrior. I remember during my 2nd year of martial arts training in TKD and Krav Maga, when we were practicing random attacks and responses on each other, I was put up against a bigger, more seasoned classmate with multiple years of training behind him. At the moment of attack, I threw my opponent completely off guard with a leg maneuver we’d never practiced. It wasn’t even a proper martial arts technique, but let me tell you, it worked! I had my opponent falling to the ground in less than a second of him “attacking” me, and my sensei was cracking up — “That’s the most creative takedown I’ve seen!”
What made it so surprising? The secret is fighting without thinking. Going and doing what feels the most effective in a case-by-case situation will be worth more to you than any training. Now, I’m not saying don’t ever take martial arts. Oftentimes you’ll find a simple block or strike will be enough to intimidate a predator, labeling you a hard target and leaving you alone. But in the rare occasion the predator is not so willing to give up or attempts to use violent force, YOU GIVE THEM ALL YOU’VE GOT! There’s no room for any ounce of hesitation amid sexual assault. Your goal is to stay alive, and by golly, you’re going to survive, no matter how ugly things get! Draw some blood, break some bones, make them scream to high heaven. It’s morbid, yes, but you can rest in the knowledge that their physical injuries will heal faster than the lifetime of damage they’d cause you if they succeeded in assaulting you.
IMPORTANT: This does not mean that you should be okay with taking their life! Something as serious as ending someone’s life is a final resort when all other means have been exhausted, from reasoning with them to inflicting physical damage, and there is absolutely nothing else you can you do to defend yourself.
There is LOTS more I could say on this matter, including the fact that not everyone responds to assault and fear in the same way. Of the three major fear responses – Fight, Flight, Freeze – I started evolving from the typical Flight response in my early childhood years to the Fight response around age 7, and by age 9 or so, I was the one who would never jump or react even if startled, and on maybe one occasion, utilized a solid arm block to defend myself from a bully. It felt really good to have that confidence. How’d I do it? Really, it came down to self-discipline and reminding myself daily of my own personal value…
I am worth something! I respect and value my dignity, and should anyone try to violate that dignity, I am ready to fight for it. Moreover, (and this may be hard to swallow) I value the potential predator, not for the monstrous behaviors they are exhibiting, but for the human being that they are underneath because I don’t want them to do something wrong in the first place. If I can prevent them from doing such a crime, I am TWICE the hero — I saved myself, and I saved them from themselves, because as far as I’m concerned, they won’t be violating anything…not on my watch!
I welcome additional thoughts and comments. I am continually training, researching, learning, and exploring human behaviors in conjunction with martial arts and self-defense. I hope to cover more “Martial Arts in Real Life” in future posts.